Former intelligence chiefs warn of security risk from Brexit

Posted On: 
8th May 2016

Leaving the EU could “undermine our ability to protect ourselves,” two former senior British intelligence officers have said.

Sir John Sawyers and Lord Evans argue Brexit could lead to “instability on the Continent”
PA Images

Former MI6 head Sir John Sawyers and Lord Evans, who ran MI5 until 2013, argued the EU is essential for sharing data and counter-terrorism, which they describe as a “team game”.

Writing in the Sunday Times, the intelligence chiefs claim Brexit could precipitate “instability on the Continent”, worsening the existing “economic difficulties, the migration crisis and a resurgent Russia".

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“Intelligence work today relies on the lawful and accountable use of large data-sets to reveal the associations and activities of terrorists and cyber-attackers. The terms on which we exchange data with other European countries are set by agreement within the EU,” they write.

“As an EU member, we shape the debate, we push for what we think is the right balance between security and privacy and we benefit from the data that flows as a result.”

They conclude: “An agreement reached without us would probably be too restrictive for our needs… this could undermine our ability to protect ourselves.”

The pair also argued that the EU is not able to make decisions on matters relating to security that “override” the British government.

"Nor can the EU institutions interfere with the security and intelligence services of member states. There is no European Intelligence Service and nor is there any good argument for creating one.

"Recent attacks in Paris and Brussels show there is further to go, especially in sharing threat intelligence and monitoring movement of suspects. Counterterrorism is a team game and the EU is the best framework available — no country can succeed on its own."

Speaking in an interview with the Sunday Times, Sir John added: "If we leave the European Union, we will make it more difficult for our partner countries to hold together the fabric of the European Union, which has kept stability in Europe for the last 60 or 70 years, effectively since the Second World War.

"And so there's a risk of fragmentation, which in turn could lead to instability."

The former senior intelligence official insisted that both he and Lord Evans had not made an intervention in the EU debate on request of No 10.

“We’re not doing it at anybody’s behest. We are completely politically neutral,” he told the paper.

Previously Sir Richard Dearlove, who led MI6 from 1999 to 2004, gave a differing view in March, saying the risk to the UK’s security from Brexit would be low.

"Brexit would bring two potentially important security gains - the ability to dump the European Convention on Human Rights... and, more importantly, greater control over immigration from the European Union", Sir Richard wrote.


Elsewhere 93 life-science business leaders and organisations warned that leaving the EU could put access to “cutting-edge” medicines at risk.

Writing in the Observer, the group claims EU funding for research helps produce more effective drugs more quickly.