Munich, Germany | AFP | British Prime Minister Theresa May pleaded Saturday for an urgent deal with the European Union on post-Brexit security cooperation, warning that citizens’ lives were at stake.
In a speech at the Munich Security Conference, she acknowledged that no deal currently exists between the EU and a third country “that captures the full depth and breadth of our existing relationship”.
But she said there was no reason both sides could not come up with practical ways to create a “deep and special partnership” on security.
“We cannot delay discussions on this,” May said.
She also warned European partners not to put politics above cooperation against crime and terrorism.
“This cannot be a time when any of us allow competition between partners, rigid institutional restrictions or deep-seated ideology to inhibit our cooperation and jeopardise the security of our citizens,” May told an audience that included European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
The premier warned that if there was no deal on security by the time Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019, speedy extraditions under the European Arrest Warrant “would cease”.
And if the UK were no longer part of Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, information sharing would be hampered — undermining the fight against terrorism, organised crime and cyberattacks.
“This would damage us both and put all our citizens at greater risk,” May warned, urging European leaders to show “some real creativity and ambition” in coming up with a bespoke UK-EU security pact.
“We must now move with urgency to put in place the treaty to protect all European citizens wherever they are in Europe,” May said.
Some experts have warned that cooperation on police and security matters could be limited by Britain’s refusal to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after Brexit.
May appeared to respond to those concerns by saying that the UK would “respect the remit” of the ECJ when working with EU agencies, in return for “respect for our unique status as a third country”.
“But as a country outside the European Union, we will have our own sovereign legal order, so the European Court of Justice will no longer have jurisdiction in the United Kingdom.”
– ‘Substantial disagreements’ –
May has in the past drawn criticism for appearing to link security — in which Britain is a major player — with her hopes for a new trade deal with the EU.
But there was no hint of that in Saturday’s address, the latest in a clutch of speeches by senior British officials recently as the government seeks to clarify its ambitions for Brexit.
There has been little progress in recent months in Britain’s negotiations with the EU on the island nation’s future relationship with the bloc.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned last week that there were “substantial disagreements” with Britain on a post-Brexit transition period.
May’s comments came a day after the heads of key British, French and German spy agencies warned in a rare joint appearance that intelligence sharing and cooperation must continue even after Britain leaves the EU.