UK seeks 'closest possible' security pact with EU after Brexit - minister

BERLIN (Reuters) - Britain wants to cement its foreign policy and security ties with the European Union via the “closest possible cooperation agreement” for when it leaves the bloc, a British minister said.

Britain's Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington appears on the Marr Show on BBC television in London, Britain, June 10, 2018. Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via REUTERS

Britain was also open to a close partnership with Europe on a crisis intervention force post-Brexit, depending on key details, cabinet office minister David Lidington told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

Those details would include ensuring London’s control over any deployment of British troops, he said.

As Europe’s biggest military power along with France, Britain is central to European security efforts but has long blocked defence integration, fearing the creation of an EU army.

Separately, the European Commission, which is handling the Brexit talks with Britain, released on Friday a document setting out both the British and EU positions in initial talks on future foreign, security and defence cooperation.

While member states also want to keep close security ties after Brexit, Britain’s desire set out in the EU document for “a new security partnership that goes beyond any existing third country arrangements” clashes with the Commission’s view.

“The modalities of the future relationship should reflect the third country status of the UK,” the Commission said in its document, stressing Britain’s future status as a non-EU nation.

A group of EU countries agreed in March to develop their first joint defence projects under a pact that excludes Britain, giving London a taste of life outside the bloc’s foreign policy decision-making process.

The 25 signatories also delayed a decision on whether to let non-member states join the projects, prolonging uncertainty over any future role for Britain.

The Commission’s document also said that the new relationship “should be formalised”.

One possibility, Lidington said, would be to have the British foreign minister participate each quarter in meetings of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, although EU officials have so far ruled out such a possibility.

Asked if he favoured new formats for cooperation between Britain and the EU, Lidington told the newspaper: “If the EU always orients its proposals in the negotiations to existing agreements with other countries, there is a risk that in the end it will result in less security for everyone.”

Lidington said the biggest risk in the Brexit negotiations was a bitter, divisive divorce that would be welcomed by Russia and those who rejected European values and cooperation.

Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to unite the Conservative Party around her plan for leaving the EU, trying to balance the demands of those who want the closest possible ties with the bloc and others who want a clean break.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Robin Emmott in Brussels, editing by Larry King and David Stamp