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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:07 pm on 16th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 8:07 pm, 16th January 2019

My Lords, as many noble Lords have alluded to this evening, a week is a long time in politics—and it is only Wednesday. As the noble Lord, Lord Jay, rightly pointed out, we are the calm and thoughtful end of Parliament, and the debate has absolutely reflected that this evening. I am grateful to all those who have spoken. I also take the opportunity to thank the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee for producing this very good report, Brexit: the Proposed UK-EU Security Treaty. I am grateful for the variety of comments that were made and I echo the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Browne of Ladyton and Lord Kennedy of Southwark: we do not debate this topic nearly enough. It is the most important aspect of our exit from the EU and I totally agree with the noble Lords on that point.

The noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, commented on the fantastic arrangements we have in our co-operation with the EU. I would go further and say that we have led the way in many of the arrangements that we now have. They are absolutely right to be concerned about what that change will mean. It is, in my job, the biggest concern that I have. It is our duty to deliver on the instruction from the British people to leave the European Union, and the best way to do that is obviously with a good deal.

One thing that we should note at the outset is that we are in the happy position of having a good degree of consensus across the political parties and across the two Houses, if not about anything else at least as to what we are looking to achieve from any exit deal from the EU. We all want to protect the operational capabilities that help the police, law enforcement and prosecutors to do their job of protecting the public and bringing criminals to justice. We believe that the UK and the EU have a mutual interest in that outcome. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about the Costa del Crime and clearly there is a mutual interest there, given the number of UK nationals who found—and indeed find—themselves there. We also have a good degree of consensus around what the most important operational capabilities are.

Notwithstanding the week’s events, the report of the noble Lord’s committee stands the test of time—I agree with his point on that—and it raises issues that we will inevitably have to answer as part of our exit. The Government of course agree with the committee’s observation that protecting the safety of millions of UK and EU citizens must be the overriding objective. The committee has highlighted the importance of current security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation between the UK and the EU. We recognise that, and have said explicitly that the shared tools, measures and capabilities that have been developed over the last 40 years have been proven to save lives. While we accept that our relationship will change as a result of leaving the EU, the firm view of this Government is that working together through different structures should not be at the expense of protecting the public.

On the question of security co-operation during the implementation period, should we enter an implementation or transition period as provided for in the withdrawal agreement, the UK would continue to participate in the existing EU justice and home affairs tools and would also be able to choose to take part in any measures amending or updating them. The UK would no longer be an EU member state during the implementation period, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said. In response to one of the points made by the committee, we absolutely do not underestimate the impact of leaving the EU on the UK’s role in EU institutions. Of course we recognise that relinquishing our membership will carry consequences. However, as set out in the withdrawal agreement, common rules would remain in place and representatives or experts from the UK would continue to participate in the meetings of EU agencies and bodies such as Europol, where the presence of the UK is necessary and in the interest of the Union, or where the discussion concerns Acts addressed to the UK and its citizens.

In the political declaration that was published alongside the withdrawal agreement, the UK reached a deal with the EU that would deliver the broadest and most comprehensive security relationship that the EU has ever had with another country. That would include a framework for our future internal security co-operation. All the operational capabilities on which we would wish to co-operate with the EU in future are within scope of that framework. The future relationship envisaged in the framework would enable us to continue to work closely together on law enforcement and criminal justice; keep people safe in the UK, across Europe and around the world by exchanging information on criminals and tackling terrorism, as noble Lords have said; ensure that we can investigate and prosecute those suspected of serious crime and terrorism; support international efforts to prevent money laundering and counterterrorist financing; and allow us to work together to combat new and evolving threats such as cybercrime.

The text agreed by the UK and the EU also references specific capabilities that we had already agreed should form part of that future relationship, including the exchange of passenger name records so that we can continue disrupting criminal networks involved in terrorism, serious crime and modern slavery; the exchange of DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data, ensuring that law enforcement agencies can quickly investigate and prosecute criminals and terrorists; fast-track extradition to bring criminals to justice quickly wherever they have committed a crime; and continued co-operation with Europol and Eurojust. There is also a commitment to examine further areas of co-operation such as the exchange of information on missing and wanted persons and objects and on criminal records.

Overall, the text of the political declaration reflects a shared commitment on the part of the UK and the EU to a high level of future co-operation in relation to internal security. It is a positive first step that we must build on during the next phase of negotiations, turning those commitments into detailed legal text. When it comes to what that detailed legal text should look like, the noble Lord’s committee took the view with regard to the form of our future agreement that the Government needed to show realism about what could be achieved in the timescale available—and he made that point this evening. The committee concluded that time is short, and that it would be preferable for the Government to seek a number of ad hoc security agreements rather than a single, comprehensive one. In their response, as he knows, the Government disagreed with that conclusion.

In our view, the capabilities developed by the EU and its member states are mutually reinforcing, from the initial stages of identification and investigation of a suspect through to arrest, prosecution and prisoner management. As the committee highlighted, there are synergies between different EU tools, with many working together to provide an integrated system to identify, pursue and prosecute criminals and terrorists. That is one reason why the Government consider that a piecemeal approach based on ad hoc agreements would have a more limited value than an overarching, comprehensive agreement on internal security. We also expect a comprehensive agreement of the kind that the Government have proposed to help ensure that we maintain a dynamic relationship in this area that can meet the evolving threats faced by the UK and the EU. In contrast, ad hoc agreements on individual capabilities would likely be static and frozen in time, even as technologies and threats change.

We are very clear on what will make for an efficient negotiation in the time available. The UK’s proposals that were set out in last year’s White Paper would allow co-operation to take place on the basis of existing EU measures, with negotiations focusing principally on the overarching provisions and safeguards in a comprehensive agreement. In our view, this would lead to a faster and more efficient negotiation than having to tackle the same issues over and again in a collection of agreements on individual capabilities.