Theresa May will deliver a major speech in Munich next month stressing London’s commitment to European defense as part of a wider push to reassure EU leaders about Britain’s strategic direction after Brexit, a U.K. official said.
The U.K. prime minister will make the speech at the annual Munich Security Conference, a leading global gathering of defense and security policymakers and experts, which takes place this year from February 16-18.
The intervention is part of broader moves by the British government to convince EU member countries that the U.K. intends to remain closely aligned to Europe after Brexit, both economically and on foreign policy and security matters.
It comes after the prime minister used this week’s biennial Franco-British summit to deepen the U.K.’s bilateral defense relationship with Paris, stressing her mantra that Britain is “leaving the EU but not Europe.”
At Sandhurst, Britain’s main military academy, May said that while the U.K. prepared to leave the EU, it would “remain a steadfast partner to our friends and allies” on the Continent.
Ahead of the visit to Munich, next week the prime minister is expected to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where she is likely to give a speech — her first on the Continent since her landmark address in Florence last year.
The speech in Munich, however, is seen by Downing Street officials as a fresh chance to tell EU leaders that the decision to leave the EU is not a symbol of British isolationism.
British diplomats believe the U.K.’s relative strength in defense and intelligence is one of its major cards in the Brexit negotiations — a clear benefit of close cooperation with the U.K.
Downing Street insists, however, that pointing this out should not be taken as a threat. It is therefore moving to reassure allies that the U.K.’s commitment is rock solid regardless of progress in the Brexit talks.
In December, the U.K. prime minister flew to Poland to sign a security pact with Warsaw, deepening Britain’s involvement in Eastern Europe.
May’s message in Munich is likely to get a warm reception, at least from the conference chairman, Wolfgang Ischinger, a former senior German diplomat who served as ambassador to the U.K.
“The sphere of foreign policy and defense, including homeland and cyber security, will need to rely on strong and continuing EU-UK cooperation irrespective of Brexit. Trade can be transactional; security is not,” Ischinger said in an article co-written with Italian security expert Stefano Stefanini and published on the conference website.
They urged EU leaders to move quickly to agree the terms of divorce and future partnership. “Failure to do so would have disastrous strategic consequences for European prosperity and security,” they wrote.
Ischinger and Stefanini also called for a “comprehensive and generous offer from the EU” to keep Britain “associated” with EU defense programs.