Researchers at Aston Centre for Europe, based at Aston University, have identified several legal obstacles which could block the UK from accessing intelligence databases that are currently vital to the UK’s security.
Such instruments include the Europol Information System, a database of 183,000 items which authorities can use to look for matches regarding suspected and convicted individuals, as well as objects and offences. Access to the Schengen Information System, a larger database containing 43 million items, is also at risk.
Exiting these instruments could result in the UK having less available information about terrorists, organised criminals, asylum seekers and irregular border crossers entering the UK via the EU.
Dr Helena Farrand Carrapico, lead author of the report and Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Aston University, said:
“Information is the element that lies at the heart of security. The more information one is able exchange and process, the more effective one's security apparatus will be. Brexit, however, risks interrupting the flow of information currently taking place between EU member states, and between the national and the European level. It is therefore essential for the UK to ensure there is no breakdown in the flux of information, by negotiating continued access to EU information platforms and databases. Otherwise our security services could be left with major blind spots.
“It is often assumed that the reinforcement of borders will make the UK more secure than what it currently is. Borders, however, are only as useful as the information stored in their system. Reinforcing the border with, for instance, increased physical checks, can amount to little if there is a reduction in the exchange of information feeding the border system. Cooperation with EU countries is in fact the best way to ensure the efficiency of UK border controls.
The UK government recently called for security treaty with the EU to avoid a reduction in current capabilities. However, Dr Farrand Carrapico said forming such a treaty will be fraught with difficulties.
“What Whitehall is currently proposing is, at least for the moment, not legally or operationally feasible. They are asking to continue having the same access to instruments that, for the moment, are not currently accessible to non-EEA member states. It may be the case that a new technical and legal option will be created just for the UK, but this will take many years.
“There are precedents for non-EU countries gaining access to some security instruments. However, most agreements are subject to accepting other conditions such as Schengen area membership. Overall, it is clear that third country arrangements are less accommodating than full EU membership.”
In addition, the report found that Britain not only benefits considerably from EU cooperation, but it is also very influential in shaping policy in this area. Despite the UK’s ‘cherry picking’ of instruments that are most valuable to British security, the EU still profits significantly from the UK’s expertise.
The report suggests that the UK’s expertise and reputation for shaping policy might help in persuading the EU to reach an accommodating deal. Dr Farrand Carrapico added:
“The UK has often been perceived as an awkward partner. However, its influence even over policy areas that it doesn’t formally take part in, has been extremely valuable for the EU’s internal security. Brexit has the potential to reduce the UK’s leadership position, but also compromise the good functioning of the EU’s security-related institutions.”
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