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Brussels bombings reason to stay in EU, not quit

by Hugo Dixon | 22.03.2016

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.

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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)

8 Responses to “Brussels bombings reason to stay in EU, not quit”

  • “We are better able to combat it if we cooperate with other European nations.” Correct, we are. But we don’t need to be in the EU to do that. Surveillance on matters such as this are far more sophisticated in the UK than in virtually every other country in Europe. Let me put it another way – How many of the other 28 EU nations do you really think are providing the UK with information on terrorists that we don’t already have? Very, very few would be my educated guess. The SIS and EWA are small fry in comparison to the information collated by national organisations such as GCHQ (in colloboration with the NSA) amongst others.

    Whether wishy-washy liberals choose to admit it or not, unregulated immigration has allowed events such as those witnessed in Paris and Brussels to occur. I would hardly called it “speculative” to suggest so either. A Brexit from the EU is becoming more of a formailty with every passing day.

    • Please tell me how the eu allows unrestricted immigration into the uk. It is a lie and a fallacy of the brexit ears to keep peddling something that is patently untrue

      • Makr Nicholson – “Please tell me how the EU allows unrestricted immigration into the UK.”

        I never infered, much less stated, that it did. New Labour achieved that, not the European Union. The unrestricted migration of Syrian refuges (read: vast swatches of impoverished regions of Eastern Europe and the Middle East) into the EU has undoubtedly allowed Islamic fundamenlists and their associated sympathisers into the continent without the appropriate security checks in place – ultimately causing the atrocities witnessed in Paris (twice) and Brussels. To refute this argument is ridiculous in itself; to suggest that remaining in the EU would actually improve our current situation regarding terrorism is absolutely ludicrous.

        Somehwat ironic that someone so clearly allied to the “Remain” campaign (who’s rhetoric consists almost entirely of exaggerations and scaremongering tactics) would accuse me of falsifying an argument…especially one that I never actually made.

  • This article immediately made me think was this argument is like saying a sieve is just as good at holding water as a bucket…. But in reality the sieve is the EU with no borders….

  • So why doesn’t the European Arrest Warrant as mentioned in this article allow Belgium to extradite Paris bomber Salah Abdeslam to France?

  • According to Chris Phillips former met police counter terror commander on channel 5 tonight. uK liaises very closely with Americans, Australians, canadadians, New Zealand 5 eyes policy which links us together with intelligence. As far as Europe is concerned we do have Interpol , but mostly down to individual countries as we are slightly separate from Europe on this . Belguims counter terror approach is like organised chaos. Announcing this guy was talking dreadful mistake”
    So much for a United EU, better off looking after UK as the EU frankly don’t know what they are doing VOTE OUT

  • The EU has evolved into a faceless, undemocratic, unaccountable, bureaucratic, expensive Quango, a process that will continue to develop. This is almost unstoppable, and the way it is heading could self destruct.
    This is not what I voted for in 1975.
    This is the foremost principle concern over all other issues that can effect the long term future of the EU.
    Change with the UK voice in, will have minimal effect if any as has already been demonstrated.
    UK out is the only opportunity we will ever have of causing a significant re-structure in the way that the EU currently operates and sadly has developed into.