Brexit Sanctions Policy: UK House of Lords Advise Partnership with EU

On 17 December 2017, the UK House of Lords published its report on Brexit; Sanctions policy. In its wisdom, the Lords have advised that the UK maintain a closely knit multilateral framework with the EU and the U.S. regarding sanctions (hopefully also for export controls??).

The Lords state the obvious, as in the post Brexit world, the EU, UK and the U.S. essential interests and threats will not fundamentally change. The UK aligning itself with EU sanctions as a third country would not permit it to influence the design of sanctions, and formal inclusion in EU meetings rather than information cooperation would be the most desirable approach. I would argue that it would make sense that the UK somehow remain within the EU’s CFSP framework. 

Below is the summary of the Report
Sanctions are a central tool of national security. When the UK leaves the European Union (EU), it will cease to be part of its framework for designing and imposing sanctions. The majority of the UK’s current sanctions regimes are EU restrictive measures, agreed unanimously by all 28 Member States and applied across the bloc.

The Government has brought forward legislation which would freeze the current sanctions regimes and designations in effect on the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and establish a legislative framework for the UK to implement United Nations (UN) regimes and use sanctions to meet national security and foreign policy objectives.

Sanctions are most effective when they are applied on a multilateral basis. Participation in the EU sanctions regime has helped the UK to achieve its foreign policy and national security goals. EU sanctions have sent a powerful signal to states such as Russia, and leveraged the bloc’s considerable economic weight to change countries’ behaviour, such as in Iran. EU regimes—independent or building on UN measures—account for around three-quarters of all the sanctions the UK currently implements. They have been particularly important in cases where agreement cannot be reached at the UN, or UN measures are limited in scope.

The principal interests and threats facing the UK and the EU-27 will not change fundamentally when the UK leaves the EU. We therefore welcome the Government’s intention to continue to work closely with the EU and other international partners on the application of sanctions after Brexit. The US and the EU already co-ordinate closely on the design of restrictive measures, and it would be desirable for the UK, the US and the EU to maintain a broadly similar approach to sanctions policy after Brexit. Working closely with international partners would also help to avoid additional administrative burdens for businesses operating in the UK.

The UK could choose to align itself with the EU sanctions regime—an approach often taken by Norway and Switzerland. While this would preserve the current unity of approach, it would require the UK to implement decisions taken by the EU-27, without having any influence over their design. We also conclude that while informal engagement with the EU on sanctions—as undertaken by the US—can be very valuable, it is no substitute for the influence that can be exercised through formal inclusion in EU meetings.

The Government’s aspiration is to establish an “unprecedented” UK-EU partnership on sanctions policy after Brexit. The UK has some leverage in that it currently plays a leading role in developing EU sanctions policy, is most active in proposing individuals and entities to be listed, and is home to the largest international financial centre of the bloc. But we note that the Government’s approach is untested, and it is not yet clear what its proposed arrangements would involve. Future co-operation could also be limited by the UK’s new legal framework for sanctions, and its post-Brexit position outside the EU’s Single Market and customs union.

More broadly, the extent to which the UK and the EU co-operate on sanctions will depend on their future relationship in the wider foreign policy arena. This needs urgent consideration. We suggest that, if the Government does not participate in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) after Brexit, it should propose that a UK-EU political forum be established, expressly for the discussion and co-ordination of sanctions policy.

The UK has the expertise and capacity to develop and implement sanctions independent of the EU, and is establishing a dedicated sanctions unit. Depending on the direction of the UK’s sanctions policy after its departure from the EU, more resources may be required.


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