Brexit: UK risks 'sleepwalking into a crisis' unless it reaches security deal with EU, MPs warn

Home Affairs Committee says ministers are 'worryingly complacent' about complexity of issues to be negotiated

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 21 March 2018 02:27
Can Brexit be reversed?

Britain risks “sleepwalking into a crisis” unless a deal is struck to maintain security and policing cooperation with the EU after Brexit, a committee of MPs has warned.

The Home Affairs Committee said there were “serious legal, constitutional and political obstacles” that mean an agreement will not be easy to reach.

Failure to “urgently” resolve these issues will “seriously undermine” the UK’s security, it warned.

MPs said both the UK and the EU should be prepared to extend the 21-month transition period because new legal arrangements for extradition and data sharing are unlikely to be agreed within two years.

The Government has said it wants to continue current security and policing cooperation after Brexit by negotiating a security treaty with the EU. This would see the UK remain part of Europol, the European Arrest Warrant and schemes that facilitate the sharing of data on criminals.

However, MPs said negotiations on such a treaty must begin immediately and accused ministers of “complacency” over the complexity of the negotiations.

The committee said it was concerning that the EU has suggested the UK should lose its place on the Europol board until a deal is agreed, and accused the Government of being “worryingly complacent” about future data sharing.

The report said: “The Government appears to assume that the UK’s dominant role in Europol and other forms of cooperation will make it easy to secure a bespoke future security relationship with the EU, going far beyond any forms of third country involvement to date.

“This attitude, along with lack of planning for alternative scenarios, suggests that the Government is at risk of sleepwalking into a highly detrimental outcome.”

Failure to continue using the European Arrest Warrant and instead having to rely an earlier extradition treaty would be a “catastrophic outcome”, the committee said.

It called on the Government to begin negotiations on a security and policing treaty immediately, and said the UK should be willing to sacrifice its “artificial red lines”, including on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said: “Given the scale of cross border crime, trafficking and terror threats, we need security and policing cooperation more than ever. But there is a serious risk we will lose some of the vital data and extradition arrangements if there isn’t urgent work by both the UK and EU to deal with the trickiest issues.

She added: “We agree with the Government that the European Arrest Warrant, Europol capabilities and database access should be replicated in full, and that is in Europe’s interests too.

“But just because we all want something, it doesn’t mean it will happen, unless enough work is put in in time to overcome the genuine legal, constitutional and political obstacles we have uncovered.

“We are extremely concerned that neither the Government nor the commission is focusing enough attention on this area of Brexit, to sort these problems out in time.”

The committee said failure to secure a continuation of the European Arrest Warrant would prevent British authorities from being able to secure the extradition of criminals from EU countries for trial in the UK. It highlighted the case of Zdenko Turtak, who beat and raped a woman in Leeds in 2015. He fled to his native Slovakia before being extradited to the UK under the European Arrest Warrant and jailed for 14 years.

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Ms Cooper said: “Losing or weakening data access could prevent the police from getting the vital information they need to catch dangerous criminals or keep victims safe.

“Much more urgency needs to be given to this whole area. Otherwise, we risk sleepwalking into a crisis. That is why the committee is ringing the alarm bell before it is too late.

“Policing cooperation, extradition arrangements and data sharing are too important to lose or diminish. The costs of failure are unthinkable.”

The committee said it was “not convinced that the Government has a clear strategy to prevent the unthinkable from becoming a reality”, and expressed “serious concerns about the apparent lack of investment and interest in contingency planning in this area”.

MPs warned that establishing a new extradition arrangement is likely to run into a series of “significant judicial and legal obstacles”, including the fact that some EU countries, such as Germany and Slovakia, have laws that prevent them extraditing citizens to non-EU countries.

The EU is also likely to want to scrutinise the UK’s surveillance and data-interception programmes, the committee said.

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