European cooperation needed to stop human traffickers

by David Hannay | 31.10.2019

There is nothing like a real-life, real-time tragedy such as the discovery of those 39 victims of people trafficking in a container lorry in Purfleet to shine a harsh and unforgiving light on the potential implications of leaving the EU.

Here was an example of a burgeoning branch of international criminal activity which can only be successfully combatted by the sort of law enforcement machinery which the EU has laboriously put together over the last twenty years.

The government announced today the setting up of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) drawn from the member states touched by this crime – that is an essential piece of EU law enforcement machinery, along with others such as Europol and Eurojust which are already involved in dealing with cases of human trafficking. We may well need to use European Arrest Warrants (EAW) if all those involved in this appalling incident are to be brought to justice and if others involved in trafficking are to be deterred.

And yet, if the government’s relaxed attitude to the U.K. leaving the EU without a deal this Thursday had actually come to pass, all this machinery would have become non-operative that same day. A narrow escape, indeed, you might think. As long as the risk of our leaving without a deal exists – on 31 January or at some later date – then that kind of damage to our internal security will continue to be a real one.

Nor does Boris Johnson’s deal avoid plenty of collateral damage of this nature. The truncated transitional period up to the end of 2020 will not leave the U.K. in the same position as if we were still a member state. We will be out of Europol and Eurojust, unable to rely on the European Arrest Warrant, deprived of access to all of the EU’s criminal data exchange systems.

And beyond the transitional period? The non-binding Political Declaration is full of the sort of good intentions which often pave the way to hell. Much about

“considering “ this and “ examining “that, but no certainty that it will prove possible to construct the sort of load-bearing cooperative systems without which effective action against international crime will not be possible. Do not forget that the EU has never done this sort of thing before with a third country. It has taken almost a decade to get Norway close to being able to benefit from the EAW system.      

In a way, Purfleet is a wake-up call to remind us of how much of our security has come to depend on our EU membership. What we are talking about here is not the exchange of sensitive intelligence, which will no doubt continue since it does not depend on EU channels, but working, effective law enforcement systems to deal with the scourge of international crime.

Edited by James Earley

3 Responses to “European cooperation needed to stop human traffickers”

  • Although this comment is not relevant to the subject of human trafficking, I think it is pertinent to the broader debate. How is it that so many people appear to have forgotten that the EU is the world’s biggest and most successful peace project? This fact, and this fact alone, is surely reason enough to remain within it. To leave this peace project is to weaken it, and to increase the risk that it will eventually fracture and disintegrate. That might end up in yet another European war. Like the two previous European wars, it could drag in the rest of the world.

    IMHO, many people are not really aware that the fundamental purpose of the EU is to provide the fractious tribes of Europe with an alternative to war as a way of resolving their disputes. The EU has replaced war with law. That is the highest and most noble achievement of the EU and surpasses anything that the United Nations has managed to achieve.

    NATO has been our defence against threats of aggression that emanate from outside Europe. But the EU has been our defence from threats of aggression emanating from within Europe (the two world war arose from within Europe). The fact that the EU is the world’s most successful peace project needs repeating again and again – perhaps even ad nauseum – because many leavers do not seem to be aware of it. The EU is of huge strategic value – against which the economic and trade aspects. although important, pale into relative insignificance.

  • Excellent piece, very relevant indeed given the history of bloodshed, even after WWII, on this continent. Relevant too in the light of the fact that during polls it was discovered that majorities of both Remain and Leave factions considered violence (in measure!) appropriate if “they” didn’t get their way with Brexit. Just back from two weeks on the continent, where this news was received with utter disbelief.

  • People trafficking is by its nature an international criminal activity and it requires an international law enforcement response. The mouth-watering sums that victims of trafficking are willing to pay to get to the UK, while bypassing perfectly safe countries in the process, should alert us to the governance standards and compassion at the heart of our society. With Brexit and the projected cessation of international cooperation with our EU partners, will leave our borders extremely vulnerable to a hike in illegal trafficking. As the Dublin Agreement will become defunct, the chances of being able to return victims to their departure point are slight. A hard Brexit is a charter for people smugglers.