Britain will loose significant access to EU security data due to Brexit deal
The greatest impact on our security comes from losing access to the Schengen information System, for swapping alerts on the movement of criminals and missing persons.
Today marks the publication of the last report from the Lords EU Committee: ‘Beyond Brexit: policing, law enforcement and security’, which directly tackles the issue of the safety and security of citizens in the UK and across Europe.
The report completes a set of five from the EU Committee analysing different aspects of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), highlighting issues which will need careful monitoring by Parliament in the months and years ahead. It was prepared by the Security and Justice Sub-Committee, which I have chaired over the last year.
We were relieved that Britain and the EU secured an agreement on law enforcement – failure to do so would have been a disaster, leading to an abrupt cut off in cooperation which the British police had come to rely on heavily over the last decade. But the arrangements are complex. Many of them are untested, and much will depend on cooperation at an operational level between police forces.
It is too early to reach firm judgements as to whether these measures will ultimately be effective. Our report flags a number of areas where Parliament will need to assess what is working and where the gaps are.
Criminals must not be able to find loopholes in the new system to avoid justice
Extradition of fugitive offenders via the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) made the return of suspected criminals to the country where they were wanted for trial much simpler and quicker. Outside the EU, the UK could not continue to take part in the EAW. The government did however succeed in negotiating a replacement within the TCA which offers most of the same benefits. However, 10 EU states have indicated their intention to exercise their right not to extradite their own nationals to the UK. Provisions in the new agreement for protecting individual rights may well be tested in the courts.
These uncertainties mean that it will be vital for the government to continue to publish data on how many arrest warrants have been issued, how many are carried out and whether there are delays under these new arrangements. Criminals must not be able to find loopholes in the new system to avoid justice.
Our report found that the greatest impact on operational capacity for the British police comes from losing access to the system for swapping alerts on the movement of criminals and missing persons known as the Schengen information System or SISII. Having left the EU, Britain can no longer take part in this system. The fall-back is a database run by Interpol known as I-24/7. For this to be an effective substitute, the UK will depend on the authorities in EU countries uploading the same alerts on the Interpol system as they do now on SISII. The government needs to invest in new systems to ensure that the alerts reach the police on the ground as rapidly as possible. Speed is of the essence and Parliament will need to monitor whether the I-24/7 system proves as effective.
Our report highlights another significant gap in the TCA, civil justice and family law. Many people based in the UK will have been involved in litigation in an EU country. This might be a family matter such as divorce, maintenance payments and child abduction. British based citizens will no longer be able to use the EU regulations which made these processes more straightforward.
For civil law matters, the Lugano Convention offers a good alternative, but the UK has still not joined the Convention. For complex family law matters, UK based citizens will have to fall back on a web of less effective international conventions. Sadly, all this will make life more difficult for families at a particularly stressful time in their lives.
Lord Ricketts is a crossbench member of the House of Lords and chair of the Lords EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee.