Brexit’s Implications for EU-UK Sanctions Cooperation

Published on 16 February 2021 at 14:16

Diplomatic impacts - Brexit will impose several challenges on the EU’s diplomatic voice in international affairs. For instance, both parties cooperate heavily on sanctions, which is an effective foreign policy tool that offers sufficient balance between political dialogue and military deployment. The UK currently has 40 sanctions regimes in place across the UN and the EU. They have been a significant player for crafting the EU’s foreign policy toolbox, where numerous studies have shown that up to 80% of EU sanctions have been proposed and initiated by the UK.

Concerning Russia, there are currently three EU sanctions regimes to respond to Russia's aggressive attitude in the Eastern Neighbourhood since 2014. The UK has played an important role in the renewal of such sanctions due to Russia’s failure to comply with its commitments agreed under the Minsk Agreements. Thus, there are fears that other member states may not have the political will to keep Russia under pressure as the UK has done. 

Due to its departure from the EU's sanctions regime, the UK has adopted a new Sanctions Act which specifies that it will now be able to impose its own set of autonomous sanctions based on its main interests. EU leaders have welcomed the UK’s initiative to transpose current EU sanctions into its national jurisdiction vis-á-vis Syria and Russia. The question relies on how the UK will contribute to the development of future EU sanctions once it exits the CFSP frameworks. Pursuing two distinct sanctions regimes may prove to be counterproductive and will pose significant hurdles for the future business environment. 

Besides, the UK has the legal, technical and financial expertise when it comes to the design of EU sanctions. London’s importance as a financial hub means that the UK is one of the most popular destinations for foreign investors. Analysis has shown that between 2015 and 2018, the UK has attracted more FDI than any other EU member state, bringing about $140 billion of capital in the space of three years. Overall, the nature of globalisation and European integration between both regions means that sanctions can only be effective if they are applied multilaterally and closely coordinated. 

While the UK is formally exiting EU structures, both sides have expressed their willingness to maintain a close security partnership that will aim to fulfil the EU’s domestic security agenda and its role in the world. Therefore, new policies must be created that keep the relations across the channel, resilient and mutually beneficial to fill the policy vacuum that will be created when the UK leaves the EU.

Diplomatic partnership - In terms of sanctions policy, both sides have acknowledged that the interests and threats facing the UK and other EU member states do not differ significantly. The revised Political Declaration outlines that both parties see the benefits of close cooperation and consultation, implying that the EU wants the UK to remain part of its sanctions project. The fact that there isn’t so much policy divergence makes it more logical to establish a new cooperation format that could allow regular consultations on sanctions coordination. 


Informal engagement is essential for the new “tailored arrangement” that could take place between both parties, however, it is no substitute for official dialogues that are held between EU foreign ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council and Political Security Committee. The UK cannot be left out of the negotiating table as its contribution will be extremely valuable for the EU to strengthen its diplomatic muscle towards other great powers such as Russia and China. 


Sanctions cooperation should be seen as the starting point to establish the new security and diplomatic relationship in the post Brexit era, which will inevitably improve the capacity of the EU’s diplomatic apparatus in the long run. If such a partnership is deemed to be effective, both sides could then establish deeper integration projects in other aspects of EU external action. 

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