Security did not feature especially prominently during the referendum campaign. I understand why that was the case: a lot of what we have been talking about is very complex and does not fit easily into a brief soundbite, and much of our security co-operation is not done through our membership of the EU. Our security against military threats from other countries is protected by our membership of NATO, other alliances and bilateral relationships. Our security in terms of terrorist threats is largely dealt with on a bilateral basis, country to country between intelligence agencies, as well as through multilateral agreements such as the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and the USA.
Those relationships are entirely separate from our membership of the EU and are in no way compromised by this country’s decision to leave. To that extent, I never subscribed to the claims of some on my side of the referendum campaign—the remain side—that we would suddenly become a very dangerous place in the event of a vote to leave, or indeed to the ridiculous hyperbole that ISIS would be delighted by a leave vote. Indeed, Mark Rowley, the assistant commissioner for specialist operations at the Met police and the UK’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, reported that there has actually been an increase in co-operation between European member states’ police and intelligence agencies since the vote to leave the EU. This ad-hoc co-operation was no doubt due to, and necessitated by, intelligence shortcomings before some of the recent terrorist atrocities in Europe.
To focus on the military and high-level intelligence co-operation and counter-terrorism that takes place outside the EU architecture is to ignore the many policing and criminal justice measures inside the EU structures, which make the police’s practical work of keeping us safe easier and more efficient. I have spoken to a number of police officers—in my previous work as a barrister, I acted for and against the police regularly—and I know many police officers, both locally and outside my own area. Some voted to leave and some voted to remain, but all share a clear desire for our existing EU police and criminal justice co-operation to stay the same, or to be replicated as closely as possible.
Just last night I was speaking to the president of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, Gavin Thomas, at an event at which a number of Members were present. He cited the example of how access to European Union DNA databases has allowed checks that previously took days or weeks to be performed within 15 minutes. He is a full supporter, as are the leads of many other police staff associations and senior police officers, of maintaining our current policing and criminal justice relationships with the EU.