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Britain pulls off a diplomatic coup against Russia at the EU

After Brexit, it will be a lot harder

European Union Summit on Russian espionageEuropean Union Summit on Russian espionage

Brussels, Mar.23.– One question confronting Britain and the European Union is how to maintain foreign-policy and security co-operation after Brexit. Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister, often notes that failure to find agreement would harm the security interests of both sides.

On March 22nd that observation found a pointed form of expression at an EU summit in Brussels, following the recent nerve-agent attack on a Russian émigré and his daughter in Salisbury. After some agile British diplomacy the EU’s 28 leaders issued a joint statement declaring that the only plausible explanation for the attack was that Russia was responsible for it.

This language, tougher than Mrs May had dared to hope, clears the way for further collective EU action, including on beefing up defensive instruments against Russian hybrid warfare, later this year. Nor was the European response limited to words. The EU’s ambassador to Russia has been temporarily withdrawn to Brussels, and on March 26th several countries, possibly including France and Germany, are expected to announce that they are following the British example and expelling Russian diplomats. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, reportedly asked her fellow leaders to state which of them would agree to do so.

Mrs May, whose experience inside the EU over the past 18 months has largely been one of humiliation, can chalk this up as a diplomatic win. EU leaders jealously guard their foreign-policy prerogatives (which is one reason why some of the promises to expel Russian spies may vanish on contact with domestic reality). To obtain tough language and common diplomatic action looked far from inevitable earlier this week. “Russia is challenging the values we share as Europeans,” declared the prime minister as she left the summit on March 23rd ...

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