Dangerous criminals aren’t free to walk into UK

by Luke Lythgoe | 12.04.2016

Myth: EU membership means dangerous criminals are free to walk into UK

InFact: The UK can deny entry to EU citizens on public security grounds. Though some slip through the net, if we quit, we’d no longer drive EU crime policy.

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Vote Leave say: “EU membership means we have lost control of our borders and have been unable to prevent dangerous individuals from walking into the UK.” To back up their argument, they’ve published a dossier detailing “50 of the EU’s most dangerous criminals who came to the UK”.

But, unlike EU members in the Schengen Area, the UK does have full control of its borders. Officials carry out security-related checks on anyone, including EU nationals, entering the UK.

Under EU law (Art. 27), the UK has the right to refuse admission to any EU citizen on the grounds of “public policy, public health or public security”. Proportionality applies, which means previous criminal convictions do not in themselves constitute grounds for refusal. However, those who “commit serious or persistent crimes” and are seen as a “genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat” can be refused entry to the UK.

Moreover, the deal David Cameron negotiated in February will further strengthen the legal wording around countries’ powers to prevent entry or deport nationals from other EU countries.

Countries will be able to stop individuals whose behaviour is “likely to” – rather than “does” – “represent a genuine and serious threat to public policy or security”. Countries will also be able to “take into account past conduct” and “the threat may not always need to be imminent”. The deal goes on to say that “even in the absence of a previous criminal conviction” countries can “act on preventative grounds”.

Some criminals still slip through the UK border net because up-to-the-minute information about criminal convictions in other EU member states isn’t always accessible to UK border officials when they check passports. Nonetheless, since 2010 roughly 6,000 EU citizens have been refused access to the UK.

After leaving the EU, the only significant way to make UK border security tighter than it is now would be to introduce pre-travel controls, such as visas, for travellers from other EU countries. But disruptions to business travel and tourism would make this option highly unappealing.

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    Brexit wouldn’t give Britain any additional control over its borders, but it could potentially jeopardise the UK’s continued membership of data-sharing programmes. ECRIS, for example, is a database set up in 2012 to exchange criminal records information between member states, intended for use at the request of judges and prosecutors. It is currently being enhanced for further integration, and to include information on non-EU citizens.

    The Schengen Information System is a sophisticated alerts system for wanted and missing persons.The system doesn’t guarantee recently released murderers get stopped at the border, but it does increase protection against fugitives.

    The priority in Brussels, particularly in the wake of recent terrorist atrocities, is to bolster these and other EU-wide information systems. A post-Brexit Britain would likely still be involved in security cooperation but Brexit would remove the UK’s leadership role in setting a European security strategy.

    This article was updated on June 7 to include a reference to changes to border controls agreed in David Cameron’s renegotiation settlement.

    This article is an adaptation of a piece that previously appeared on InFacts.

    Edited by Geert Linnebank

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