Government responds to the Home Affairs Committee report: ‘Brexit - the proposed UK-EU security treaty’.
As part of the Brexit negotiations, the UK Government would like to negotiate an internal security agreement with the EU the future security cooperation between the EU and third countries - and implications for Northern Ireland.
The Home Affairs Sub-Committee looked at current and future potential models – and made 39 detailed recommendations in their report published in July 2018. The Government has just published its detailed repose to the issues and concerns raised:
“Internal security: a shared aim (items 1-4)
Current UK-EU security cooperation (items 5-7)
Security cooperation during the transition period (items 8-12)
The UK as a third country—consequences for security cooperation (items 13-20)
Concern that only 1 hour spent on security during UK-EU discussions (item 21)
A future security treaty? (items 22-37)
Northern Ireland and the proposed security treaty (items 38-39)”
The Government accepts all but a small number of the concerns and recommendations. It puts great reliance on a Brexit deal being reached with the EU including a transition period ending on 31 December 2020 in order to address and finalise inter-operating and cooperating on all matters of shared security.
Protecting the safety of millions of UK and EU citizens must be the overriding objective. Police and security cooperation between the UK and EU Member States are “mission-critical” for the UK’s law enforcement agencies. The Committee raised concerns about the short time available to secure agreement and spelled out the consequences for a no-deal cliff-edge Brexit (item 33).
Agencies addressed in the report include police and GCHQ, Europol, Eurojust and on the boards of JHA data-sharing frameworks – all of which have an operational dependence on open access to EU systems and databases.
They looked at the European Arrest Warrant and extradition requests – both of which are impacted by Brexit in ways that are unclear.
The Government response notes that from March 2019, the UK will no longer be an EU Member State and that: “the exact nature of the UK’s participation is a matter for further discussion.” ‘Third country’ agreements with Europol do not provide “direct access to Europol’s databases and the streamlined exchange of data; do not allow national experts to be embedded within Europol and do not enable the third country to initiate activity in the same way. The UK would not be able to maintain its current contribution to Europol on the basis of an agreement along those lines, in part due to the sheer volume of activity the UK participates in and the data that the UK shares.”
There is no precedent for a non-EU Member State securing extradition arrangements equivalent to the European Arrest Warrant EAW. If we default to pre-EAW extradition arrangements - such as the 1957 Council of Europe Convention - would lead to delay, higher cost, and potential political interference and would be a bad outcome for both the UK and the EU.
Data-sharing is critical for future UK-EU security cooperation. Were the UK to lose access to the EU’s security databases, information that today can be retrieved almost instantaneously could take days or weeks to access, creating not only a significant hurdle to effective policing but a threat to public safety. The Government agrees that it would be detrimental to the UK and EU Member States if this capability was not protected – and in regard to the UK securing an agreement with the EU, the UK is ready to begin preliminary discussions on an adequacy assessment so that a data protection agreement can be in place by the end of the implementation period at the latest, to provide the earliest possible reassurance that data flows can continue for both security, law enforcement and commercial purposes.
In the meantime, security practitioners should prepare for the possibility of an operational cliff-edge. The Committee commends the contingency planning undertaken by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Metropolitan Police and the National Crime Agency
The Government confirmed that the UK is committed to membership of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) - and “we believe an agreement should include a mutual commitment to individuals’ rights, noting that the UK will remain a party to the ECHR after it has left the EU.”
Security forces in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have a decades long history of cooperation in combating terrorism and cross-border crime, and over recent years in particular the Police Service of Northern Ireland and An Garda Síochána have developed ever greater mutual confidence and respect. It is vital for both sides that any UK-EU treaty or agreements should support ongoing security cooperation.