My Lords, I am delighted to be able to follow our committee chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and to support his remarks about the recent report on the prospects, post Brexit, for our continued security co-operation with our EU friends. I do not dispute for a moment that the Government and our many police and intelligence agencies accept and desire the need for an ongoing close relationship, but intentions are not enough: to maintain a seamless and effective co-operation we need to have some basic structures and agreements in place, and that is where I have serious doubts as things stand today.
When I was serving for 17 years as an MEP in Brussels I was engaged as a spokesman for justice and home affairs issues for a large portion of that time, being responsible, with others, for numerous measures enhancing the pan-European close workings of intelligence and police forces to the detriment of major criminals and would-be terrorists. This included those measures referred to by our chairman: the European Criminal Records Information System, SIS II—the Schengen Information System—the European arrest warrant, the money-laundering directive, the data protection regulation and, just before I came back to the UK, the passenger name record agreement, of which I was in charge in the EU and which, incidentally, took eight years of negotiation to conclude.
These vital tools have the power to protect our safety and have indeed been doing so, but they are totally dependent on common standards, equal redress, agreed levels of openness and transparency and, of course, real-time exchange of information. I am sure that noble Lords are aware that millions of exchanges of vital data take place every day between authorities and agencies, with the protections in place ultimately interpreted by the European Court of Justice. The current government red line that rules out that body as an ultimate arbiter of common standards means inevitably that, if we maintain that position in any future arrangements, we will necessarily lose the benefits, especially of immediacy or that real-time information exchange, as well as the confidence of our neighbours in Europe.
We cannot compartmentalise these issues either. Unless we subscribe to the control mechanisms for data exchange, we lose access to all those areas I have referred to as well as access to the co-operation agreements with Europol and indeed other elements of cross-border structures. Of course we can strive to obtain bilateral agreements, which certainly might be easier than multilateral ones, but the other 27 states are obliged by treaty and law not to treat a third country equally, unless it accepts their controls, and that is not apparently acceptable at the moment to Her Majesty’s Government.
There are many issues on which those of us who have great experience of Europe would prefer the status quo to the plans currently pursued by the Government. Trade, the environment and transport are indeed also very important issues but—for me, and I have reason to say so—the most important by far is our security. I have said before in this House that even one minute of any form of gap or vacuum in our arrangements to exchange data relating to those who could do us harm would be—not could be—completely disastrous. At all costs and in all circumstances this must be avoided.