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Dearlove downplays Brexit security cost

by Luke Lythgoe | 24.03.2016

“From a national security perspective,” writes Richard Dearlove in Prospect, “the cost to Britain (of Brexit) would be low.” He should know – he was Secret Intelligence Service chief for five years.

Except Dearlove stopped heading MI6 in 2004. His arguments focus largely on the secret services and fail to consider how European intelligence cooperation has become indispensable to less covert law enforcement.

Security cooperation within the EU

Dearlove cites “greater control over immigration from the European Union” as an important security reason to leave the EU. InFacts has previously written on how this muddling of EU migration and security is misleading.

While ending free movement of people, the ex-spook argues, the UK would maintain security relationships with the EU. His arguments about bilateral agreements, the CIA and the “Third Party Rule” may ring true for secret services, but they don’t consider the potential impact of Brexit on regular law enforcement.

For example, the UK currently shares information on suspects and missing persons via the Schengen Information System – a best-of-both-worlds scenario in which our EU membership allows us to access intelligence despite not being part of the Schengen Area. The UK will soon join EU countries sharing DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data, with plans to share passenger flight information in the future. As part of Eurojust we rely on investigations by other members to provide evidence in UK courts.

UK law enforcement uses these intelligence-sharing frameworks to prosecute cross-border criminals. No other country outside both the EU and Schengen is party to these agreements, meaning the UK’s readmission would set a precedent.

Eurosceptics may argue Britain’s intelligence clout would allow continuation of these arrangements, but they cannot know. Even if all 27 other states wanted to maintain cooperation, arrangements would need to be renegotiated after a vote to leave – something Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has described as a “bureaucratic nightmare”.

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European Arrest Warrant

One security tool Dearlove admits the UK would lose is the European Arrest Warrant, the EU-wide system for speedily extraditing criminals, which he wrongly describes as “exclusively criminal”.

The warrant has, in fact, proved handy in terrorism cases: the failed 21 July London bomber Hussein Osman was brought back to the UK from Rome within eight weeks of a European Arrest Warrant being issued. Compare that to the Algerian Rachid Ramda, wanted for his role in the 1995 Paris Metro bombing at a time the European Arrest Warrant didn’t exist. Ramda’s return to France from Britain took 10 years to agree.

A place at the table

Brexit would also mean leaving Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency. The UK could of course continue cooperating with Europol if it negotiated a similar agreement to that of Norway. But this would limit cooperation to sharing information via liaison officers representing Britain at Europol.

What the UK wouldn’t be able to do is help set Europol’s priorities. Europol chief Rob Wainwright, incidentally a Brit, told the BBC’s Today programme that Britain is a “driver” of EU security policy. It seems foolhardy to give up this leadership role at a time when security threats are increasingly planned and coordinated across borders.

InFacts attempted to reach Dearlove for comment via a number of channels, including his agent, but received no response.

This article was corrected on 25 March to clarify that, although Parliament has agreed to join EU measure to share DNA, fingerprinting and vehicle registration data, the UK has not yet begun participating in the scheme.

Edited by Geert Linnebank

2 Responses to “Dearlove downplays Brexit security cost”

  • Here are some “facts”

    First, look at the Schengen Information System. You will find that Norway, Switzerland and Iceland all participate fully. Unless I missed something, none are EU members.

    Second, your fulsome praise of the EAW omits to mention the many extra-judicial arrests that have been conducted based not on a reasonable assessment of evidence, but on a wrongful glimmer of suspicion by some lesser-standard police force. We can do without that thank you. If properly managed extradition doesn’t work, we should fix extradition processes not lower the burden of evidence to a standard we Brits would consider intolerable domestically.

    Third, you desperately stress, on this as in all topics, what we don’t “know”. If these schemes are in national and mutual interest, then we will want to support them and our friendly neighbours will welcome our participation. I don’t “know” if my neighbour would like me to tell him if I see suspicious activity around his house, because I haven’t asked him. But I am pretty sure he would appreciate it – so much so that I don’t even bother to ask.