Skip to content
Policy brief | 22 December 2016

The UK, France and the Challenge of Brexit to European Security

Image of Joseph Dobbs

Joseph Dobbs |Senior Officer, NATO Nuclear Policy Directorate

EU France Security United Kingdom Euro-Atlantic Security

On 17 November 2015, a few days after terrorists murdered some 130 civilians in Paris, football fans in London joined their French guests in singing the French national anthem at Wembley Stadium in a deeply moving tribute to the almost fraternal bond between the UK and France. A little over a year later, and the bilateral relationship between the two countries faces its biggest challenge in 50 years.

This paper addresses how, following Brexit, London and Paris should face that challenge, reconstituting cooperation in the realms of foreign, defence and security policy so as to ensure bilateral security and protect European security as a whole.

For a number of reasons France is the most important of the many European bilateral relationships the UK must now focus on following the vote to leave the EU. In the context of mounting threats, a weakened working relationship between NATO’s two largest European military powers would leave Europe’s security weakened. After Brexit, France becomes the EU’s preeminent defence and security power, while the UK will reemphasise its strong voice in the region as the biggest European contributor to NATO. Both countries need to ensure that these two institutions are as aligned as possible. It is in both London’s and Paris’s clear interest to ensure a strong and stable EU post-Brexit. The UK has not voted to leave the continent and its security will still in large part depend on the security and stability of its neighbours. Moreover, the underlying conditions which motivated the landmark 2010 UK-France Lancaster House Treaties on defence and security cooperation have not fundamentally changed.

This policy brief makes seven recommendations for the UK and France to cooperate in protecting European and global security:

  1. The UK and France should start talking about UK-EU foreign, defence and security policy cooperation;
  2. The UK should commit clearly to not using European security as a bargaining chip;
  3. The UK should commit to supporting EU foreign, defence and security policy cooperation where appropriate;
  4. France should propose an EU+1 model for UK-EU foreign policy coordination, and the UK should embrace it;
  5. The UK should propose associate membership of the EU’s Security Union, and France should support this;
  6. The UK and France should work closely to reinforce their shared international agenda;
  7. The UK and France should further enhance bilateral defence cooperation.

In the paper itself these recommendations are explained in detail along with the challenges and opportunities of Brexit for the bilateral relationship.



The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.