Britain will pull out of the EU’s joint foreign policy-making body next year, Theresa May has announced, in a move that will delight Brexit-backing Conservative MPs.
No 10 pledged to reclaim a “truly independent and sovereign foreign policy” in 2019, even if – as the Prime Minister hopes – a transition period of about two years is agreed with Brussels.
The move was announced when Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to an international conference in Munich, proposing a new UK-EU treaty to maintain full security co-operation after Brexit to keep citizens safe.
She said there were key examples where Britain would continue to seek joint working – for example, over international sanctions, foreign aid and future defence threats such as cyber warfare.
However, the Prime Minister is keen to exploit the EU’s agreement that, in certain areas, Britain can diverge from the point formal EU withdrawal takes place next March.
“The Prime Minister has said that, where we don’t have to wait, we will not wait,” a Downing Street source in Munich told The Independent.
“Swiftly after departure in 2019, we will come out of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. We will have a truly independent and sovereign foreign policy.”
The source pointed to a major diplomatic row, in 2007, when membership of the CFSP forced the UK to take part in a joint approach with which it strongly disagreed.
Britain condemned a decision to invite Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, to a summit in Lisbon because of his human rights abuses – and then prime minister Gordon Brown boycotted the event.
But, the source said, Britain was still required to send a representative to Lisbon, as part of its membership of the CFSP.
However, it is unclear what practical difference pulling out of the joint policy-making arrangements will make, given Mrs May’s desire for a close partnership with the EU after Brexit.
“We will continue to maintain very, very close cooperation because we have shared values and shared interests in terms of protecting our citizens,” the source added.
The CFSP was set up after the EU’s foreign policy weakness was badly exposed by the failure to intervene amid the bloodshed in Yugoslavia, in the early 1990s.
It was formalised as part of the Maastricht treaty – hated by Tory Eurosceptics – and strengthened by subsequent EU treaties.
For five years from 2009, Britain led the body, when Labour politician Cathy Ashton served as its High Representative, charged with coordinating and representing the EU’s foreign policy.
During her speech, Mrs May softened, slightly, her “red line” that Brexit must end oversight by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) at some point during a two-year transition period.
The stance threatens participation in the European arrest warrant and Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, and the swapping of vital intelligence information through the Schengen system.
The Prime Minister said: “When participating in EU agencies, the UK will respect the remit of the European Court of Justice.”
However, the source insisted later that this simply meant Britain would pay “due regard” to the ECJ’s rulings, while maintaining the right for its courts to disagree.