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Analysis

UK heading for security train wreck after Brexit

by Paul Taylor | 22.06.2018

The UK and the EU are heading for a train wreck on security cooperation that keeps citizens safe on the streets of London, Paris or Frankfurt unless the UK changes course in the Brexit negotiations soon.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier spelled out this week that the UK would be shut out of the EU fast-track extradition procedure known as the European Arrest Warrant after Brexit. We would also no longer have direct access to databases of criminal suspects, investigations, DNA, fingerprints, air passengers and people entering and leaving the Schengen area, on which the police and security services have come to rely.

Barnier made clear this is because the UK has laid down red lines ruling out membership of the EU single market or customs union, acceptance of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and making large contributions to the common budget after it leaves the Union.

This will harm security cooperation in both directions and could help turn the UK into a pirate island where criminals from continental Europe stash their ill-gotten gains, comfortable in the knowledge that after Brexit it will take years to extradite them compared to a few weeks now.

No third country currently gets direct access to the EU’s security databases — not even Norway and Switzerland, which are part of the Schengen area. To have any chance, the UK would have to commit to continuing to abide by EU data protection rules, including those made after it leaves, and conclude an agreement on handling confidential information, accept the European Court of Justice’s direct jurisdiction over these agencies and pay a full share of their budgets.

The main risk is the “dislocation of a major partner from what is a very integrated security framework”, said Rob Wainwright, the British former director of Europol, the EU’s police agency, in an interview for a report I published this week for the Friends of Europe think-tank. The extent and effects of that dislocation “depends very much on the outcome of the negotiations”, he added.

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This is particularly serious at a time of accelerated, complex security threats from terrorism, trafficking of people and drugs and cybercrime – all of which are increasingly cross-border in nature.

“The first real concern will be cutting off the rather large amount of daily data exchange through the Europol mechanism. If you suddenly turn the tap off, that’s a lot of security benefit that the UK no longer has. It would be very costly and must less efficient,” Wainwright said.

While Britain regards itself as a security superpower with prize assets such as the GCHQ communications monitoring centre and world class intelligence services, former security chiefs say the UK is heavily reliant on information sharing with EU partners.

Current GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming boasted this week that the UK had helped foil at least four major terrorist attacks on the continent in the last year, implying that Europe could not afford to shut Britain out. But other experts say it is much more two-way traffic than Fleming indicated.

“The days when we thought we had the only intelligence agencies worth having and all the data that mattered are well gone,” Robert Hannigan, director of GCHQ until 2017, said in an interview for my report. “That’s at least 30 to 40 years out of date. We rely on very capable agencies in Europe and information they hold on threats, terrorism, cyber and Russia, and we have worked more closely with them than ever before. The idea that it’s all give is ridiculous.”

Unless the government drops some of its red lines, UK security is bound to suffer.

Paul Taylor is the author of “Safer Together: The United Kingdom and the future of European security and defence”, Friends of Europe, Brussels, June 2018.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “UK heading for security train wreck after Brexit”

  • Jeremy Fleming is clearly getting his information briefing from Mr Fox who took the time to issue a warning to the EU in an article in the Independent. on Saturday(?). If I understand his comments correctly he stated ‘Watch our, you! We are not fooling around and you will regret it when May Mum (or is it Mum May?) lets loose with both barrels if she gets even more annoyed than she is already. So watch out! Get it?’