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Security cooperation with the EU

During the transition period the UK has continued to participate in EU measures aimed at supporting and enhancing internal security and criminal justice cooperation. These include:

  • Fast track extradition under the European Arrest Warrant;
  • Access to law enforcement databases including the Schengen Information System and European Criminal Records Information System;
  • Exchange of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data on travellers
  • Membership of agencies such as Europol and Eurojust

The UK has also continued to apply EU data protection rules that underpin the free flow of data between member states.

What will change at the end of the transition period?

At the end of the transition period the UK will lose access to these measures. Security cooperation with the EU will change in either a deal or no-deal scenario. Draft treaty texts published by the EU and the UK during the negotiations identified agreement on a number of key issues, such as fast track extradition, ongoing cooperation between UK law enforcement and Europol, and exchange of PNR. However, the EU has made clear that the UK will not have direct access to EU databases. Some existing measures were not replicated at all in the negotiating texts, and other areas of cooperation, such as the relationship with Europol, would be diminished under the proposals.

In a no-deal scenario, the UK would have to fall back on pre-existing Council of Europe Conventions in certain areas, such as extradition. Information such as wanted notices could be exchanged via Interpol systems and cooperation between law enforcement agencies would take place on a bilateral basis with EU member states.

In order to ensure that data can continue to be exchanged freely between the UK and the EU, the UK is seeking a data adequacy decision from the European Commission. If this is not forthcoming at the end of the transition period, organisations will need to ensure they have alternative arrangements in place to exchange data on a lawful basis under the General Data Protection Directive and the Law Enforcement Directive.

Operational impact

Senior law enforcement officials have made clear since the referendum that losing access to EU based mechanisms for cooperation would result in a ‘capability gap’ because the alternatives would inevitably lead to a reduction in available information, and would be slower and more complex.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police said in November that the country would be less safe in a no-deal scenario. Even with a deal, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Martin Hewitt has said that losing access to databases would have a “major operational impact”.

Nonetheless, contingency measures that have been put in place since the referendum would mitigate the impact of the capability gap, including transferring alerts onto Interpol databases and establishing an International Crime Coordination Centre.

The Government has sought to emphasise that the UK will remain a very safe country, and that there may be a “security dividend” from having greater control over borders.

Impact on border security

The Government has said that gaining greater scope to refuse entry and remove EU national offenders from the UK is an example of how UK security will benefit from leaving the EU.

Stricter immigration rules on refusing immigration permission on criminality/conduct grounds will apply to EU nationals from 1 January 2021. But border staff will not be able to make full use of these until July 2021. This is because until the deadline for eligible EU nationals to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme has passed, and a new IT system for border staff (‘Border Crossing’) has been fully rolled out, they will not be able to distinguish between non-resident EU nationals seeking entry as a visitor, and EU nationals (and family members) with rights protected under the Withdrawal Agreement.

A concern for some stakeholders is whether, under the new relationship with the EU, border staff will have access to less information on which to base decisions about who to allow into the UK.

Information shared through EU security co-operation arrangements, such as SIS II, will no longer be available to border staff through searches of the domestic border security databases after the end of the transition period, unless provided for in a new agreement with the EU or through alternative arrangements.

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