360° Analysis

UK Security Would Benefit From Brexit


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March 15, 2016 19:27 EDT

British security would improve upon separation from the European Union.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement on February 20 of a “special” relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU) briefly boosted support for staying in—if only because he dominated the news agenda. However, support will decline before the referendum on June 23, particularly on the issue of security, which he falsely offered as a reason not to separate from the union.

On the day after returning from Brussels, in his first public speech to justify his deal, Cameron claimed to have earned a “special status” for the UK. He listed Britain’s “economy” and “national security” as the two leading things that would benefit from the deal. The reference to security was surprising, mainly because the agreement in Belgium included nothing that would benefit security.

Security Spin

Initially, the spin was working for Cameron. This has been an unfair debate so far: Cameron forbade his ministers from campaigning until after he had reached an agreement with the EU. Even afterward, his cabinet secretary banned civil servants from assisting ministers who campaign to leave the EU (even though civil servants are supposed to be non-partisan). Nevertheless, within a couple days of Cameron’s return, a quarter of his cabinet, almost half of his parliamentary party, and practically all the party constituencies came out for separation.

The first poll—conducted by ComRes for The Daily Mail—since Cameron’s speech suggested that 51% of British voters wanted to remain in, 39% wanted out and 10% were undecided. This was a small boost on the proportion a year ago. In February 2015, a survey by YouGov had found that the “in” advocates made up 45% of respondents, while 35% would vote to leave. Three weeks before the 2015 General Election, a survey by Populus—published in the Financial Times—suggested that Britons were evenly split (40% in, 39% out), while a survey by Survation for The Mail on Sunday immediately after the election found that 45% wanted to be “in” and 38% wanted to be “out.”

Yet deeper questions suggest that the majority do not like anything in particular about the EU, even though they like Europe in general. Already, the same ComRes poll showed that only 45% believe the prime minister had succeeded in improving the terms of Britain’s membership; 42% said he had failed. Meanwhile, 34% think British national security would improve if the UK stayed in, the same proportion said it would make no difference, and 28% said national security would decline. Meanwhile, the poll found that voters strongly believe that British democracy, sovereignty and border control would improve if the UK left the EU.

David Cameron

David Cameron © Shutterstock

The pro-agreement respondents probably conflate economic security and national security, as has Cameron’s government, by arguing for the last five years that it needs to stabilize the economy after the Labour Party’s mal-administration (1997-2010) before it can provide other forms of security.

Economic security is not transitive with the most salient forms of national security: Britain’s economy might grow, but that would not change its current exposure to various threats through open borders and inept EU foreign policies.

Since then, Cameron’s strategy has clearly relied on warnings about the “risks,” “uncertainty” and “insecurity” of leaving the EU without proof, prompting British tabloids to refer to his campaign as “project fear.”

British support for staying in will decline as the debate exposes more of the facts and less of the spin. Any way you cut security, it would improve after a separation: national, transnational and international.

National Security

The UK’s national risks in the last decade or two have been mostly social: terrorism, trafficking and other transnational organized crime. The EU helps in some ways, but mostly makes them worse, with its policies of open borders and free movement of people, which are channels for criminals and provocateurs to find new opportunities in one country after escaping unwanted attention in another.

These EU policies are destabilizing in general. In the 2000s, the Labour government opened Britain to hundreds of millions of EU citizens. The party admitted to a crisis in “national cohesion,” but denied that immigration had anything to do with national cohesion, except to characterize all concerns about immigration as racist. Its main solution was to invest in national sports teams (particularly ahead of the London Olympics in 2012), but that sort of vicarious nationalism dissipates in weeks.

Even under Cameron’s administration, immigration is rising from practically every EU member state, particularly the poorest nations. Annual net migration into the UK is running at more than 320,000 per year, despite the prime minister’s campaign commitments (since before the General Elections of 2010 and 2015) to reduce net migration to tens of thousands. The British government has no estimate of the number of illegal migrants who get into the UK.

