On 31 January 2021, the United Kingdom finalised its withdrawal from the European Union, transferring its formal relationship to the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). The UK’s withdrawal from the EU fundamentally changed its relationship with the bloc but after four decades of close political and economic union, there remains a great deal of overlap in foreign policy with European partners.
This paper aims to address UK interests in the North African region and proposes policies for engagement post-Brexit. It will stress the growing, and often undervalued, importance of the region and make the case for reenergising relations.
The North African region is both geographically and politically significant for Europe, it exists at the southern gateway to continental Europe and shares close post-colonial relationships with a number of European states. It is at the center of the debate in Europe surrounding irregular migration, trafficking and international terrorism, and acts as the point of departure for numerous Mediterranean trafficking routes originating in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Regional instability and insecurity in the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa and an increasingly unstable Sahel continues to displace civilians who go on to make the perilous journey seeking security and a better quality of life on Europe’s shores and to a lesser, but growing, extent, the UK’s. Unscrupulous transnational criminal organisations, which hold scant regard for human life, operate the routes often channeling funds to corrupt officials and violent extremist groups for passage, such as Islamic State (IS), further fuelling instability and insecurity.
Displaced civilians travel routes which take them through Morocco to the Canary Islands, across the Strait of Gibraltar or into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, as well as through Tunisia and Libya to Malta, the Italian island of Lampedeusa, Sicily or mainland Italy by sea. They flee insecurity and dire economic conditions at home.