In its detailed report on Home Office preparations for Brexit, the Home Affairs Select Committee has warned that the political declaration agreed by the UK and the EU is seriously lacking in detail on security, customs and border arrangements and that there’s a real danger that the UK’s position will be weakened in the future partnership.
The Committee raises serious concern that the UK hasn’t secured long-term access to key criminal databases and tools for security co-operation like SIS II and ECRIS after the UK leaves the EU, and that the loss of these capabilities would make the country less safe.
The Committee also warns there’s a significant risk that transition arrangements will expire before all the new security arrangements are agreed, leaving a security shortfall. The report raises serious concern that there’s no security backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, that negotiations on the future security partnership have not even started and that a new Security Treaty will need time to go through a full ratification process in 27 Member States.
Based on the evidence it received, the Committee warns it will be near-impossible to have a full and new Security Treaty in place before December 2020.
The Government is urged to “stop being complacent” and to “provide clarity” on the implications of the deal it has reached with the EU. The Committee states: “It’s seriously damaging that the Government is not being open with Parliament on the implications of the deal.”
Transition arrangements outlined in the Withdrawal Agreement are welcomed in the report, but the Government is criticised for a lack of clarity on future arrangements at the border and the fact that it’s unable to rule out additional checks and controls.
The report also condemns the Home Office for its successive failures to publish an Immigration White Paper in time for the Parliamentary vote on the Government’s deal.
Prospect of a security downgrade
Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, commented: “We are worried about the prospect of a security downgrade as a result of this deal. It doesn’t include the key criminal databases that the police and border force check 500 million times each year to keep us safe. Nor is there a security backstop to make sure that the transition arrangements don’t run out before a new Security Treaty can be implemented. The Government isn’t being open about the implications of this deal. Continued police and security co-operation is in everyone’s interest, but there’s far too much complacency.”
Cooper continued: “As it stands, this deal will see us lose access to key criminal databases like SIS II and ECRIS, as well as the European Arrest Warrant, Europol and other tools for security co-operation, without any assurance that we will secure replica arrangements for the future. We know that this would mark a significant downgrade of our security and policing capabilities. The police have made clear we would be less safe as a result.”
In addition, Cooper said: “We’ve heard that it would be impossible to negotiate and ratify a new Security Treaty before December 2020, yet this deal has no security backstop to ensure continued co-operation once the transition period has ended. The Government still hasn’t even set out a timetable outlining when it wants to see such a Security Treaty agreed.”
Cooper believes that there’s “a troubling lack of clarity” about what the customs and border arrangements in the future partnership might be, with a wide range of possible checks and controls being introduced. “It’s also ridiculous that Parliament is being expected to vote on the deal without seeing the Government’s Immigration White Paper, which was first promised 18 months ago, and which will have major implications on UK citizens’ ability to live and work in the EU in future, as well as on EU citizens’ ability to live and work in the UK.”
Future relationship with the EU
The Home Affairs Committee welcomes the transitional arrangements for continued access to most EU law enforcement tools, but the absence of clear detail on the long-term relationship is “deeply concerning”.
The Committee is extremely concerned about the lack of progress on negotiations on future security co-operation and the significant risk of a capability gap if this isn’t resolved before the transition period expires. There’s no security backstop, yet the Home Office has failed to produce a basic timetable outlining when a Security Treaty would need to be agreed.
The Home Affairs Committee is dismayed by the Government’s failure to plan adequately for the continuity of future security co-operation with the EU.
“The Government is either being complacent or failing to be transparent about the security implications and should provide full and accurate information to Parliament about the security risks of the Prime Minister’s deal.”
The UK will continue to participate in Europol activities throughout transition. However, the Government is “no closer” to achieving its goal of agreeing a future relationship that goes beyond the agency’s existing agreements with nations outside the EU.
The Home Affairs Committee states: “The political declaration does not include any detail on the UK’s future relationship with Europol. If negotiations fail to provide a bespoke arrangement that maintains existing capabilities, it will mean a security downgrade and that the Government has failed to achieve its objective. The Committee strongly urges both the UK Government and European Commission to set out their intention for the future relationship in this area.”
Extradition and EU data systems
The Committee is extremely concerned by the ‘own national’ exemption that will apply to UK-EU extradition during the transition period. It’s unclear what this will mean for the victims of serious crimes committed in the UK by EU nationals. The Government must be open about the implications for access to justice for victims and, indeed, the practical arrangements it will put in place to support them. This will be particularly vital if victims have to travel to EU countries in order to participate in criminal trials.
Although access to EU databases during the transition is welcome, the absence of any reference to SIS II or ECRIS in the political declaration is “a serious concern”. The Committee is extremely disappointed by the EU’s current resistance to agree to continued shared access.
With no equivalent substitute for SIS II, losing access would cause a significant downgrade in policing and security capability at a time when the threats posed are increasing. The Committee is very concerned that Home Office ministers are not taking seriously enough the risks arising from losing these capabilities.