3 weeks following the horrific attacks in the French capital, we look at the effect the events in November may have had on Britain, and its already delicate relationship with the rest of Europe.
Words: Megan Townsend Sub-Editor: TBC
A lot seems to have changed in the past few weeks. The terror attacks in Paris have released shockwaves as many of France’s allies prepare to enter into the Syrian war, well the ones who haven’t decided to do it already. Britain has been as supportive as possible to our friends across the channel. The France vs England football match at Wembley stadium, just 3 days after the attacks, came to represent a solidarity between the two nations, there have been promotions on french goods in order to prevent a dip in their economy, we even saw William and Kate signing a book of condolence to those who died in the attacks.
Will this new-found brotherhood with France change the result of the 2017 vote? or will the UK be forced to alter its policy toward Europe in order to protect from similar attacks?.
After the attacks, predictably, Theresa May called for mainland Europe to adopt the same tight gun controls as the UK. It was later revealed that the kalashnikovs rifles used by the Paris attackers may have in fact been bought in Brussels cheaply, as old Bosnian war leftovers brought into western Europe on the black market. Brussels having a booming illegal arms trade is dangerous for France and the rest of Europe. With the UK having the ability to screen anyone entering the country, regardless of an EU passport or not, makes it incredibly difficult to move weaponry into the country. However if the EU continues with its more lax attitude towards weapons, particularly with a free movement of people, it may not be long till similar arms are seen here.
This obvious gap in EU security could certainly be something anti-Europe campaigners will use to their advantage come the referendum period. “its disastrous really” said Labour MP David Lammy speaking to Voice of London, “Though it seems so early, one of the clear failings in EU security, particularly where weapons are concerned. It will certainly have to be a topic once the Prime Minister begins debating terms”.
One of the UK’s main bargaining chips in EU renegotiations is our relationship with our closest neighbour. As 100’s of fans joined together under the tricolour at wembley stadium just 3 days after the attacks, that never seemed more apparent. Though the UK and France have been rivals historically, they both share an positive relationship with the USA and now are both actively involved in the Syrian War, with Britain voting in airstrikes on Wednesday. Could Germany not wanting to become involved in the situation in Syria drive France and the UK closer together, and in turn both closer to the US?.
What no one is really talking about is Britain’s motivation to leave the EU, which could actually be seen as Germany’s dominance financially. When the EU was first formed, France and the UK became members on the agreement that it would prevent Germany from becoming the superpower it once was. However France has very close ties with Germany, in particular Angela Merkel, and in most conversations that David Cameron has had surrounding changing EU terms France has taken the side of the EU.
The role of Russia?
Probably the most complicated issue which will now face Britain’s relationship with the EU. The new French alliance with Russia seemed warm up frosty relations between the Kremlin and Brussels. However with the news of a Russian jet being downed for entering Turkish airspace last week is making it difficult to predict an outcome. Whilst Russia have promised France they will help battle isis, and there have been mutual compliments between Cameron and Putin, the problem is that NATO is fighting on a different side of the war.
America and France, had initially entered the conflict in order to end President Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and the murder of civilians. Russia, being one of the Assad regimes closest allies, has been aiding the Syrians and since September began actively bombing rebel controlled civilian settlements. Though the UK has chosen to continue airstrikes, David Cameron had previously condemned Russia’s involvement. Speaking in early October he said:
“It’s absolutely clear that Russia is not discriminating between Isil [IS] and the legitimate Syrian opposition groups and, as a result, they are actually backing the butcher Assad and helping him,” he said.”Rightly, they [Russia] have been condemned across the Arab world for what they have done and I think the Arab world is right about that.
These comments were given ahead of the Paris attacks, however it is important to note that the Syrian war is incredibly complex and the UK and Russia may both be attempting to battle isis, but they certainly will not be on the same side of the war. Turkey are backing rebel groups, and are a NATO nation that has made an apparently aggressive move against Russia, The USA and France are both backing rebel groups in the region.
The end of Schengen?
One of the unspoken agreements that seemed to come of the Paris attacks was that it will send the continuation Schengen agreement into doubt. The agreement allows free-travel amongst countries on the european mainland, and not necessarily countries in the EU. The attackers had come from an area in Brussels, Belgium and had entered France…and escaped it…without any real challenge. If people are able to pass through borders without identification, it can cause problems when monitoring extremists.
Many countries that have more lax immigrations laws may not be aware of this shifting of peoples. As France and the EU must look at a way to defend itself from these horrific attacks, will it create a need for tighter borders and spell the end of free movement within Europe?. One of Britain’s main questions to the EU as far as renegotiation is concerned is the right to dictate who is allowed into the country. With the Schengen agreement abandoned that may actually lead other countries to take on these rules and lead to a a more in-sync relationship with the European Union.