Brexit: the lose/lose impact on the European security

It is quite a difficult task to understand and therefore to explain the degree of complexity the United Kingdom future will display in terms of security conditions and framework the very day after the so called “Brexit” referendum. Planned on 23 June, to set whether the United Kingdom should remain a Member of the European Union or not, Brexit will undoubtedly have implications and influences on the short and medium-term planning of the European security, in both  cases.

If the United Kingdom remains in the EU, we will assist to a certain evolution, or involution. If the United Kingdom leaves the EU, the centrifugal forces triggered by the Brexit will impact many events at the same time.

The European power and role in the international context, the NATO, the transatlantic relations between the EU, the United States, and the UK, are all complex elements. And nowadays we must couple them with the ongoing psychosis regarding international migrants’ movements, coming especially from Northern Africa (namely Libya) and Middle East (above all Syria and Iraq) and the transnational fear for the current phenomena of radicalism and jihadism.

We admit, ultimately, how membership and commitment to integration rather than disintegration, into the EU, could impact very differently on the issues expressed above.

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Brexit supporters, in the UK, claim that leaving the EU is the only way to regain British control on borders’ security and to decrease security risk to the UK (Brexiters also aim, in their vision, at obtaining back full decisional power about the economic market). We may say the previous statement turns to be rarely uncorrected, as the UK is not part of the Shengen Agreement (therefore the UK can examine Europeans coming into the UK) nor the British free-market business community would welcome the quite easy European reaction, after a possible Brexit (visa requirements for all EU people coming in the UK), of imposing the same requirements on British people going into the EU.

Apart from these considerations, a Brexit result could surely hamper the military cooperation between the UK and France, with Paris moving East towards Poland, Germany – the Weimar Group – for a more EU led cooperation, free of possible British anchors. A Brexit, in the mind of the United States, we add, is a lose/lose game, as the new cornerstone of US international strategy requires stronger regional allies, as EU could be.

A UK out of the EU would bring the EU member states, at least in the short term, to rely more and more on NATO (something Italy, France and Germany would really not appreciate, as EU members’ interests not always overlap NATO’s ones). The United States want a strong UK in the very heart of the Union (and not free-riding, with France, NATO’s structures, as in the Libyan war case against Gheddafi, in 2011), because the special transatlantic relation, nowadays, has a particolar value only if the UK can add its specific role to the EU.

A UK out of the EU would diminish its asset in the US eyes. As said before, in effect, the United States will pay attention, talking about alliances and regional structures, on the international actors able to pull their weight (in term of intelligence, military power, regional relationships, power projection) on the international stage.

A British exit would be a lose-lose point not only for the United States, but also for the UK and the EU itself. For the UK, leaving the UK would deprive British institutions of the traditional decision-making establishments where the Continent will continue to assess the ongoing questions on terrorism and mass migration (the two main threats fueling the Brexiters).

On the contrary, the EU, without the UK, would maintain its status of well-recognized international soft-power but it would lack of specific issues and security postures, in which the UK could claim quite easily a strong expertise (intelligence, anti-terrorism procedures, especially against mass-shooting, through the valid collaboration between secret services and police). A political barrier between UK and the EU, nonetheless, could hamper, in the medium-term, the intelligence data sharing, from the Continent to the UK, damaging and even more isolating the UK from the European cornerstone.

Stefano Lupo

Research Fellow at Iran Progress


Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States amending Regulation (EEC) No. 1612/68, Official Journal of the European Union, L 158, 77-123.

Obama B. (2011), Remarks by the President to Parliament in London, United Kingdom, 25 May 2011.

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