Brexit: Proposed UK–EU Security Treaty (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:03 pm on 16th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Ricketts Lord Ricketts Crossbench 7:03 pm, 16th January 2019

I understand. I was going to say that the report is still very relevant because it is a powerful and evidence-based assessment of why it is vital that we maintain close security co-operation with the EU, whether or not—and on what terms—we leave. As such, it is important to have that on the record.

My own judgment, as the UK’s first National Security Adviser, like that of the noble Lord, Lord West, is that the security of this country and its citizens is best provided for by staying in the EU. If that is not to be, the,

“broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership”,

set out in the political declaration is a lot better than a no-deal outcome. No deal would immediately exclude us from the whole range of EU security co-operation set out in the report, which has saved British lives. Speaking of no deal, I note that there is nothing, so far as I can see, in the technical notices issued by the Commission on no-deal contingency planning on its side about continuing co-operation on security.

I realise that the view I have set out on the importance of EU security co-operation is fundamentally at odds with that of some distinguished retired practitioners. Yes, I refer in particular to Sir Richard Dearlove and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, who sent a joint letter last week to the chairmen of Conservative Party associations—not, I suppose, an address list chosen completely at random—which mysteriously found its way into the media. This letter thundered that the withdrawal agreement would,

“threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways”.

It spelled out that the proposed security partnership would cut across the Five Eyes alliance, and put control of aspects of our national security in foreign hands. These are serious charges. However, the letter did not explain why the authors took such a doom-laden view. It may be relevant that both writers had retired some time before the EU developed the full range of co-operation we now see. As a more recent security practitioner, I want to touch on why I believe the EU plays a vital role, and to reassure the House that we in the sub-committee have not somehow missed an important area that threatens our security co-operation.

Defence is not the subject of today’s debate—although the noble Lord, Lord West, has touched on it—but since it is a major point of the letter, let me say that if Britain were to participate in some EU military missions after leaving the European Union, as I hope we would, that would be a sovereign decision of this country. Nothing in the withdrawal agreement would bind us to do so; it would be a voluntary choice.

On intelligence co-operation, nothing proposed in the security partnership with the EU would cut across our vital Five Eyes intelligence sharing. That is for the simple reason that co-operation between intelligence agencies in Europe happens outside the EU treaties and will continue to do so. Do not take my word for it: the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, to whom reference was made in the debate in your Lordships’ House on Monday, described it as “nonsense” to suggest that co-operation with the EU on security would upset the Five Eyes community. Indeed, she said that its members have always valued our link with the EU. This reflects the key point that intelligence is useful only if it is followed up with good, effective police co-operation work. The whole thrust of our committee’s report is that it is the measures and instruments that have grown up in EU co-operation that enable UK law enforcement to operate effectively across borders. The police consulted the SIS II database 539 million times in 2017.

Of course, the EU takes the same view, and the political declaration makes that very clear. In a proliferation of adjectives, it refers to the need for a,

“comprehensive, close, balanced and reciprocal … future relationship”,

on security. That is fine as a prenuptial contract, but it now needs to be translated into reality. I share the concerns expressed by other noble Lords and set out in the report over whether a vast, overarching security partnership across many areas can be agreed even in the course of a transition period, to say nothing of what would happen in the event of a no-deal departure.

My experience is that the wheels of Brussels grind awfully slow, and certainly on such a sensitive issue. The report is right to suggest that work should be done on ad hoc security arrangements to mitigate, if necessary, any reduction in operational co-operation while a longer-term agreement is negotiated. I hope that is already under way and the Minister will be able to reassure us that it is the case, even if we have an agreement and a transition period. Like others, I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about no-deal contingency planning. We cannot afford to take risks with the safety of people in this country.