Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

London — The former head of British foreign intelligence warned that the country would find it harder to influence international affairs after Brexit because its economy would decline.

"Your power and influence in the world is directly related to the performance of your economy, so in the short term — the next five years or so — if I’m right that the economy is going to take a hit, then our influence will diminish in that period," former MI6 chief John Sawers told MPs from parliament’s upper house on Thursday during a hearing.

Sawers, who voted for Britain to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, even suggested that perhaps the split would not go ahead: "Brexit, assuming it goes ahead," would make diplomacy harder with "difficult" countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea.

What’s more, the UK cannot rely on the US to take up the slack, Sawers said. He made the point that the UK’s foreign and defence policy "has been predicated for the last 75 years on a very close partnership with the US," which could no longer be relied upon as Donald Trump pursued his America First agenda.

"We are entering into an era where our ability to rely on that partnership is not as great as it was in the past," Sawers said. "As the US is less willing to bear the burdens of global stability, then there is going to be greater weight attached to the role of Europe, of which Britain is a central part. I don’t see us being able to hedge our bets by floating into the mid-Atlantic, and be able to play the same sort of role at a distance from the EU." As the UK faces an increasing risk from terrorism, Sawer’s words echo those of Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, the nation’s domestic spy agency.

Parker used a speech on Tuesday to highlight that working with European partners remained crucial to MI5’s mission. "We share intelligence. We run joint operations. Every single day," he said.

That view is not universal, however. In 2016, ahead of the referendum, Richard Dearlove, another former MI6 chief, said if Britain were to vote to leave, it could boost the UK’s defences.

In an article for Prospect magazine, he wrote there were "vastly varying levels of professionalism in intelligence and security" across the EU’s member states, suggesting some leak like "colanders".


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