Theresa May has been criticised by many for her approach to the Brexit negotiations, in particular for using various things as ‘bargaining chips’. Most recently, this has been related to comments about security in her letter to Donald Tusk which triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. In the letter she wrote, “In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened,” suggesting that the UK would limit its contributions to European security without a favourable trade deal. Critics have claimed that she is playing politics with our security, however this is completely unjustified.
In a negotiation, each side will have something to offer the other, and it is through this that an agreement is reached. In this case, the UK has an extremely strong and sophisticated anti-terror network, and so the UK can offer to share its intelligence. In return, the EU then offers the UK something over which it has control, such as low-tariff or tariff-free access to the Single Market. The result of various concessions, trades and compromises on each side is an agreement which is beneficial to both parties.
However those who are saying that the Prime Minister should not use Britain’s security services as part of the negotiations are willing the UK to fail. It is absurd to suggest that the UK should hand the EU (which is already in the stronger position by virtue of its size) complete dominance by conceding all its strengths before negotiations begin.
Similarly, the government has been criticised for not guaranteeing unilaterally the residency rights of EU citizens living in the UK. It is European Union leaders and not Theresa May who have rejected a deal on this issue before the main negotiations begin. Were the UK to have acted unilaterally then the EU would, with all probability, have then guaranteed the residency rights of UK citizens living in the rest of the EU in exchange for another concession from Britain. This means that the outcome on residency rights would be the same, but the UK would have to concede something else.
The term ‘bargaining chip’ has negative connotations, but the reality is that the EU will use everything in its power to reach an agreement in its interests. So the UK government must do so too, using all factors over which it has control, including security, in order to reach the best possible deal for its citizens.