Parliament’s ‘Home Affairs Committee’ is a cross-party committee of MPs responsible for scrutinising the work of the Home Office and its associated bodies. It examines government policy, spending and the law in such areas as immigration, security and policing.
Written evidence to the Committee from both the ‘National Police Chiefs’ Council’ and the ‘National Crime Agency’ raise concerns about Britain’s ability fight international crime as and when the UK loses access to EU tools – in just 43 days time.
Committee Chair, Yvette Cooper MP, described the warnings as “extremely serious and troubling”.
As a full and active member of the EU and Europol, UK crime-fighting agencies rely on a comprehensive range of European-wide security systems and protocols.
The letters, published this week, express concern about a major impact on operations with the loss of access to Europol and access to other EU databases that play a pivotal role in uncovering criminals on the move.
NCA Director of Operations, Steve Rodhouse wrote that the agency makes “extensive use” of Europol’s “significant and unique capabilities.” Loss of access to Europol – “where investigators from around the continent work together” – would mean that:
- the NCA would have to transfer “several hundred” on-going investigations over to one-to-one deals with specific police forces;
- “The multilateral coordination and specialist analytical services offered by Europol cannot be replicated through bilateral channels”;
- “Information exchange will be slower, more labour-intensive, and opportunities to identify new intelligence leads could be diminished without access to the extensive data held by Europol.”
NPCC President, Martin Hewitt – writing on behalf of the UK’s Chief Constables – warns of other damage to the forces’ ability to fight crime. Without a deal with the EU on ‘data-sharing’, the UK will be removed from the Schengen Information System – ‘SIS II’. This is a second-generation automated database that instantly shares police alerts across borders, without individual forces having to actively contact their counterparts in other countries.
‘SIS II’ is currently aligned to national systems – meaning that any person circulated as ‘wanted’ or ‘missing’ is quickly and automatically seen across the UK and 27 EU member states.
Outside of SIS II, the UK goes back to sending requests via Interpol. This will be markedly slower – and is entirely dependent on EU police forces willingness to share the information at all. Hewitt predicts that: “because of the differences between SIS II and Interpol, forces will circulate far fewer alerts”.
The NPCC raised concerns regarding lack of access to other EU systems and tools without a security and policing agreement in place for 31 December – the end of the Brexit ‘transition’ period:
- NPCC cannot see how EU member states could continue to share detailed data on the movement of air passengers. “An inability to access Passenger Name Records [between police forces] would have a major impact for counter-terrorism and serious and organised crime-related matters”;
- loss of access to the database that provides real-time access to DNA held across Europe would also have a “major operational impact”.
Yvette Cooper: “These are extremely serious and frankly very troubling letters from the country’s senior police officers. They make clear that without a negotiated outcome the UK authorities will lose the ability to use a wide range of law enforcement tools with a major operational impact on policing and security…[and] their letters also suggest that the police expect us to lose important security capabilities.”
With or without a ‘deal’, the UK security and police forces face change to the ways of working and free exchange of data with the EU member states. They note that additional resources will be required, especially if there is a need to deploy liaison officers to each country in Europe instead of working through one central channel.
Cabinet Minister responsible for Brexit, Michael Gove MP, informed Parliament in response to a question from Theresa May MP that “the UK would be able to ‘intensify our security’ even in the event of no-deal”. It appears that the National Crime Agency and National Police Chiefs’ Council do not share his optimism.
The BBC quote a ‘Government spokesperson’ as saying that: “We are focused on reaching an agreement with the EU – and there is a good degree of convergence in what the UK and EU are seeking to negotiate in terms of operational capabilities…in the event that it is not possible to reach an agreement, we have well-developed and well-rehearsed plans in place.”
Former EU Security Commissioner, Julian King, underlined the point: “There’s a big difference for security between deal and no-deal”.
UK leaving Europol is not only an operational loss to UK – and EU – authorities. Former Head of Europol, Rob Wainwright – revealed to have been an MI5 agent before moving to Europol in 2009 – stepped down in 2018 once talks begin on what happens when the UK is no longer an EU member. “There will be a loss of influence – there’s no doubt about that…and I think it’s a shame for the UK. I think it’s actually a shame for our European partners as well.”
Other shared systems, procedures and data sharing at risk without a deal
- Prüm – provides significant benefits by enabling reciprocal, automated searching of bulk DNA, Fingerprint data for Law Enforcement purposes, and is a key tool in scope for internal security negotiations. Prüm also provides for the exchange of Vehicle Registration Data.
- ECRIS – an automated system which provides standardised, electronic exchange of criminal records with set timeframes for requests.
- Passenger name records – PNR – provides a legal basis to enable EU airlines to share data with Law Enforcement Authorities, and help prevent, detect and investigate ‘SOC’ and terrorism offences.
- European arrest warrant – EAW – extensively utilised to enable the fast track surrender and extradition of wanted individuals to and from EU member states. In 2019, the UK surrendered 781 individuals to the EU face trial or detention.
- Data adequacy. If the European Commission do not award Data Adequacy before the end of the Transition Period there would be a direct impact on all UK Law Enforcement agencies to facilitate efficiently inward information transfers from the EU and we would be reliant on each of the other 27 EU member states’ authorities applying the alternative tests to transfer data to the UK – such as appropriate safeguards.