Cameron has repeatedly admitted that Britain receives too many immigrants for integration or employment. Yet he came back from Brussels with no deal on migration. Cameron has staked his campaign on support for the EU as it is, including the free movement of people.

The EU’s responses to migration are chaotic resultants of hypocritical, contradictory national self-interests pretending to be European interests. For instance, France has ignored international law for years by refusing to process thousands of migrants camping illegally at Calais and Dunkirk until they can sneak onto traffic crossing the English Channel. Ordinary travelers routinely post footage of gangs of migrants breaking into vehicles for the trip across the English Channel, due to practically no inspection at the French end.


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The disruption effectively closed the ferry and train crossings for most of July and August 2015. British-French cooperation (such as French allowance of British border agents) has been achieved bilaterally, not through the EU. In early 2016, France promised to process external Syrian refugees within weeks, having not processed any at the Calais “jungle” in years.

Similarly, Greece failed for years to secure its maritime borders or to process refugees on Greek soil, so long as it knew that almost all of them would make their own way across open borders to stronger economies (at least 80% of European migrants in 2015 passed through Greece).

Migrant Identities

Meanwhile, Germany (claiming to take the moral lead on behalf of Europe) accepted 1.1 million migrants without any prior screening in 2015 alone—and expects at least another half a million in 2016. Last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel suddenly welcomed all migrants into Germany by describing them all as “Syrian refugees.”

However, around 80% of the migrants are not Syrian; most of the non-Syrians rationally but falsely claim to be Syrian—and are easily identified by journalists who speak Arabic. Yet most end up in Europe anyway, sharing the same refugee centers, where mass fights break out between real Syrians and impostors. EU policy on migration discriminates against genuine refugees who do not have the money or the youthful vigor to make the journey to Europe, particularly women and the elderly; around two-thirds of the migrants are fit young men.

Within a month of letting all migrants in, Merkel wanted to reduce arrivals, to be “stricter” on failed asylum seekers and to separate economic migrants, which eventually included all Afghans and Albanians (the largest national groups after Syrians, each larger than Iraqi refugees). Since then, Germany has belatedly blamed Greece for open borders, while at the same time urging Europeans to uphold the principle of open borders.

European agendas corrupt British discourse too, especially the BBC, which in 2015 described all migrants as Syrian refugees, until, in 2016, it decided to call them “migrants”—where a “migrant” is anybody “on the move” to claim asylum, but not all migrants are asylum-seekers; most of these migrants will never qualify for asylum. Why not define a migrant literally as somebody on the move? The inaccuracies and conceits are to the detriment of genuine asylum-seekers.

The EU’s narrative remains a year out of date. In March 2016, David O’Sullivan, a long-time technocrat from the unelected European Commission who is currently the EU’s ambassador to the US, referred to all 1.25 million migrants from 2015 to date as “refugees and asylum-seekers.” When challenged, he claimed not to know how many are economic migrants or Syrians. His meandering attempts to articulate a policy ended in hope “that the reception of refugees takes place in a more orderly and structured way.”

European conceits on the identity of migrants and open borders are compounded by conceits on the prospects for integration. Merkel promised that all migrants could be integrated simply because “there are 80 million of us [Germans].” This was before mass sexual assaults by migrants at New Year’s Eve festivities and public baths that were initially covered up by officials, which prompted unprecedented public protests against migrants, and counter-protests.

All European member states are destabilized by migration, including the most generous and tolerant such as Sweden. Racism toward migrants does explain some of this destabilization, but migrants bring plenty of their own racism (not to mention the sexism), and many problems with few benefits to citizens, so some of the opposition to uncontrolled immigration is logical.

Europe’s open borders are contrary to decades of best practice: Keep refugees as near to their home countries as possible, given the risks of migration to the migrants themselves and to the stability of destination societies, until their home nations can be restored to peace. This was the practice the EU itself accepted when it took over the mission in the former Yugoslavia in 2004.

Transnational Threats

The greatest security issues of our time are all transnational: terrorism, organized crime, epidemics—all due to globalization and integrationist ideals. The EU is a net impediment to the fight against transnational crime because of the prioritization of national economic self-interests hiding behind the ideals of pan-European free movement.

