UK and France may drift apart after Brexit, warns former ambassador

Defence and security cooperation at risk after Britain leaves EU, says peer prior to May and Macron’s Sandhurst summit

Britain and France are in danger of drifting apart as a result of Brexit, undermining defence and security cooperation, according to Lord Ricketts, a former UK national security adviser and former ambassador to France.

In order to counter this, the UK and France will have to work harder at the relationship, stepping up bilateral meetings, he says.

Ricketts, who was ambassador from 2012 to 2016, issued the warning in a paper for the London-based defence thinktank the Royal United Services Institute, published on Monday.

He was speaking before a security summit on Thursday between Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron at the Sandhurst military academy.

Both the UK and France have said they are intent on maintaining as close a relationship as possible on defence, foreign policy and security issues after Brexit, but the strains are showing already, with Macron in September pushing for a common EU intervention force, defence budget and doctrine.

Ricketts acknowledges that the UK, which sees Nato rather than the EU as the main focus of European defence, would have found Macron’s proposal “uncomfortable” if the UK had remained in the EU.

Ricketts, who served as national security adviser, permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, chairman of the joint intelligence committee and representative to Nato, says: “Brexit will not weaken the case for close UK-French defence and security cooperation but it will change the context and create the risk of the two countries drifting apart.”

Cooperation on counterterrorism and cyber threats has “become even closer in response to recent terrorist attacks. It is crucial that Brexit does not adversely affect this”, he added.

He proposed deployment of a combined British-French joint expeditionary force in some troublespots and working together on military equipment projects.

They could also develop cooperation on nuclear weapons, given “a more aggressive Russia, the emergence of North Korea as a nuclear power and the uncertainties about the longer-term US commitment to Nato following President Trump’s hesitations over reaffirming article 5”, Nato’s collective security pledge that an attack on one is an attack on all.