Top EU diplomat says Britain's security, defence power is no leverage in Brexit talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s top diplomat said on Friday the effect of Brexit on the bloc’s joint defence and security operations would be minimal, following a veiled threat from London that it could curb such ties with the alliance if divorce talks turn sour.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini delivers her speech during the 53rd Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 18, 2017. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Britain, which formally launched the process of leaving the EU on Wednesday, wants simultaneous talks on Brexit and future ties with the EU’s remaining 27 states, especially on trade.

EU states and authorities in Brussels are much cooler towards that idea, seeing a future trade deal with Britain as a strong bargaining chip.

Britain, a leading European military power, has suggested it could use its strong standing on military and defence in the same way - prompting warnings from EU officials.

Triggering the Brexit process, Prime Minister Theresa May said in a letter to the EU said “our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened” if Britain left without a new deal on trade and other matters.

Federica Mogherini, arriving in Brussels for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, said Britain was providing 3 percent of the EU’s foreign civilian missions and 5 percent of the military ones.

“It’s a valued contribution but for sure a contribution without which the European Union defence and security can continue perfectly well,” she told journalists. “So the leverage in that respect would be really minimal on their side.”

Cooperation would in any case continue, she said.

“I wish we could and we will establish a good and solid security and defence cooperation also after Brexit. For sure the European Union and Britain will continue to cooperate in this field, also through our cooperation with NATO.”

Other than France, Britain is the only EU state that has the capacity to run large-scale foreign military operations on its own.

Britain’s intelligence service is also powerful, not least through its “Five Eyes” pact with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

On Friday, the EU of 27 proposed Britain would just have to show “sufficient progress” on its divorce settlement in a first phase of Brexit negotiations to have the bloc agree to open trade talks.

Additional reporting by Hortense de Roffignac; editing by John Stonestreet