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Sat, 14 Dec 2019 04:40 GMT

Does a ‘No Deal’ Brexit Threaten Britain’s Safety?

Counterterrorism & Security

James Denselow

Thu, 08 Aug 2019 13:09 GMT

Much of the focus of the consequence of a potential ‘no deal’ Brexit has been around how everyday lives would be affected. Leaked reports from Government departments speak of closed schools, empty supermarket shelves, panicked stockpiling of medicines, heavy goods vehicles backed up for miles from the country’s ports. 

Yet there is another more nefarious concern lurking in the backdrop. Considering the country’s general high state of alert over the past few decades and the number of terrorist incidents, could a hard severing of ties with the EU make the UK a more dangerous country to live in?

It would seem hard to conclude that any disconnect or breakdown in pan-European security collaboration would have anything but a negative impact on Britain’s ability to protect its citizens. After all it is often said by those who head our national security agencies that the heart of effective security is close cooperation.

The sharing of intelligence, the building of systems that speak the same language and allow people, money and vehicles to be followed as they cross national borders will at the very minimum enter a period of sustained turbulence as the future nature of Britain’s borders with the EU comes under question.

Back in November of last year, the then-Security Minister, Ben Wallace MP, warned that a ‘no deal’ scenario that seemed unlikely at the time – would mean UK agencies would no longer be plugged into systems for exchanging data including criminal records, alerts on wanted suspects, DNA, fingerprints and airline passenger information. Extradition requests would take longer, while cooperation on counter-terrorism, cyber security and illegal migration would be affected.

According to official figures British law enforcement officials consulted one crime-stopping database, the Schengen Information System, 539 million times in 2017. The potential of a ‘hard Brexit’ could lead to the UK losing access to these databases and having to request access on a case by case basis. As the EU Chief Negotiator, Michael Barnier, has made continuality clear; “if you leave this ecosystem, you lose the benefits of this cooperation. You are a third country because you have decided to be so. And you need to build a new relationship.”

Going from full access to case by case obviously has huge ramifications, especially when you think about the urgency and time sensitive nature of the threats that European countries face. Imagine the scenario, for example, of a person of interest travelling out of the EU and into the UK. Back in November Ben Wallace MP explained “I have seen intelligence from other EU countries that contribute to saving British lives and other countries interdict UK bound terrorists. And we have done the same in reverse”.

Will the post-Brexit systems be able to rapidly flag this to the relevant UK authorities or is there a higher chance of that information coming too late? Likewise if the UK ‘takes back control’ of its own intelligence the Europeans could face a similar threat in reverse, something that clearly is not in the interests of either the EU or the UK but perhaps an inevitable by-product of a significant souring of relations from the political leadership downwards. “The impact of the U.K. leaving is considerable if not managed,” Rob Wainwright, a British former director of Europol, the pan-E.U. policing agency, told a British parliamentary committee. “Literally, people’s lives depend on it.”

A secondary, but of considerably importance, issue is that the Brexit period in the UK is leading to spikes in hate crime and the rise of far-right groups in particular. The UK's most senior counter-terrorism officer, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, has warned that leaving the EU with no deal would be "very bad" for policing.

Global transnational terrorism and far right or far left threats could all pale in comparison to the challenge of a revitalised conflict in Northern Ireland. Much of the recent Brexit debate has been focused around the issue of the Northern Ireland – Ireland border and fears that any form of ‘hard border’ could set off a spiral of violence that dominated the country’s security agenda for decades.

In conclusion that can be little doubt that the toxic stew of growing threats and declining cooperation can only mean that the threat matrix to the UK will worsen on the immediate event of a no-deal Brexit. The only hope is that a legacy of joint working and the clear common interest in reconnecting collaboration will urgently pivot away from a failure of political leadership to reach a deal.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7Dnews.