Brexit Britain and policing Project Fear

The British Public voted to Get Britain Out of the EU, but this does not mean ending meaningful cooperation on policing and judicial matters with our closest European allies. It's just more Project Fear dishonest scraemongering to say that either we or our European neighbours will not act in our, or their own, best interests after Brexit

Under arrest in Europe
Luke Watson
On 14 August 2018 09:11

More scare stories and supposedly dire warnings of the problems of a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit have hit the news headlines again.This time Project Fear was meted out by police leaders and commissioners.

They have suggested the United Kingdom leaving the European Union after March 2019 without a deal would put public safety at risk and reduce police capacity across the country.

In a letter to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) claim the loss of EU databases, the European Arrest Warrant and Europol membership, would affect policing capabilities and operational efficiency. They emphasised the importance of ongoing cooperation with European policing and justice bodies.

It needs to be stressed that no Brexiteer has denied the need for continued collaboration on crime and security with our close European allies. Even the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, and the rest of the EU negotiators have all acknowledged police and security cooperation between both sides is vital in any post-Brexit arrangement.

After all, Britain is acknowledged as having some of the best intelligence capabilities in the world, so why would the EU want to deny themselves our own expertise?

However, in order to deliver a proper Brexit, the UK can no longer be governed by the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), meaning the way we share criminal data and tackle organised crime with EU neighbours will have to change. This will also mean greater opportunities for our policing and judiciary.

One of these opportunities must mean the UK leaving the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which allows an EU Member State to arrest and detain criminals in another country, without extradition talks between them. Barnier announced last June the UK will be kicked out of this scheme.

The system, on paper, has clear benefits, with the ability to bring back British criminals to face trials in this country and extradite up to 10,000 foreign offenders every year. However, this can lead to a fundamental flaw: our citizens can be imprisoned by corrupted regimes, and our hands will be tied.

Its agreement relies on the premise whereby all 28 EU Member States have equally independent judicial systems and robust legal frameworks. This is clearly not the case. Countries such as Bulgaria and Romania have both been identified as Member States with exceptionally high levels of political corruption and weak judiciaries, and new evidence of corruption found in Romania places further doubts on the validity of the EAW.

Our own legal system is currently placed on equal footing with inferior legal systems. Decent and honest law-abiding British citizens can be at risk of being extradited from this country, with our own courts being unable to intervene.

One of the most famous examples of this is between the Romanian Government and Sky News Chief Correspondent, StuartRamsay. After producing a report on arms trafficking in Romania, Ramsay was falsely accused of fabricating a story of a ‘staged’ arms dealer meeting, and the Romanians wanted to issue an EAW for the extradition of Ramsay and his film crew.

Under this current system, it is possible for British journalists to be extradited by foreign governments who wish to supress information and news coverage.

From this it is clear Brexit will allow us to revaluate our own laws to ensure rights - such as the freedom of the press - are respected and upheld without British citizens being exposed to the injustices of corrupt foreign governments.

This is not the only policing opportunity to come out of Brexit.

Another exciting prospect is the UK shifting towards using other alternative criminal databases, rather than those operated under the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol. However, the EU needs to be reminded the UK is the largest contributor to Europol, and other European countries also rely on our information and intelligence, so locking us out completely would essentially be putting their own citizens at risk.

It is not uncommon for Europol to negotiate operational agreements with non-EU countries, so there should be no reason the same terms could be applied to the UK. Operational agreements allow for the exchange of information, meaning a degree of cooperation with European allies can be maintained.

In the event of no agreement, our contribution to the EU’s databases would be seriously missed. A main problem with Europol is its enormous reliance on data and intelligence provided by Member States, and national contributions can remain highly uneven.

There have been cases where a Member State has contributed over 500 pages of criminal data to Europol, and another country has only offered only a single page. One of the reasons for this is many national law enforcement agencies already have informal bilateral and multilateral arrangements in place.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners are evidently asserting the Project Fear worst-case scenario of having no arrangement with the EU. This is unlikely to happen, and Barnier’s feeble attempts to threaten us with no access to European databases will only put the safety of all EU citizens at risk.

The British Public voted to Get Britain Out of the EU, but this does not mean ending meaningful cooperation on policing and judicial matters with our closest European allies.

Luke Watson is a Research Executive at the cross-party, grassroots campaign Get Britain Out.

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