Brexit: Ministers refusing to admit to crime and terror threat from no deal, warns former security adviser

Lord Ricketts attacks failure to acknowledge that fallbacks will be 'putting the safety of the public at risk'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 24 July 2020 16:22 BST
What happens next in the post-Brexit negotiations?

Ministers are refusing to admit to the threat from terrorists and crime gangs if there is no Brexit deal, says a former national security adviser in a stinging attack.

Lord Peter Ricketts warned the likely fallbacks will be “putting the safety of the public at risk”, even as the UK and the EU both admitted an agreement is currently “unlikely”, as their talks falter.

In a damning report, the House of Lords committee headed by Lord Ricketts lambasts the security minister’s claim that “the UK has well-developed and well-rehearsed plans in place”.

It flies in the face of a warning from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) that retaining rapid access to intelligence and data is “absolutely critical” in the fight against crime, it said.

UK police checked the Schengen Information System (SIS II) database of suspects “603 million times” in 2019 alone, the committee was told – but that ability is now in jeopardy.

“Compelling evidence has been laid before the committee about the significant consequences for law enforcement in the UK if there is no deal on policing and criminal justice cooperation,” Lord Ricketts said.

“This stands in stark contrast to the government’s optimism that they have plans for non-EU alternatives that can substitute effectively for the exceptional levels of cooperation the British law enforcement and justice communities currently enjoy with their colleagues in EU countries.

“Without a deal, the loss of operational effectiveness for UK law enforcement agencies – including in Northern Ireland – will be profound, undermining modern intelligence led policing and putting the safety of the public at risk.”

The warning is impossible to ignore because the peer was national security adviser for three years until 2015 and, before that, chairman of the government’s joint intelligence committee.

It highlights how – although most of the focus for the no-deal threat is on the consequences for trade and travel – the implications for security are also profound.

Theresa May has been publicly critical of Boris Johnson’s lack of attention to that aspect of co-operation, after she sought an overarching agreement with Brussels.

In a letter to the Lords EU security and justice sub-committee, James Brokenshire, the security minister, acknowledged “some mutual loss of capability” from a crash-out Brexit.

But he claimed: “The UK has well-developed and well-rehearsed plans in place to transition cooperation with EU member states to alternative, non-EU arrangements.”

However, in February, Richard Martin, the NPCC’s deputy assistant commissioner, told the committee: “We want to make sure there is not a gap between what we have now and what we have in the future, because fast, real-time access to intelligence and data… is absolutely critical.”

Even with a deal, access to SIS II is threatened by an ongoing row with Brussels over the UK breaking its rules and a failure to put that right.

The EU ordered the UK to stop making illegal copies of data, ensure that copies of data are up to date and improve the functionality of the Police National Computer.

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