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Loss of access to EU policing data post-Brexit ‘concerning’ - Lords Committee finds

Friday 26 March 2021

A report analysing security provisions in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) finds that new law enforcement arrangements are complex, remain untested, and misses out significant areas. 

The Agreement also ends UK access to an important EU database providing vital policing information in real-time.

The TCA, signed on 24 December 2020, does continues some key aspects of key UK-EU law enforcement cooperation, including the sharing of criminal justice and security data and collaboration on extradition. However, many important details are still to be agreed.

These are some of the main findings of the House of Lords EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee's final report, which assesses what the TCA means for continued UK-EU cooperation on policing and criminal justice post-Brexit. It also examines new extradition arrangements it describes as “ambitious”. The Committee is chaired by former national security adviser, Lord Ricketts.

Data sharing

The report highlights the UK’s loss of access to the EU Schengen Information System (SIS II) “most significant gap in terms of lost capability” for UK law enforcement. This was used extensively pre-Brexit to obtain information about the movement of criminals and of missing persons. that the committee find data via its replacement system available only “in a matter of hours, not seconds”.

The report finds that the agreement “avoids a cliff-edge departure” through the continued sharing of policing and criminal justice data, including on DNA, fingerprints, air passenger information and criminal records.

Data protection

In a key finding, the report reveals that the EU will continue to monitor UK data protection rules, holding the UK to “higher standards” as a country outside the EU. This increases the scope for legal challenges which, if successful, could trigger a suspension of the TCA’s law enforcement provisions.

The report also observes that suspension or termination of the Agreement could be triggered “if the UK chooses not to stay aligned with EU data protection rules in the future.”

Other points made in the committee’s report include:

  • Whether the UK meets data protection requirements will determine the UK’s continued involvement with EU law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, Europol and Eurojust.
  • On extradition, the report finds that it will be important to monitor carefully how the new and untested arrangements work in practice. It calls on the government to regularly publish statistics on UK-EU extradition warrants given the important implications for individual liberty.
  • Following recent high-profile errors by the Home Office in relation to policing and criminal justice information it shares with the EU, the department should observe “the highest standards of data handling to maintain the necessary confidence among the UK’s EU partners.”
  • The newly formed UK-EU ‘Specialised Committee’ will have an important role in overseeing law enforcement and judicial cooperation, particularly over data protection issues.

Commenting on the report Lord Ricketts, Committee Chair, said:

“This agreement enables the UK to continue to cooperate with the EU in the areas of security and justice, including on the sharing of key data and on extradition. The government has therefore succeeded in avoiding an abrupt end to years of effective UK-EU joint working in these areas, which would have put the safety of citizens in the UK and across the EU at greater risk.

“There are, however, still grounds for considerable caution. These are a complex and untested set of arrangements and their effectiveness will depend crucially on how they are implemented at the operational level. This will require continued parliamentary scrutiny. The provisions on data protection are particularly fragile. If the UK does not remain in step with changes to EU data protection laws, or if UK is found to have breached fundamental rights when handling personal data, then this could trigger the suspension, or even termination, of all the justice and security cooperation. Another area of concern is the impact on our law enforcement agencies of loss of access to the Schengen information System. Parliament should monitor whether the alternative arrangements the government are putting in place will provide equivalent access to information which is vital to the UK’s security.”

’Beyond Brexit: policing, law enforcement and security’ is the last in a series of reports published as part of the Lords EU Committee’s ‘Beyond Brexit’ week, which sees the publication of five separate reports analysing different aspects of the TCA and the future of UK-EU relations. For more information please see: Beyond Brexit Reports.

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