Brexit and maritime security. By Gerry Northwood

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union in July shocked many worldwide. The Referendum debate brought many different arguments to the fore about the effect a British exit from the EU could potentially have on the economy, trade and most importantly from our perspective as a risk management company, maritime security.

Anyone who works in the shipping industry knows well that we live in a highly interconnected world. Brexit will not change that and both the EU and the UK will no doubt adapt their relationships with international and national organisations, as well as industry bodies, to develop and strengthen existing security structures. What is yet to be seen is how the EU, without the UK, and the UK, outside the EU, will seek to adapt their respective roles, though there are already some important indications of the direction of travel.

The maritime domain is a relatively new departure for the EU as it is only since 2008 that the EU became involved in maritime operations. Firstly to take a lead in suppressing Somali piracy in the Indian Ocean. The second and more recent to combat the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. Given that the EU shares its maritime assets with NATO, and that EU Member States have been cutting back on the size of their navies, maintaining two highly demanding operations in their current form, is not sustainable for much longer. Furthermore, the EU without the UK will inevitably see Eastern Europe as its centre of gravity, as more political power shifts east to Berlin, and concerns over protecting the eastern borders from migrant flows and a resurgent Russia, become the prevailing security priority.

Add to this the natural temptation toward introspection to tackle the Islamist terror threat operating at the heart of Europe, and it is clear that the EU will have to work hard if it is to maintain an open and outward looking maritime posture. To this end the EU Naval Force in the Mediterranean will no doubt continue to focus on the migrant problem. This is a task shared with NATO, and it is fortunate for the EU that it is to NATO and the United States that the really important work in the Mediterranean will devolve. That of protecting the EU’s south eastern flank by containing the Russians in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Black Sea.

So, as the EU at best is likely to play no more than a supporting role in contributing to maritime security around Europe, what role will the post Brexit UK play? By ordering the next generation of Trident nuclear missile submarines the UK parliament has made a positive commitment to play its part maintaining the international order; to have credibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to remain a firm and trusted partner of the US, and a leading and influential member of NATO.

This is of course a continuation of the UK’s global role as a member of the EU. As one of the great global trading nations and the fifth largest economy in the world, post Brexit it is doubly important that the UK maintains global reach and influence. With commercial access to the sea routes of the South China Sea, West Africa, Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean, to name just a few flashpoints, under threat from criminality or state action, the maritime community needs the UK to be out there supporting the United States and its many allies.

Maintaining our freedom of trade in the interest of continued globalisation is a maritime mission. Something that is often overlooked by those who are not directly connected to maritime affairs. In these unsettled and troubled times, it behoves the maritime community to insist that both the UK and the EU keep their eyes lifted to the far horizon.

Gerry NorthwoodGerry Northwood is COO at MAST, the international maritime security company MAST is a leading global security provider with the expertise and capability to provide comprehensive security advice, including the delivery of intelligence information, physical security solutions and technology. MAST is without doubt one of the pioneers in the maritime security industry, having been at the heart of development of the legal and operational standards that now allow clients to engage security services in the marine sector with confidence.

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