Theresa May has been accused of ‘blackmailing’ Europe after seeming to link Brexit negotiations to security co-operation.
In her letter to European Council chief Donald Tusk yesterday she wrote: “In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”
That paragraph has been seized on by allies and enemies alike.
The Sun newspaper splashed on Thursday with the headline ‘Your Money or Your Lives’ and a number of politicians and commentators took to Twitter to condemn it.
Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee that oversees aspects of security run by the Home Office, tweeted: “No. We’re Britain. We don’t do this. We don’t threaten to ignore terror attacks for free trade. We don’t threaten lives for a customs deal.” She added in a statement: “My message to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary is this: don’t play games on national security. It’s far too serious for that.”
More worryingly for the Brexit negotiations was the response from Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s representative among the EU negotiating team. He said security was “far too important to start a trade-off of one and the other.” And appearing to protest too much that the situation was not blackmail he said: “I tried to be a gentleman towards a lady, so I didn’t even use or think about the use of the word blackmail.” However Gianni Pittella, leader of the socialist bloc in the European parliament said the move “feels like blackmail”.
However Brexit secretary David Davis toured the TV and radio studios this morning downplaying the row. He insisted the letter was not a threat. On Good Morning Britain he said the UK would not withdraw security co-operation.
His Cabinet colleague Home Secretary Amber Rudd also said the Brexit letter did not contain a threat but pointed out that the UK is the largest contributor to Europol and that “if we left Europol then we would take our information.”