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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Brexit must not block battle against ISIS, says ex-Nato chief

New report says UK and France must cooperate to promote security in the face of new global threats

French President Emmanuel Macron with British Prime Minister Theresa May before a working lunch destined to be dominated by Brexit. EPA
French President Emmanuel Macron with British Prime Minister Theresa May before a working lunch destined to be dominated by Brexit. EPA

France and Britain must strengthen their military and security ties to tackle the growing threat from terrorism with a depleted ISIS still posing a threat for years to come, a former British head of Nato and an ex-French premier have warned.

Nationals from the two countries travelled to fight for ISIS in greater numbers than from any other European Union nation, underscoring the threat to security cooperation caused by Britain’s decision to leave the 28-nation bloc, they said in a report.

George Robertson, a former Nato secretary general, and French ex-premier Bernard Cazeneuve, warned that the 114-year military alliance between the two countries had been weakened in the face of emerging threats from terrorism, cyber espionage and instability in the Middle East.

“The future of Franco-British cooperation is precious but has never been so precarious in the face of the emergence of new threats, American isolationism and Brexit,” according to the report published by French think tank Institut Montaigne and King’s College London.

The countries are vulnerable to further attacks – each was hit by five in 2017 – after an estimated 2,000 nationals combined from both countries travelled to Syria and Iraq.

“Violent, Islamist-inspired extremism poses an immediate and significant danger to both countries,” the report said. “Returning foreign fighters will likely continue to spread their message, both during and following custodial sentences – prisons are, after all, noted hotbeds of radicalisation.”

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France and Britain currently share data on security threats and investigations through European institutions but the collaboration is threatened by the fallout from the decision by UK voters in 2016 to leave the European Union.

The report was released as the countries’ leaders, prime minister Theresa May and president Emmanuel Macron, met in France with a deadline fast approaching to strike a deal to ensure continued trade and security cooperation after Brexit.

Mrs May, in France to honour the war dead from the First World War from both countries, said the visit was an opportunity to reflect on past battles but also to look to a shared future “built on peace, prosperity and friendship”.

The two countries agreed deals in 2010 to run joint military operations and to cooperate more closely in nuclear development and through defence industry projects. But a joint rapid-response unit is not expected to be ready until 2020 and the two countries face potential friction over attempts to sell rival fighter aircraft in Middle Eastern markets, the report said.

“In our view, competition for exports – particularly when defence budgets are tight – is likely to reduce incentives to cooperate on developing major weapons systems,” the report said.

Britain sees the US as its main ally and could distance itself further from Europe after Brexit to try to broker new global alliances.

“Defence and security cooperation between the UK and the EU27 is of tremendous importance for both countries,” the report said. “Brexit must not jeopardise it, and defence and security must not be used as a leverage in the negotiations.”