Internal security mustn’t be sacrificed on Brexit altar

by David Hannay | 11.07.2016

As the civil service begins, rather belatedly, to assess the Brexit options and the choices for a new external relationship with the EU to set before the new Prime Minister and a new government, it will be important not to concentrate exclusively on the trade area where the tensions between interfering with free movement and keeping Britain in the Single Market are all too obvious. The need to avoid damaging the complex network of EU agencies and laws which assist us in the fight against international crime – whether it be terrorism, cyber crime, human trafficking, drugs or child pornography – must surely have a high priority in a period when these threats to our own internal security are on the rise. It is a simple fact that the fight against international crime neither begins nor ends at the water’s edge.

Nor is it scaremongering to say that this network of EU agencies and laws is at risk from Brexit. Most of it will simply drop away unless specific provision is made to retain it. More worryingly the ideologically driven Eurosceptics – and there are plenty of them – want none of it to be retained.

The Fresh Start group within the Conservative Party, in which Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab were leading lights, campaigned vigorously to get rid of all of it and to substitute for it a cat’s cradle of bilateral deals with each of the member states; and they sustained that view even when witnesses from all the law enforcement agencies and from all branches of the legal profession argued that even if such bilateral agreements were to be negotiable, such an approach would be slower, more costly and less effective when it comes to such matters as the extradition of dangerous criminals. In the case of Ireland, they chose to ignore the risks that a bilateral approach would revive the politicisation of the extradition process which undermined law enforcement in the island for so long.

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    What is at stake in all this? Membership of Europol, which provides for international coordination against crime; and of Eurojust which helps prosecutions across borders; the European Arrest Warrant which has helped us in recent years to bring back about 1000 people accused of serious crimes in the UK and to ship out 7,000 EU criminals who had taken refuge here from prosecution; the European Criminal Records Information system, the Schengen Information System and the Prum decisions which provide for the rapid exchange of information – DNA ,number plates and the background records of those trying to enter the country. These are essential tools if we are not to be endlessly playing catch-up,with the criminals a step or two ahead of us.

    The task of retaining this network in the event of Brexit will not be entirely straightforward, either legally or in practice. But the mutual interest of the UK and the EU in doing so should help to overcome obstacles. The UK will have to bear a fair share of the cost of this cooperation; the institutional arrangements will have to reflect the fact that the UK is no longer a member of the EU; and there will have to be provisions to enable us to take on board such new EU measures as the UK may judge to be in its interest to apply.        

    Let us hope that the national interest, which both Houses of Parliament. judged by massive majorities as recently as 2014 was best served by remaining within the network, will prevail over ideological arguments when the new government takes decisions on all this in the autumn.

    Edited by Hugo Dixon