Contingent Choices: The Future of United Kingdom Defence Procurement and the Defence Industries in the post-Brexit Era

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Prime Minister May’s recent announcements strongly suggest that the Government will seek a “hard” Brexit in negotiations with the EU. For the UK government, this is likely to mean that the UK will seek to leave the Single European Market as well as the European Customs Union. Although this provides clarity as to the UK’s government’s position, it fails to recognize that the choices available to the Government are inherently linked to the choices made by others in the Brexit negotiations, the EU and the member states in particular. In this article, we explore what Brexit means for the UK’s future defence procurement options and its defence trading relationships with the remaining 27 European Union member states. We explore two Brexit scenarios: in the first (and now less likely but still feasible) scenario, the UK remains within the EU Single European Market (SEM) provisions for defence procurement and trade. In the second (and now more likely) scenario, the UK leaves the SEM and operates outside EU rules, regulations and directives. Within this scenario, we see two options. In the first place, the UK could successfully negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU which allows for tariff- and barrier-free access to the SEM. Second, the EU could insist on particular trade-offs (e.g. tariffs on key sectors or particular forms of free movement of people and goods) that are unacceptable, causing the FTA to collapse and forcing the UK to follow World Trade Organisation rules. We argue that in both scenarios, old tensions and logics will play out in the new post-Brexit system and will have deep ramifications for defence procurement and industries. We also argue that the post-Brexit choices available to the UK government will not be ‘‘hermetically sealed’’ from other players in the negotiations; rather they are contingent on the extent to which the remaining EU states pursue further defence procurement integration and the potential responses of major UK-based defence contractors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-502
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Affairs
Issue number5
Early online date1 Mar 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Mar 2017


  • Brexit; defence procurement; defence industry; UK; EU; EDTIB; Single European Market


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