Britain’s ambassador complains about exclusion from discussion of risk posed by Huawei
British diplomats in Brussels have been shut out of a key EU meeting to discuss cyber security even though the UK has not left the bloc — a sign of tensions to come should London get another Brexit negotiating extension. Tim Barrow, Britain’s head diplomat in Brussels, on Friday wrote a letter of complaint to the European Council’s top civil servant protesting at British officials being “disinvited” from an EU28 meeting on the bloc’s cyber standards on June 25.
One of the items on the agenda was a discussion about how to protect Europe’s 5G networks amid concerns about the security risks posed by Chinese telecom supplier Huawei. In the letter, Sir Tim said the practice raised “questions and concerns in London with regards to the treatment and process around meetings at 27 and 28 during the current extension”. The UK’s formal exit date from the EU has been extended to October 31. It means Britain is still a fully participating member of the bloc and UK officials still sit around the table to discuss the litany of EU28 policies on everything from foreign policy, the next EU budget, and defence policy.
When awarding the six-month Brexit extension in April, EU27 leaders and the UK promised that Britain would not disrupt the union’s long-term work and would abide by the principle of “sincere co-operation”. In practice, this means the UK votes with the consensus or majority on EU policies.
EU officials and diplomats have met without their UK counterparts when discussing matters explicitly relating to Britain’s withdrawal process and are allowed to exclude the UK from any talks under “exceptional circumstances”. But in his letter, Mr Barrow complained that Britain was given no explanation for being shut out of the technical meeting and the discussion of Europe’s approach to 5G security.
The meeting came weeks after the sacking of UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson following the leak of the UK’s strategy on Huawei to a newspaper. “The UK recognises of course that there are occasions when the 27 need to meet in the Article 50 format without us. The organisation of this has been done openly, and with proper process by the Council Secretariat, the Commission and by successive Presidencies and colleagues”, said the letter. The dispute highlights the likely problems the EU27 will face should the UK be given another extension as the bloc decides on sensitive issues like defence, cyber security and intelligence sharing.
Sir Tim denied in the letter that “UK involvement risked posing a threat to the essential security interests of the Union”. “In respect of the disinvitation to the meeting on 25 June, the UK has received no explanation as to the substantive reason for its exclusion. We are therefore unable to accept that the threshold for ‘exceptional circumstances’.” A spokesman for the UK delegation in Brussels said that “in this case it is not clear why the UK was not invited. We are seeking reassurance that this is an isolated case and that good process will be followed in future”.
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