We live in an era where almost every aspect of life has been impacted by globalisation. Inevitably, this includes crime. The fight against cross-border crime is part and parcel of British policing. Our EU membership has played a big part, and whilst I respect the Brexit referendum result, I doubt that the international criminal fraternity worries about such things.
Cross-border crime presents some of the biggest threats to safety and security in Britain. These include child sexual exploitation, terrorism, drug trafficking, international fraud, currency counterfeiting and people smuggling. These threats are addressed through intelligence sharing and co-operation by police and law enforcement agencies across the world. In Europe, security co-operation has been intertwined with EU membership for more than forty years via the UK’s active engagement with Europol and mechanisms including the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
Much of this work is far from the public gaze and dependent on access to what are known as Law Enforcement and National Security (LENS) tools. The hard reality is that in the event of a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit on 31 December 2020, the police are likely to lose access to most of these tools with significant implications for policing on the ground in Leicestershire.
Let me share just two examples. At present a neighbourhood police team in Melton Mowbray might have good reason to stop a suspicious vehicle. If that vehicle is being driven by an European national, officers have immediate access to that individuals police records in their country of origin via access to databases known as the Schengen Information System II (SIS) and the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS). Further questioning, or arrest, may follow if the intelligence warrants this.
Meanwhile, their colleagues on duty at East Midlands Airport make use of another data source, Passenger Name Records (PNR). This tool obliges airlines to hand over passenger information to EU member states. Used together, ECRIS, PNR and SIS provide a highly effective means of determining if a EU visitor on a flight arriving from, say, Berlin or Prague is a convicted paedophile.
The risk to public safety, should we lose access to these crime fighting tools, is painfully clear.
I first raised my fears in this area during a visit to Brussels in October 2018 arranged by Rory Palmer MEP. On that occasion the European Security Commissioner, Sir Julian King, made it clear to me that the negotiating teams were yet to make any meaningful progress on crime and security matters. Armed with this worrying analysis, I used my role as one of the Brexit leads on the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APPC) to press national police chiefs for clarity on the state of preparedness for a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit across all 43 Police Forces in England and Wales.
As recently as August, I was urging the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC), the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the APCC to provide answers to pressing questions regarding overall force readiness.
This week’s response to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee by the NPCC and the NCA provides little reassurance. The fallback systems and contingency measures will: “Be slower, provide less visibility of information and intelligence, and make joined up working with European partners more cumbersome.”
We are now just six weeks from the exit door. There is no security deal in place. My primary concern is for the safety and security of the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
At a time when international crime is more sophisticated than ever before, we could be on the point of reverting to law enforcement mechanisms that date from the era of the black and white TV drama, Dixon of Dock Green.
When it comes to security issues, the Prime Ministers ‘oven ready deal’ is still deep frozen. This is quite simply unacceptable, and people deserve better – irrespective of their views on Brexit.
We need a security deal, and we need it fast.
20 November 2020
Posted on Friday 20th November 2020