Following the Brussels bombings, as with last November’s Paris attacks, Brexiteers say EU membership harms our security. Leaving the EU might actually harm our security. This is because jihadism is largely a cross-border problem, even when terrorists themselves are local. We are better able to combat it if we cooperate with other European nations.
UKIP defence spokesman, Mike Hookem MEP, said: “This horrific act of terrorism shows that Schengen free movement and lax border controls are a threat to our security.” Allison Pearson, a Telegraph columnist, tweeted: “Brussels, de facto capital of the EU, is also the jihadist capital of Europe. And the Remainers dare to say we’re safer in the EU!”
There are two main errors in the Brexiteers’ arguments. First, Britain is not part of the Schengen Area. We have our own border controls. Even if Schengen’s leaky borders helped the Brussels bombers – and that is currently speculation – a jihadi would still be checked at the UK border.
The second problem with the eurosceptics’ arguments is they ignore how cross-border cooperation helps keep Britain safer. Each of the EU’s 28 countries has only one bit of a jigsaw puzzle. If they swap information, it is easier to piece together what is happening.
After the Charlie Hebdo massacres, we opted into the Schengen Information System, a database that contains, among other things, details on 250,000 wanted or missing people and 40 million alerts on identity documents. Some of this is relevant to terrorism. We also benefit from the European Arrest Warrant, which allows us to extradite criminals – including terror suspects – rapidly from other EU countries.
Since the Paris attacks, EU nations have been stepping up their counter-terrorism cooperation. They are planning to interconnect national DNA, fingerprinting and vehicle registration databases as well as to swap information on terrorist financing. They will also put the names of all suspected foreign terrorist fighters into the Schengen Information System. At the moment, only 2,000 out of an estimated European 5,000 jihadis are in the database. Europol, which incidentally is run by a former British intelligence officer, has also created a European counter-terrorism centre.
Yet another initiative is to share passengers’ travel records. The idea is that it will then be easier to spot unusual travel patterns that wouldn’t be visible from one country’s data alone. The scheme, which had been held up in the European Parliament because of worries that it constituted an excessive invasion of the privacy, is now virtually certain to proceed.
If we quit the EU, we could probably opt back into many of these counter-terrorism and crime prevention initiatives. After all, the EU would want to cooperate with us too. But it could be hard to replicate all the arrangements and, even where we could, we’d be allowed to tag along rather than being one of the countries currently in the driving seat.
At present, we are not exposed to Schengen, but play a big role in designing European counter-terrorism policies. The Brussels and Paris attacks are a reason to stay in the EU, not quit.
Mike Hookem’s press officer failed to provide any meaningful response to our enquiries.
This piece is the modification of an excerpt from Hugo Dixon’s The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. This in turn drew on an article he wrote for the Guardian.
Edited by Luke Lythgoe
Hugo Dixon is the author of The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. Available here for £5 (paperback), £2.50 (e-book)