On August 28, in cooperation with the British Embassy in Budapest IFAT hosted a roundtable discussion with special guest Nicholas Hopton, Director of EU External and Security Policy of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The main focus of the event was the security and defence aspects of Brexit and the possible future defense cooperation between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
IFAT director Márton Ugrósdy opened the event and highlighted that despite the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, professional discussion should not stop. In his keynote lecture, Ambassador Hopton emphasized that the Johnson government’s primary goal is delivering Brexit. Ambassador Hopton said that there is a “Back to School” feeling in the politics of Europe, however, the British Parliament will not go back to school until October. He reassured that the UK will leave the EU on October 31.
Ambassador Hopton listed a wide range of contemporary security threats, from the global economic shift towards Asia to threats in cyberspace, climate change and Russia’s destabilizing behavior. He underlined that the UK already encountered many of these threats and multilateral cooperation is necessary to cope with them. The UK wants to do more in these areas, and also seeks to informally participate in EU initiatives, like CFSP missions. Any future security partnership with the EU will rely on three principles: autonomy, flexibility and scalability (the level of cooperation). The UK will be open to all kinds of ideas from the EU, if they are compatible with NATO and strengthen the military alliance.
In the following panel discussion, moderated by Gergely Varga of IFAT, Hungarian security experts and the ambassador discussed some details of the post-Brexit security environment. Tamás Csiki Varga, research fellow at the Institute for Strategic and Defense Studies, underlined that in the current geopolitical environment European cooperation would be essential, which is undermined by Brexit. He also shared his concerns about the potential negative economic effects of Brexit which could be considered as a major security threat. He argued that Brexit should not be seen as a zero-sum game in security terms, and the UK should not be punished for leaving the EU. Csiki Varga added that Brexit has an unintended consequence, as it may trigger the pursuit of European strategic autonomy and EU military build-ups. Ambassador Hopton argued that it is misguided to exclude third-party states from EU security projects. He also claimed that Brexit does not pose a threat to European defense industry cooperation.
György Rábai, head of the Defence Policy Section at the Hungarian Ministry of Defence, stressed that the EU will miss the UK as a global player, the EU’s strongest military power. The Hungarian government is not happy about Brexit, however, it respects the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Hungary at present seeks future cooperation with the UK, and the two countries already signed a letter of intent in the area and the new Hungarian security strategy considers the UK as a major partner. Szabolcs Takács, Hungarian ministerial commissioner for Brexit gave the closing remarks, highlighting that “Brexit should be fair” and “Hungary is seeking as much comprehensive and deep cooperation with the UK as possible”.