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A safe and secure Brexit

by Gavin Thomas, President 

Firstly this blog comes with hazard warning lights: it address the highly political Brexit from the rightly apolitical police service perspective.

But I felt compelled to contribute to the debate after reading Michel Barnier’s recent speech at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna.

He clearly laid out the position for law enforcement post-Brexit as to how effective the current arrangements will or will not be, on both sides of the channel.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, subsequently responded with a message that continued full co-operation would benefit everyone.

It’s not appropriate for me to make comment on the progress of negotiations or positions taken by either Britain or the EU.

I could comment from the perspective of both counter-terrorism and wider security, in which policing plays a critical and leading role. But others have done and are continuing to do so.

Instead I take the perspective of a police officer representing the senior operational leaders in the police service of England and Wales: who lead teams of officers and staff using the current arrangements every single day to get the job done.

Mr Barnier made clear that post-Brexit the UK would not have direct access to the Schengen Information System.

This is how we exchange intelligence and information with our European colleagues on organised crime by individuals who operate across borders – in many cases deliberately so, taking advantage of complex structures and different working arrangements.

In 2017 the Schengen Information System was automatically searched by UK law enforcement more than 500 million times.

He also said that as a “third country” the UK could not take part in the European Arrest Warrant.

Since 2004 the EAW has enabled the UK to surrender more than 10,000 people accused or convicted of a criminal offence to another member state; and to bring more than 1,400 people back to the UK to face justice.

Looking beyond the numbers, the EAW means these individuals have nowhere to hide. It means they can’t operate without impunity in the knowledge that any process to extradite them takes years.

With 36 years’ service I remember those times and we do not want to go back to them.

These are just two of the processes that my members use or authorise daily to protect the public and keep people safe.

Other arrangements include joint investigation teams with our European colleagues and automated biometric and vehicle registration details exchange which in many cases takes just minutes or even seconds.

We cannot operate effectively if the same information is going to take hours or even days to come.

With this and other information the police find missing people, bring people to justice and protect communities from organised crime. We get a better picture of how criminals are operating, where they are going, who is at risk, and how we can best deter or disrupt their activities.

The exchange of data and intelligence for everyday policing is critically important. Any dilution of even our current arrangements brings a severe risk for all of us in law enforcement – here and on the continent.

On the same day that Mr Barnier spoke, GCHQ Director Jeremy Fleming also gave a speech in Brussels. He said: “Protecting our nations and our people, in the physical world and online, is becoming more complex. The range and diversity of threats we face is growing.”

I could not agree more. We cannot afford to go back in time even one step.

As I said at the outset of this I’m just a cop. I’m not a politician and I’m not privy to any of the negotiations.

What I do know is that to do our jobs in the 21st century we need these arrangements, at least as they currently stand.

It is my sincere hope that we can find a sensible and meaningful approach that effectively allows all cops, on both sides of the channel, to have the tools they need to keep all our citizens safe.