Left Out in the Cold: Police Chief says UK will be less safe without EU security deal

December 8, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The UK’s most senior counter-terrorism chief, Neil Basu, has warned that the country will be “less safe” if it fails to agree a security deal with the EU, resulting in limited access to joint EU resources and operations against serious organised crime. 

What does this mean?

The UK has until Thursday 31 December to agree a trade deal with the EU and security is one of the most important aspects on the table. Mr Basu made it clear that the UK needs to negotiate a security deal that “retains or improves on the current position”. As the prospect of a no-deal scenario looms on the horizon, police chiefs are becoming increasingly worried about the UK’s access to key EU resources in the fight against international organised crime. Such resources primarily include shared databases such as the Europol Information System (EIS) which is a central hub for all of the EU’s criminal intelligence. As the UK is no longer a member state, the EU has said that its access to these types of databases will be severely limited.

What's the big picture effect?

This story raises important questions about how the UK will manage international operations against organised crime next year, especially if it faces a no-deal Brexit. Without access to Europol, the National Crime Agency’s director of operations, Steve Rodhouse, said, “information exchange would be slower” and “more labour intensive”. Meanwhile, the National Police Chiefs Council warned that a failure to strike a deal on data-sharing would see the UK’s access to the Schengen Information System (SIS II) be revoked. SIS II automatically shares online intelligence alerts without the need for individual police forces to contact foreign counterparts. 

Other databases that the UK is set to lose full access to include the Prum DNA records and Passenger Name Records. Consequently, limited access to such crucial data would see UK law enforcement agencies reorganising hundreds of international criminal investigations. Communications with EU member states’ police forces would be less streamlined and investigations would become more sluggish. All this comes in light of the UK’s terror threat level being raised to “severe” at the beginning of November, raising further questions about whether the UK will see more counter-terrorism intelligence slip through the net.

However, not all will be lost even if the UK leaves without a deal. Brexit talks are making headway as the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, signalled “better progress” in recent days. More importantly though, in the event of no-deal, the EU could also lose out on invaluable UK intelligence. Outside of the EU, the UK is already part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (made up of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US and UK). Helena Farrand Carrapico, associate professor at the University of Northumbria, said, “the EU will be severely impacted” by the loss of access to the UK’s worldwide intelligence relationships. Overall, therefore, it is unlikely that a security deal will not be secured. What remains to be seen is how the two parties will strike a balance between their existing intelligence relationship and the importance of the UK being outside the EU.  

Report written by Dan Furniss

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