Risk to UK if police lose access to EU security tools, Lords Brexit report warns
The UK and EU must maintain the closest possible police and security cooperation if there is to be no diminution in the level of security afforded to UK citizens after Brexit, says a Lords report published today.
EU law enforcement databases and data-sharing platforms are integral to day-to-day policing according to the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee's report Brexit: future UK-EU Security and Police Cooperation. The report highlights the importance of the UK retaining access to EU agencies and tools such as Europol, Eurojust, the Schengen Information System (SIS II), the European Criminal Records Information System and the European Arrest Warrant which are mission critical for the UK's law enforcement agencies.
The report suggests that the UK has been a leading player in shaping the nature and direction of EU cooperation on police and security matters, and that therefore it is in the interests of the UK and the EU to sustain current levels of cooperation as far as possible. The report nonetheless warns that there will likely be limits in practice to how closely the UK and EU-27 can work together once the UK leaves the EU, and that there is a risk that any new arrangements will be sub-optimal relative to the arrangements in place now, leaving the people of the UK less safe.
Only two years ago, many of the EU 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”.
Were the UK to lose access to EU law enforcement databases upon leaving the EU, information that can currently be sourced in seconds or hours could take days or weeks to retrieve, delivering an abrupt shock to UK policing and posing a risk to the safety of the public.
Databases such as SIS II are currently directly accessible by police officers on the street and give them the ability to access information such as if somebody is wanted in another country, whether they may pose a risk to national security or whether the car they are driving is stolen– allowing officers to make informed decisions to protect the public. The Committee urge the Government to seek access to the full suite of data-sharing tools on which the UK currently relies, but warn this will not be easily negotiated.
Chairman of the Committee, Baroness Prashar 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 a 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.”
An operational agreement with Europol like those that other third countries have negotiated would not be sufficient to meet the UK's needs. The Government will therefore need to devise and secure agreement for an arrangement that protects the capabilities upon which UK law enforcement has come to rely and which goes further than the operational agreements that other third countries have.
Data-sharing for law enforcement
The data-sharing tools that witnesses identified 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.
European Arrest Warrant
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 operational gap between the EAW ceasing to apply and a suitable replacement coming into force would pose an unacceptable risk.
UK's role in shaping EU police and security cooperation
The starting point for the UK in seeking to negotiate access to these tools is different from that of any other third country, both because of the UK's pre-existing relationship with the EU and because of the value it can add through the data it has to offer. With that in mind, the Committee believe there is a strong case for the Government to pursue a bespoke solution as part of the Brexit negotiations.
The Committee's report Brexit: UK-EU security and police cooperation is the fifth of six reports in six days from the House of Lords European Union Committee on the impact of Brexit on a range of different issues.
To request a copy of the report contact firstname.lastname@example.org.