Interested in International Security, Terrorism and Geopolitics. Constantly on the look out for my next travel adventure.
Terrorist atrocities, like those that we saw recently in Brussels, have a unique capacity to shock and strike fear. The very essence of terrorism is to encourage us to lose perspective and feel pessimistic about how effective our security arrangements are. Images of normal people covered in blood running from a decimated airport terminal will always resonate more starkly and enduringly than words on a page about foiled plots ever could.
In the weeks and months after an attack it is vital that we understand the true picture of the security environment we find ourselves in. It is of course obvious that our societies face an unprecedented threat from disenfranchised, brainwashed individuals whose religion has been perverted in pursuit of a barbaric political agenda that we will never allow to succeed. What is lesser known however is that our security services have successfully prevented seven attacks on British soil in recent months. The same is true in France, Belgium and elsewhere. Plots are failing all the time; a worrisome and reassuring notion at the same time.
Keeping British and European citizens safe during what will be a generational struggle against terror will require more cross-border security cooperation and information sharing than ever before. The role of Europol – Europe’s policing agency which now has a British Director– is absolutely vital. Its new European Counter-Terrorism Centre is a major step forward that will ensure the exchange of information between the law enforcement agencies of member states keeps improving. Britain currently enjoys full access to Europol’s database and can be involved in cross-border intelligence projects. If we left and negotiated our way back in, it would only be as a Europol partner state, diminishing our access and influence.
Other vital security initiatives that keep us safe include the sharing of passenger’s travel records, which Britain pushed for in the European Parliament, and having access to vehicle registrations held in other member states. The European Arrest Warrant system – which our elected parliament voted to remain a part of – enabled the UK to deport 5,000 foreign criminals and terrorists between 2010 and 2015 and meant Hussain Oman faced justice in a British court for trying to blow up the London underground in July 2005. He is currently serving a forty year prison sentence.
Our Government recognises that the security picture in Europe is evolving and strengthening all the time, which is why following the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks the Home Secretary chose to involve Britain in even more aspects of Europe’s already sophisticated intelligence sharing architecture: the Prüm Convention will give Britain access to DNA data in 15 minutes (the Interpol process for non-EU states takes 143 days) and we are now a part of the Schengen Information System which requires police forces to share information about suspects as they enter and travel around the passport-free zone. This epitomises the ‘best of both worlds’ arrangement that Britain has carved out for itself within a reformed European Union.
British police have taken the lead in building up Europe-wide counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing platforms. Turning our back on Europe now would not only diminish our influence, it would mean replacing arrangements which the UK law enforcement community find helpful with what Britain’s most senior police officer Sir Bernard Hogan Howe described as a “bureaucratic nightmare”.
Of course if we voted the leave the European Union we could negotiate our way back into many of Europe’s counter-terrorism initiatives – it is in everybody’s interest to cooperate after all. But we have to face facts: counter-terrorism efforts would be more fragmented, laborious and, in the words of the British police “a shock to the system of police cooperation in Europe”. What’s more, European counter-terrorism efforts would no longer be led, both at the policy and operational level, by our people. We would be tagging along rather than being one of the countries in the driving seat.
We would be making counter-terrorism harder.
Rob Wainwright, the Director of Europol put it succinctly when he said he “doesn’t see any security benefits from the U.K leaving the EU”. A clear-eyed analysis of the vital role that Europe’s ever-developing security architecture plays in keeping British citizens safe makes it impossible to reach any other conclusion.