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Britain’s security will suffer after it leaves the EU

Submitted by on 09 Nov 2017 – 12:13

The British Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly stated that Brexit means Brexit. However, security is so interwoven into the fabric of European cooperation that a cliff-edge abrupt withdrawal from all EU security machinery would make both the UK and the EU significantly less safe. Charles Tannock MEP writes about the security implications for the EU

charles tannock MEPIt must surely have never been the intention of pro-Brexit campaigners to jeopardise border security and such a possibility would be considered an act of gross negligence by any responsible government committed to defence of the realm as its top priority. Britain has now suffered three major jihadi terror attacks this year alone and although the majority of the terrorists were British-born, in the London Bridge attack one of the perpetrators entered the UK on an Italian passport and recorded on the SIS database as under suspicion and another managed to travel from Dublin to London undetected by the Garda under the common travel area.

At a time when terrorist attacks and border security are part of the national consciousness, it is ludicrous that so little priority is being placed on ensuring that the cooperation we have built up with EU partners over decades can continue.
It is deeply worrying, for example, that the issue of security has not been included within the first phase of Brexit negotiations for the Article 50 withdrawal agreement along with the issues of the northern Ireland border, EU citizens’ rights and the divorce bill. Access to EU-wide databases and cooperation with authorities in other member states are not just ‘nice to have’ perks of EU membership. They are essential tools in the fight against terrorism, radicalisation, people and drug trafficking and all criminal activity.

So how should Brexit negotiations progress if we are to hold fast to the aim of maintaining and improving security in the UK out of the EU?

Firstly, security discussions should be set apart from the main Brexit negotiations agenda by forming a separate working group.  Of course, the work of such a group is daunting and unravelling and re-establishing the way the UK works together with its European neighbours will not be an easy task. However, much could be done to minimise the damage of Brexit if security is not used as a bargaining chip as some have rightly or wrongly interpreted the Prime Minister’s Article 50 notification letter, and if security negotiations start early rather than only after “substantial progress” is deemed to have been achieved in phase 1 of the negotiations by the EU 27.

One of the first tasks will be to sort out the UK’s relationship with Europol. Although it is likely the UK will have to leave the Europol Management Board and will probably lose direct access to databases as well as the ability to initiate or lead intelligence operations following Brexit, maintaining operational cooperation with the organisation should be a priority.

Indeed, given the increasing level of dependence of the British police forces on Europol, a full withdrawal from Europol structures would be deeply, and mutually, counter-productive. Among other things, Europol is involved in countering the ever-increasing threats of radicalisation and people-smuggling. It is certainly not the right time to take a step back from organisations equipped to fight the same battles that the UK is facing.

Similarly, the UK government should also ensure continued participation in the European Arrest Warrant. Participation after Brexit is not straightforward including the ongoing EAW supervisory role of the ECJ categorically ruled out by the UK government. Norway and Iceland reached an agreement to use the EAW in 2006 but the accords have still not be ratified by all member states ten years later. They also encountered a problem of justiciability of the ECJ and have come up with a dedicated bilateral ad hoc court arrangement which might suit the UK as an alternative to the ECJ as well. Signing 27 bilateral agreements has also been referred to as ‘fanciful’ by senior officials.

It makes sense for the UK to take part in the EAW but work should start now so that an accord can be agreed before the end of the Brexit negotiations. Similar efforts to keep the invaluable tools of the Passenger Names Record Directive, the Schengen Information System II and the European Criminal Records Information System as well as participation in the Prum Convention also need to be on the agenda.

Many of the votes cast for Brexit were a response to immigration concerns and it is well-known that several British citizens blame the EU for uncontrolled migration into Britain and for the government’s inability to screen out terrorists and jihadists, even though the UK is not in Schengen or the EU Common Asylum and Immigration Agreement. However, what is often lost in the debate is that the EU does plenty to help the UK control its borders.

The abrogation of Le Touquet Treaty by France for example could mean that immigrant camps spring up on the UK side of the channel. Consequently, the UK should also seek to agree an enhanced Working Agreement with FRONTEX, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. Rather than finding that UK borders are more secure post-Brexit, without the support of our European neighbours, Britain would soon find that our borders are more under pressure than ever before.

Cooperation with the EU on matters of both internal and external security has long been viewed as a key complementary tool in furthering our foreign and defense policies with clear benefit to the UK. In order to preserve this partnership for the benefit of every UK and EU citizen, the work needs to start now