London seeks 'deep security partnership' with EU after Brexit
LONDON - Britain wants to have closer defense cooperation with the European Union after Brexit than other countries outside the union, according to a document that sets out a vision of "a deep security partnership" aimed at nudging talks forward.
Stating that Britain is "unconditionally committed" to maintaining European security, the government said it wanted to contribute military assets to EU operations after it leaves, and may offer to continue exchanging classified information.
The pledges were detailed in the government's sixth "future partnership paper" -- part of efforts to counter criticism by EU officials that it is not prepared for negotiations to unravel more than 40 years of union.
Underlining that Britain has the largest defense and development budgets in Europe, officials pressed what they consider to be one of their strongest arguments - that the government can offer defense and security support to the EU.
"At a time of increased threats and international instability the UK remains unwavering in its commitment to uphold European security," Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said in a statement.
Britain's role in the continent's defense "has never been more vital," he said.
Britain has deployed troops in some Baltic states to counter a resurgent Russia, has worked with the EU to tackle piracy off the Horn of Africa and worked on joint defense projects, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft.
Pro-Brexit supporters argued before the EU referendum last year that closer defense cooperation between the bloc's member states was yet another sign of closer union, and on Tuesday the Veterans for Britain group said the paper was "a grave mistake".
Tuesday's paper was intended as a conversation-starter rather than a concrete negotiating position, setting out areas such as information and personnel exchanges where Britain could contribute to European security, subject to negotiations.
Some British have suggested defense cooperation with European nations could be used as leverage in talks that so far have moved only slowly, bogged down in arguments over the divorce bill.
But its usefulness as leverage to push talks forward could be limited by the acknowledgement in the paper that Britain also benefits from security and intelligence sharing.
"To meet our shared threats and maintain our values, continuity of areas that are at the heart of our joint foreign policy, defense and security, and development of infrastructure will be vital," the paper said.
"This includes maintaining the ability to share sensitive information that protects our security."
EU officials say they cannot move on to discuss a future relationship until "sufficient progress" has been made on three priority areas - the rights of expatriates, Britain's border with EU state Ireland and a financial settlement.
Without that movement, British officials say talks may become stalled, particularly on Northern Ireland, arguing that how to deal with the only land border with the EU depends on what kind of future customs deal the two sides will agree. REUTERS