Leaving the Eu: Security, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:06 pm on 18th January 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of James Berry James Berry Conservative, Kingston and Surbiton 3:06 pm, 18th January 2017

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, I do not think that a single senior police officer or police organisation takes a view counter to the one he has just outlined.

Beyond the police—apart from some concerns about the European arrest warrant, which I do not share—I do not detect any desire among members of the public for any rowing back on our policing and criminal justice co-operation with the EU. I do not detect any such appetite within this place either. Certainly since I have been here, the only pushback—particularly on these Benches—has been on the requirement to submit to the oversight of the European Court of Justice. I will come back to that matter shortly, but to take it out of the equation for the moment, I doubt that there will be a voice of dissent in this place relating to the panoply of policing and justice co-operations we currently enjoy. Time does not permit me to go through each and every one of them, so I shall focus on just four.

Europol exists to assist law enforcement agencies in member states to tackle cross-border crime. It focuses on gathering, analysing and disseminating information, rather than on conducting actual investigations. The UK has 12 liaison officers at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague, which I was able to visit with colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee last year, including Keith Vaz. It is a very impressive operation indeed. It is important to note that Europol also has representatives from non-EU countries such as Norway and the US. We had a long conversation with representatives from the US and the Department of Homeland Security, who have a significant presence there. It was not immediately clear from that conversation that they were significantly worse off for not being a member of the EU. However, they certainly do not have the automatic right of access of EU member states to the Europol information system. There is a specific provision for them to have access on a case-by-case, supervised basis.

We were also able to meet online counter-radicalisation officers from the European Cybercrime Centre, an initiative very much championed by our Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary. The Europol information system is a central database with information on suspected criminals and objects associated with crime, such as vehicles. If a vehicle is suspected of being connected to a crime in Kingston, for example, British police officers can search the EIS to find out whether there is any information on that vehicle, or people associated with it, anywhere in the EU. In 2015, the UK sent and received 37,000 alerts through Europol channels, half of which related to high-priority threats such as child sex exploitation and firearms. As crime and criminals respect state borders less and less, the role of Europol in supporting cross-border co-operation will only increase and become more vital. It must be retained, with British involvement.

I shall move on to the Prüm convention. Like the EIS, Prüm allows and facilitates member states to search each other’s databases for fingerprints, DNA profiles and vehicle registration details. The UK has not yet fully implemented Prüm, although I believe that it will do so later this year, but we ran a pilot for DNA profile exchange in 2015. As I mentioned, I heard from a senior police officer yesterday that that has allowed checks that would previously have taken hours or days to be performed in 15 minutes.