Letters reveal grave concerns from security chiefs over impact of No Deal Brexit

Leaving the EU without a deal will have a 'major operational impact' - undermining UK security, policing figures warn.

Newly-released documents from the National Crime Agency and National Police Chiefs Council reveal the threat that a No Deal Brexit poses to national security.

In the event that there is no future security agreement after December 31st – when Brexit the transition period ends – the UK currently stands to lose access to the a raft of security cooperation systems, including information sharing (SIS II), the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), the European Criminal Records Information System, Passenger Name Records (PNR), key security databases, and Europol – the EU’s law enforcement agency.

On the 23rd September, AC Neil Basu, National Lead on Counter Terrorism Policing, told the Commons’ Home Affairs Committee: “We need a security treaty that gives us as much access as we can get to the tools and techniques that we have today” – and that without them “we would not be as safe as we are today.”

Now the National Crime Agency (NCA) and National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has set out the practical damage that No Deal would do to the UK’s security cooperation, in letters to MPs.

Stark warnings

On Europol, the NCA states: “We will not have the same influence in prioritising UK operations for specialist analytical assistance. Both the EU and UK have already confirmed the UK would no longer attend the Europol Management Board, so can no longer exert influence over the future focus and prioritisation of threats within the agency… Over 600 UK operations are supported by the agency each year.”

On lack of access to European fingerprint and DNA databases: “There is no direct alternative to Prüm. From 1 January 2021, the UK would need to revert to individual manual exchanges of data.

Requests would need to be submitted to individual MS through INTERPOL channels on a case by case basis. This will be a slower and less efficient process, with a subsequent impact on UKLE investigations.”

On lack of access to criminal records databases: “Our understanding is that capability will be notably reduced as responses to UK requests will be significantly slower, impacting on public protection, and judicial decisions…Notifications regarding UK national’s offences overseas will be less regular, again impacting on public protection.”

The National Crime Agency is clear: “There is a risk therefore of a delay or reduction in the intelligence we receive.”

And the National Police Chiefs Council – the national coordination body for UK police forces – is also unequivocal: loss of information sharing between the UK and EU will have a ‘major operational impact’.

The NPCC warn that an inability to access Passenger Name Records (PNR) would have a major impact for Counter Terrorism and Serious and Organised Crime related matters.

The police body notes that: “UK law enforcement currently makes extensive use of the European Arrest Warrant to enable the fast track surrender and extradition of wanted individuals to and from EUMS.” Under one mooted No Deal arrangement, “Germany, Austria and Slovenia have already indicated they will not extradite their own nationals” to the UK.

I could take months not days to get records if we lose access to EU policing records. “Capability will be notably reduced …impacting on public protection,” the NCA states.

On Europol, they hope agreement will be reached, but without it the NCA say it is “the tool area we are most concerned about from a serious organised crime perspective”.

 The UK only went live with the European Fingerprint Exchange Programme in October 2020…two months before we leave.

Government spin

Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “These are extremely serious and frankly very troubling letters from the country’s senior police officers who are in charge of law enforcement preparation for January 1 about the security downgrade the UK will face if there is no negotiated outcome in the next few weeks…

“The letters explain that if we lose access to key criminal databases or arrest warrants, then the fallback arrangements are all slower and more bureaucratic, and that will have a detrimental impact on public protection, work to tackle serious and organised crime and counter terrorism.

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove told Parliament in response to a question from Theresa May that the UK would be able to “intensify our security” even in the event of no deal, yet these letters tell the opposite story, Cooper said.

She added: “National security should be the number one priority for the Government but we are now just seven weeks away from the end of the transition period, with serious concerns about a significant security downgrade. Ministers need to now explain urgently what they are doing to ensure there is an agreement on security cooperation, whatever the final outcome on trade or other issues.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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