November 22, 2018 / 1:55 PM / 22 days ago

'Operational cooperation': Brexit deal vague on EU-Britain security ties

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain has failed to win a guarantee of access to EU security databases once it leaves the European Union, according to a draft deal agreed between London and Brussels on future ties, leaving such co-operation open to negotiation.

A leaf falls from a tree in front of EU and Union flags in London, Britain, November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain, along with France, is one of Europe’s biggest military powers and hoped that security would be one of its bargaining chips as it seeks a new relationship with the EU, calling for a defence and security treaty in 2019.

While the draft text, seen by Reuters, does contain a specific chapter on a close post-Brexit security relationship, a sub-heading referring to “operational cooperation” between police and justice systems remains vague.

“The parties ... will therefore work together to identify the terms for the United Kingdom’s cooperation via Europol and Eurojust,” said the text, referring to the EU’s law enforcement agency and its legal agency.

British access to the EU’s passenger name recognition database, fingerprints and other data looks unlikely to continue, as the text instead calls for both sides to establish “reciprocal arrangements for timely, effective and efficient exchanges.”

The so-called political declaration, which is to accompany Britain’s divorce treaty, is not legally binding but underscores the EU’s insistence that Britain must accept the consequences of becoming a third country, outside the bloc.

Britain has argued that the European Union cannot protect itself from Islamist militants and Russian threats without help from London, which would itself become more vulnerable without continued access to EU intelligence and databases.

British demands to remain in the EU’s Galileo satellite programme, which the bloc is developing to rival the U.S. Global Positioning System, have so far not been met. The text calls for “appropriate arrangements for cooperation on space.”

EU rules prohibit sharing sensitive information with countries outside the bloc, which Britain leaves on March 29 next year, although any changes will not take effect until the end of a status-quo transition period at the end of 2020.

Britain did win assurances that it will be able to benefit from EU defence integration to allow British industry to work with lucrative EU military projects and tap into EU funds.

Britain will be “invited to participate on an exceptional basis” in the EU’s flagship defence pact, known as Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, agreed in December 2017.

The 25 countries in the new EU defence pact unveiled a new series of projects on Monday that governments will develop together, including plans for an European armoured infantry fighting vehicle, upgrades of attack helicopters and a joint EU intelligence school to train spies.

Writing by Robin Emmott, Editing by William Maclean

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