British support for staying in will decline as the debate exposes more of the facts and less of the spin. Any way you cut security, it would improve after a separation: national, transnational and international.

Transnational security is impossible without border control, as illustrated in November 2015 when Islamic State (IS) terrorists gathered weapons and organized in neighboring Belgium before crossing the border to attack in Paris and then returning to Belgium to prepare another assault. Worse, uncontrolled migration is a channel for crime from outside the EU. Some of the Paris attackers were French citizens with criminal records and known jihadist histories who traveled from the IS territory by hiding among migrants.

Yet the EU does not admit these facts, and thus has no policy on these transnational threats. Stepping into the vacuum is NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, who stated the obvious—that migration “masks the movement of criminals, terrorists and foreign fighters”—before leading the European response.

The EU is not necessary to the UK’s transnational security. The day after Cameron’s return from Brussels, Alan Johnson, former home secretary in the Labour government, claimed that “the European arrest warrant” is a “huge” benefit to Britain’s security, without which a terrorist suspect would take years to recapture. This is false: EUROPOL is redundant to INTERPOL. Criminals who flee within the EU are lost because open borders provide no opportunities to discover the identity of a fugitive, until he or she carelessly attracts official interest through another crime or a demand on public services.

The French and Belgian response to the Paris attacks was bilateral. The EU would have been a much slower and less effective channel.

A Separation

Cameron’s government organized a letter to The Daily Telegraph arguing that separation would be bad for international security—apparently signed by 13 military personnel who had previously served the government, although one of them had never agreed to sign, and another was pressured to agree without full disclosure. The letter offered no logic or evidence, only unfounded assertions that “Britain will have to confront these challenges whether it is inside or outside the EU. But within the EU, we are stronger.”

One of the signatories later added his assertion that the UK’s exit from the EU would break up NATO, but NATO does not need the EU’s redundant and inferior efforts to establish a separate military capacity.

Cameron’s subsequent claims have overreached: that the EU helped Britain to counter Russian and Iranian threats, to help bring the Ebola pandemic under control and to lower its telephone bills. He subsequently praised the EU for replacing war with dialogue, which has been seconded by Peter Mandelson—Tony Blair’s chief political architect before becoming an EU commissioner for trade (2004-08).


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In fact, peace in Europe was overdetermined after World War II, due to war weariness, the occupation and reduction of Germany, the greater external threat posed by the Soviet Union, and the incorporation of most of Europe into NATO. This is true before the deterrent effects of nuclear weapons are added to the equation.

The EU is an economic and political union, not a military one. So far as the EU has countered international conflict, it has belatedly taken over the monitoring of a region that NATO had stabilized already (as in the former Yugoslavia), or pandered to an aggressor rather than upset its economic interests, as in the EU’s response to Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 or Georgia in 2008. NATO and national governments are the ones standing up to Russia’s many cyber and airspace incursions, and Moscow’s harboring of suspects who traveled across Europe with plutonium to assassinate a dissident.

As the case of former Yugoslavia illustrates, a strong undemocratic federal executive can deny the unhappiness of its members for decades, but the disputes only become uglier when finally unleashed.

The EU is often credited for encouraging democratization and liberalization in prospective members, but it turns a blind eye when members err back toward authoritarianism, as illustrated by eastern Europe. The EU is now accelerating Turkey’s prospective membership despite Ankara’s descent into authoritarianism, in return for half-hearted cooperation in managing the flow of migrants into the EU from the country.

Worse, the EU is a cause of conflict, most obviously between its undemocratic executive and democratically-minded member governments; between its undemocratic European courts and national legislatures; and between unrepresentative members of the European Parliament and national representatives.

The chair of the House of Commons’ Select Committee on Defence warned that the greatest risk to European democracy is EU integration into ever more supranational and undemocratic institutions. In other words, the EU has been undermining European democracy itself, in the name of European unity.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: 360b / M-SUR / Nito / Lucian Milasan / Shutterstock.com

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