Lords urge Government and EU to urgently change mindset on Brexit security negotiations
Time is running out for the UK and EU to agree on a future security relationship. If negotiators on both sides fail to find common ground, we all stand to lose.
In its report, 'Brexit: the proposed UK-EU security treaty', the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee calls on the UK and EU to change its mindset urgently and make pragmatic compromises on security matters to achieve the over-riding objective of protecting the safety of UK and EU citizens after Brexit.
The Government wishes to negotiate a single, comprehensive security treaty with the EU, and has focussed on three areas for future UK-EU security cooperation: extradition; access to law enforcement databases; and partnerships with EU agencies such as Europol. All of these have been described as “mission-critical” for day-to-day policing, and vital for keeping communities across the UK safe.
The Committee supports the Government's ambition to continue security cooperation after Brexit, but there is no evidence that sufficient progress has yet been made in the negotiations. The Committee believes it is unlikely that such a treaty can be agreed in the time available.
Furthermore, the EU has given little indication that it will be prepared to negotiate a bespoke treaty. The Government therefore needs to show realism about what it can achieve in the time remaining. If a comprehensive treaty cannot be agreed, a series of ad hoc security arrangements could help to ensure the level of cooperation we need.
The Committee also notes that in some areas security cooperation will have to change post-Brexit. For instance, some EU states, including Germany, are constitutionally barred from extraditing their own nationals to non-EU states. The Government has yet to provide any evidence-based analysis of the effect of such changes.
The Committee also heard evidence of UK reliance on EU datasets. UK police forces accessed the Schengen Information System II, a database that can help track criminals, 539 million times in 2017, and the report concludes that if the UK wishes to maintain access to databases, and close relationships with EU agencies like Europol after Brexit, the Government must be willing to be flexible about the shape of a future security relationship.
Lord Jay of Ewelme, Chairman of the Home Affairs Sub-Committee, said:
“The UK and the EU share a deep interest in maintaining the closest possible police and security cooperation after Brexit: protecting the safety of millions of UK and EU citizens must be the over-riding objective. But time is short, and neither side has yet approached the negotiations in this spirit.
“We heard evidence that, by mid-May, the UK and EU negotiators had spent little more than an hour discussing the future internal security relationship, despite the obvious mutual interest in making rapid progress. The safety of UK and EU citizens demands that the negotiators turn urgently to this vital task.
“The Government wants an overarching security treaty, which would to a large extent replicate the status quo. We don't think this is achievable in the time available. We also question whether it is politically realistic for the UK, in current circumstances, to be seeking a bigger role in EU agencies and better access to databases than some EU or EEA Member States.
“It's time for pragmatic compromises, on the UK side, and also on the EU side. Red lines won't save people's lives – getting agreement on effective police and security cooperation will.”
To read the report in full, click here.