BREXIT AND SECURITY
public opinion has debated on the political consequences of the
Brexit and its impact on the European dream, its economic and
financial effects given the importance of London’s Stock exchange,
while the repercussions on European security have been neglected.
Overall and not taking into account potential future deals, the
UK’s exit from the European Union will slow down the cooperation
in both the policing and the intelligence sectors. Until now,
London had negotiated its membership to the EU, picking and
choosing what it deemed convenient and what not. For one, the UK
had refused the free circulation of people and not joined the
The agreement, which had come into force among the Benelux countries in 1985 and was then extended to most European nations in 1990, contemplates an automatic exchange of information on the people circulating within European borders. The control is necessary to grant the freedom of movement and prevent criminals and terrorists from exploiting it. With the exception of the UK and Ireland, there are presently 26 European countries that are part of the system. Even nations that are not part of the EU, such as Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland, are also part of Schengen. One of the main benefits of the agreement is that it allows for a sharing of information among police forces and postulates, among other things, the possibility of chasing criminals or terrorists across borders. Until now, and despite them not being part of it, European police forces kept on informing the British ones on their findings. That moral obligation is no more. The controls of the Schengen System extended to the borders of the European Union and now the UK has suddenly become one of those bordering countries.
Furthermore, following the wave of terrorist attacks and after five years of negotiations that have clashed on national privacy laws, the European Parliament has approved the Passenger Name Record (PNR) in April. Every passenger that flies within Europe or from Europe to a third country will be marked and this information shared among all member countries. If it is still discretionary to record passenger movements within the EU, it is mandatory to keep the records for those leaving the Union. All of these informations will be transmitted by airliners to a so-called Passenger Information Unit, whose database will be shared. Names, last names, payments modes, addresses and contacts. Each piece of data will be stored for five years and, if need be, be passed on to police or security services. The Brexit has cut the UK out from this latest development in European security.
Europol, the European police agency, will also cease to act in favor of London. The paradox is that a British, Rob Wainwright, a former MI-5 official and one of the staunchest opponents of the Brexit, has been leading the agency since 2009. He might have had his personal reasons, but he underlined a series of technical issues that will affect UK security. Wainwright spoke about a database shared by all European police forces and that, in the near future, will hamper British access to this vital flow of information. He also mentioned a staff of around one thousand officers whose task is to cooperate in the repression and prevention of criminal activities. They deal with around 2.500 cases each year and exchange hundreds of informations on a daily basis.
Lastly, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an integrated system for IT security, will come into force on May 25, 2018. The Spring of 2018 will also see the Network & Information Security Directive become operational to tackle threats to European cyber-security. Along the aforementioned GDPR, a European Data Protection Board will be appointed to formulate directives in the specific sector.
Regardless of how long it will take to negotiate its exit from the European Union, it is undoubtable that the UK will be left out from these integrated cooperative entities. Furthermore, these new directives and rules will also apply to all those corporate entities that are not part of the EU. The end result is that London will not be part of the decision-making process, while its companies will be forced to abide by European security norms if they want to do business in the EU. The Brits have succeeded from going from an active to a passive role. In other words, in the future British citizens will have to respect the laws imposed by others, to the detriment of their so-cherished national sovereignty. From now on they will trade with the EU according to European clauses and rules and not British ones. At a time when there are an estimated 5 thousand ISIS militants roaming across Europe, some of them having returned from the battle fields in the Middle East, the self-inflicted harm of Brexit is pretty evident.
Downing Street claims that, regardless of its premature exit from the European Union, its defense will be granted via NATO. While the EU is debating over a unified army, this argument mistakes military security with national security from terrorist and criminal endeavors. Of little or no use is also the pretext that the privileged relationship with US intelligence or the “Big Five Eyes” (i.e. US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) or the GCHQ listening posts will make up for the exit from the European security system. Brexit has little or no impact on the sharing of intelligence information. The relationship between intelligence services is not dictated by whether the UK is part of the EU or not. Political decisions will affect intelligence sharing only if national interests diverge and it is unlikely for this to be the case. The only potential consequence could be on the projects of a unified European intelligence agency.
Of more importance is how Brexit will affect the fight against Islamic terrorism and the overlapping of police and security services investigations. By hitting the cooperation among police forces, the referendum will have an impact on counter-terrorism activities. Much more so if we consider that nowadays terrorism goes along with criminal activities, drug trafficking, money laundering.
One of the factors that has led to the British voting “Yes” at the referendum was the so-called threat from the free circulation of individuals within the Union. An illogical stance from the start, since the UK was not part of Schengen in the first place and had imposed its own limitations. At the same time, the menace from illegal immigration was evoked according to the equation: less immigrants = more security. The partisans of Brexit have accused Europe of being too lenient with the waves of refugees that have and are entering the continent. Purposely confusing a social issue with a security one, politicians have been fueling racism. Even the current British PM Theresa May has hinted to the fact that the UK could also exit the European Convention for Human Rights.
It is self-evident that no single country can face globalized threats alone. This sort of danger can be dealt with only though cooperation, be it among police forces or intelligence services. And this is now possible thanks to a unified European information system. Given her formal role as Home Secretary, the appointment of Theresa May to replace David Cameron had led to believe that there would be a certain knowledge of security challenges at Number 10. However, doubts arise when May states that Brexit will make the UK more secure from both criminality and terrorism. Several Conservative Party MPs have underlined how dysfunctional European cooperation was, and thus giving it up is hailed as the best solution. We’re going from paradox to paradox.
The blatant nationalism and sense of superiority expressed by both incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May and the partisans of Brexit hints to the fact that cooperation in the security sector is detrimental. The growing longing for isolationism goes against the evidence. The recent attacks in Paris and Bruxelles were not carried out by terrorists coming from abroad, but came from local, native and legally residing Islamic communities. The same goes for the UK: since 2001, the people responsible for most of the over 30 attacks that have taken place were either British citizens or legal residents.
At the same time, given its longtime participation in the campaigns in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Libya alongside the US, the country could be targeted by foreign terrorists. Modern day radicals have learned to exploit the contradictions of national security systems, they move from one country to the next, often use aliases or fake documents. This type of international terrorism, targeting whatever will give them the highest media turnout, can only be tackled through long and complicated activities of surveillance and control. And can only be fought through cooperation. This is the one aspect that the partisans of the Brexit and cultists of isolationism have underestimated when they convinced the British to vote “No”.