U.K. Negotiator Denies Gov’t Is Blackmailing EU on Security

Britain’s Secretary of State for Leave the EU David Davis. (Reuters/Toby Melville)

Britain’s chief negotiator in the country’s divorce from the European Union on Thursday rejected suggestions the U.K. has threatened to end security cooperation unless it gets the trade deal it wants.

David Davis said Prime Minister Theresa May’s letter triggering talks on Britain’s departure made clear Britain wants to continue to work with the EU on a range of issues, including security, for both sides.

“We want a deal, and she was making the point that it’s bad for both of us if we don’t have a deal,” Davis told the BBC. “Now that, I think, is a perfectly reasonable point to make and not in any sense a threat.”

May’s six-page letter triggering two years of divorce negotiations makes 11 references to security, and said that without a good deal, “our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”

Britain is a European security powerhouse — one of only two nuclear powers in the bloc and with some of the world’s most capable intelligence services.

May said Wednesday that Britain will probably have to leave the EU police agency, Europol, after Brexit but wants to “maintain the degree of cooperation on these matters that we have currently.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd, whose responsibilities include intelligence and security, also denied there was a threat, but told Sky News: “If we left Europol, then we would take our information … with us. The fact is, the European partners want to keep our information.”

Senior European leaders responded positively to the warm overall tone of May’s letter — but they could not miss the steely undertone.

“I find the letter of Mrs. May very constructive generally, but there is also one threat in it,” said European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhoftstadt, saying May seemed to be demanding a good trade deal in exchange for continued security cooperation.

“It doesn’t work like that,” he told Sky News. “You cannot abuse the security of citizens to have then a good deal on something else.”

A day after triggering its EU exit process, the British government was outlining on Thursday how it intends to convert thousands of EU rules into British law when it leaves the bloc in 2019.

The government is publishing details of a Great Repeal Bill that will transform existing EU laws into British statute so that “the same rules will apply after exit day” as before.

Opposition lawmakers are unhappy at plans to give government ministers power to change some laws without votes in Parliament.

They call that a government power grab. But the government says the authority would only be used to make “mechanical changes” so laws can be applied smoothly. It says Parliament will be able to scrutinize all “substantive policy changes,” including new customs and immigration laws.

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