LORDS

Report identifies risk to UK if police lose access to EU tools

Policeman in front of big ben
16 December 2016

Access to EU tools and agencies such as the European Arrest Warrant, Europol, Eurojust, the Schengen Information System (SIS II) and the European Criminal Records Information System or to credible replacements is vital to the ability of UK law enforcement agencies to fight crime and keep the public safe, says the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee in its report published today.

Background

Maintaining the strong security cooperation the UK currently has with the EU will be one of the Government's top four overarching objectives in the forthcoming negotiations on the UK's exit from, and future relationship with, the European Union. Only two years ago, many of the measures the UK is now due to leave were deemed vital by the then Home Secretary in order to "stop foreign criminals from coming to Britain, deal with European fighters coming back from Syria, stop British criminals evading justice abroad, prevent foreign criminals evading justice by hiding here, and get foreign criminals out of our prisons". In their report, the Committee examine the main tools and agencies that underpin security and police cooperation between the UK and EU, and explore the options available to the Government for retaining or replacing them when the UK leaves the EU.

Chairman's quote

Commenting on the report, Baroness Prashar, Chairman of the Sub-Committee, said:

"Protecting the lives of its citizens is the first duty of Government and should be the overriding consideration during Brexit negotiations. Without access to these vital EU tools or credible substitutes, we would be seriously harming the capability of our law enforcement agencies to fight crime and keep the public safe.

"The report agrees with the Government on the need to pursue an ambitious and effective agreement with the EU in this area, but cautions that Ministers may encounter tension between two of their four overarching objectives in the negotiation: bringing back control of laws to Westminster, and maintaining strong security cooperation with the EU. In trying to resolve these tensions, the Government must ensure that there is no diminution in the level of safety and security afforded to the public. 

"Considering how instrumental the UK has been in shaping EU cooperation on police and security matters we hope the EU acknowledges the vital contribution we have and can continue to make.

"The common threats facing the UK and its neighbours require police and security cooperation to be sustained into the future. It is striking that during the referendum campaign this aspect of the UK's withdrawal from the EU did not attract the level of attention the Government is rightly attributing to it now."

Conclusions and recommendations

  • The UK and the EU-27 share a strong mutual interest in sustaining police and security cooperation after the UK leaves the EU. In contrast to other policy areas, all parties stand to gain from a positive outcome to this aspect of  Brexit negotiations.
  • It seems inevitable that there will in practice be limits to how closely the UK and EU-27 can work together if they are no longer accountable to, and subject to oversight and adjudication by, the same supranational EU institutions, notably the CJEU.
  • The Government will need to devise and secure agreement for a future relationship with Europol that protects the capabilities upon which UK law enforcement has come to rely, which goes further than the operational agreements with Europol that other third countries have been able to reach thus far.
  • Access to EU law enforcement databases and data-sharing platforms is integral to day-to-day policing up and down the country. Were the UK to lose access to them upon leaving the EU, information that can currently be sources in seconds or hours could take days or week to retrieve, delivering an abrupt shock to UK policing and posing a risk to the safety of the public.
  • The data-sharing tools that witnesses identifies as top priorities for the UK - SIS II (the Second Generation Schengen Information System) and ECRIS (the European Criminal Records Information System) - are also those it may be hardest to negotiate access to because they are currently used by Schengen or EU members only.
  • The European Arrest Warrant is a critical component of the UK's law enforcement capabilities. The most promising avenue for the Government to pursue may be to follow the precedent set by Norway and Iceland and seek a bilateral extradition agreement with the EU that mirrors the EAW's provisions as far as possible. An operations gap between the EAW ceasing to apply and a suitable replacement coming into force would pose an unacceptable risk.

Further information

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