COMMONS

Committee warns of serious risk of security downgrade with PM’s deal

07 December 2018

In its report on Home Office preparations for Brexit, the Home Affairs Committee has warned that the political declaration agreed by the UK and the EU is seriously lacking in detail on security, customs and border arrangements and there is a real danger that the UK's position will be weakened in the future partnership.

Government urged to stop being complacent

The Committee raises serious concern that the UK has not secured long-term access to key criminal databases and tools for security cooperation like SIS II and ECRIS after the UK leaves the EU, and that the loss of these capabilities would make the country less safe.

The Committee also warns that there is a significant risk that transition arrangements will expire before all the new security arrangements are agreed, leaving a security shortfall. The report raises serious concern that there is no security backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, that negotiations on the future security partnership have not even started, and that a new security treaty will need time to go through full ratification in 27 member states. Based on the evidence it received the Committee warns it will be near-impossible to get a full new security treaty in place before December 2020.

The Government is urged to stop being complacent and to provide clarity on the implications of the deal it has reached with the EU. It is seriously damaging that the Government is not being open with Parliament on the implications of the deal.

Transition arrangements outlined in the withdrawal agreement are welcomed in the report, but the Government is criticised for a lack of clarity on future arrangements at the border, and the fact that it is unable to rule out additional checks and controls.

The report also condemns the Home Office for its successive failures to publish an Immigration White Paper in time for the Parliamentary vote on the Government’s deal.

The Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP commented:

"We are worried about the prospect of a security downgrade as a result of this deal. It doesn’t include the key criminal databases that the police and border force check 500 million times a year to keep us safe. Nor is there a security backstop to make sure that the transition arrangements don’t run out before a new security treaty can be implemented.

The Government isn’t being open about the implications of this deal. Continued police and security cooperation is in everyone’s interest, but there is far too much complacency.

As it stands, this deal will see us lose access to key criminal databases like SIS II and ECRIS, as well as the European Arrest Warrant, Europol and other tools for security cooperation, without any assurance that we will secure replica arrangements for the future. We know that this would mark a significant downgrade of our security and policing capabilities, and the police have made clear we would be less safe as a result.

We’ve heard that it would be impossible to negotiate and ratify a new security treaty before December 2020, yet this deal has no security backstop to ensure continued cooperation once the transition period has ended, and the Government still hasn’t even set out a timetable outlining when it wants to see a treaty agreed.

There is a troubling lack of clarity about what the customs and border arrangements in the future partnership might be, with a wide range of possible checks and controls being introduced. It is also ridiculous that Parliament is being expected to vote on the deal without seeing the Government’s Immigration White Paper, which was first promised 18 months ago, and which will have major implications on UK citizens’ ability to live and work in the EU in future, and on EU citizens’ ability to live and work in the UK."

Future relationship

The Committee welcomes the transitional arrangements for continued access to most EU law enforcement tools, but the absence of clear detail on the long-term relationship is deeply concerning.

The Committee is extremely concerned about the lack of progress on negotiations on future security cooperation and the significant risk of a capability gap if this is not resolved before the transition period expires. There is no security backstop, yet the Home Office has failed to produce a basic timetable outlining when a security treaty would need to be agreed.

The Committee is dismayed by the Government’s failure to plan adequately for the continuity of future security cooperation with the EU.

The Government is either being complacent or failing to be transparent about the security implications, and it should provide full and accurate information to Parliament about the security risks of the Prime Minister's deal.

Europol

The UK will continue to participate in Europol activities throughout transition, however the Government is no closer to achieving its goal of agreeing a future relationship that goes beyond the agency’s existing agreements with nations outside the EU.

The political declaration does not include any detail on the UK’s future relationship with Europol. If negotiations fail to provide a bespoke arrangement that maintains existing capabilities, it will mean a security downgrade and that the Government has failed to achieve its objective. The Committee urges both the UK Government and European Commission to set out their intention for the future relationship in this area.

Extradition

The Committee is extremely concerned by the ‘own national’ exemption that will apply to UK-EU extradition during the transition period. It is unclear what this will mean for victims of serious crimes committed in the UK by EU nationals, including murder, rape and child sexual abuse. The Government must be open about the implications for access to justice for victims, and the practical arrangements it will put in place to support them. This will be particularly vital if victims will have to travel to EU countries to participate in criminal trials.

EU data systems

Although access to EU databases during the transition is welcome, the absence of any reference to SIS II or ECRIS in the political declaration is a serious concern, and the Committee is extremely disappointed by the EU’s current resistance to agreeing to continued shared access.

With no equivalent substitute for SIS II, losing access would cause a significant downgrade in policing and security capability at a time when threats are increasing. The Committee is very concerned that Home Office Ministers are not taking seriously enough the risks arising from losing these capabilities. UK agencies check SIS II over 500 million times a year and there is no adequate contingency. Losing access would, as the police have warned, make the UK less safe.

Borders and customs

The Committee is extremely concerned by the lack of clarity about what the customs and border arrangements in the future partnership might be and, therefore, what the Home Office and the rest of Government should be preparing for. The political declaration includes a wide spectrum of outcomes, from close alignment to substantial divergence. It does not reconcile the Government’s objectives of achieving an independent trade policy and frictionless trade, and provides no assurance that there will not be additional checks and controls at the border.

Immigration

It is deeply unhelpful and unsatisfactory that the Government’s Immigration White Paper will not be published in advance of the vote on December 11, having first been promised almost 18 months ago.

The Government has provided a distinct lack of information on its immigration proposals, and of time for Parliament to consider them before the vote on the deal. This is an unacceptable way for the Government to operate.

Further information

Image: PA-UK-Border-Agency

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