A small group of EU nations, including France and Cyprus, are growing increasingly concerned about offering Britain too much control in EU affairs after Brexit and fear any special deal with Britain could leave other foreign powers looking to renegotiate their own ties with the bloc.
One senior EU diplomat told the FT: “If we do something special for the Brits then we have others knocking at the door.”
Britain’s Brexit negotiators believe defence could prove a vital bargaining chip during this year’s Phase Two talks, with the UK considered Europe’s top military power and home to the continent’s best intelligence agencies.
While some nations have expressed concern about offering the UK a special defence relationship post-Brexit, others, particularly Eastern European nations, fear the growing influence of Russia and want to retain close ties to Britain.
Mrs May has promised the UK is “unconditionally” committed to the EU’s security after an attempt to link future cooperation to trade backfired.
However, EU countries privately expect British negotiators to use the issue to secure better Brexit terms.
Britain is hoping to agree a deal “deeper than any current third-country partnership” but disputes within the bloc could threaten plans to maintain similar security and defence ties to those currently in place.
Cyprus fears a bespoke, hybrid EU-UK deal may open the door to deeper cooperation with Turkey, while France would prefer to introduce more bilateral security ties with Britain rather than give London a formal leadership or decision-making role in EU military missions.
Germany and Greece and believed to share French concerns while Poland, Sweden, Finland and the Baltic states are among those keen to retain deep security ties with Britain.
Meanwhile, UK ministers have already hinted Britain is prepared to pay into a planned £5billion EU defence fund after Brexit alongside ongoing NATO commitments.
The UK could also continue to support joint European missions and putting defence and security assets at the bloc’s disposal.
One diplomat told The Sun: “When you talk about security and defence the British have a lot to give to us in exchange. Both sides are very much in favour of continuing cooperation.”
However, another diplomat from one of Britain’s main EU allies warned relations between Brussels and London could change markedly as Britain severs ties with the bloc, because the Uk is “out of the room”.
The diplomat said: “It will change over time, we can’t avoid it… It is hard to have someone sitting in the lobby outside a meeting and asking what will you decide and can we take part?”
Defence and security represent just a fraction of the areas due for discussion as Brexit talks begin again this week, with Britain’s future relationship with the bloc the priority for both sides.
Michel Barnier, speaking before traveling to London to meet David Davis on Monday, said there isn’t a minute to lose as Brexit moves on to Phase Two.