Britain’s contribution to European security is “unconditional”, foreign secretary Boris Johnson told a French newspaper, denying the government had made a veiled threat to reduce cooperation if there was no post-Brexit trade deal.
Prime Minister Theresa May, in a letter to the European Union on Wednesday, said that “our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened” if Britain left the bloc without a new deal on trade and other matters.
Asked in an interview with France’s Le Figaro whether Britain was trying to use security cooperation as a bargaining chip to secure an EU trade deal, Johnson said: “No, not at all.”
“We consider the historic contribution of the UK to the security and stability of Europe as unconditional,” he said in the interview published on Saturday.
“We will maintain this contribution, which benefits all of Europe and the world. It’s in our interest and in the interest of others, and we hope this will be one of the planks of our deep and special partnership (with the EU).”
Earlier, Brexit minister David Davis had also said that May’s words did not amount to a threat.
“This is a statement of the fact that this will be harmful for both of us (Britain and the EU) ... if we don’t get a deal. It’s an argument for having a deal,” he said.
Despite these assurances, May’s words were widely interpreted as a veiled threat on both sides of the English Channel.
The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said on Friday that the effect of Brexit on the bloc’s joint defence and security operations would be minimal.
She said she expected security and defence cooperation between Britain and the EU to continue after Brexit, not least through NATO.