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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:21 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:21 pm, 13th January 2020

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Barwell and Lord Mann, on their thought-provoking maiden speeches and I look forward to their future contributions. The time is rapidly approaching when the Government must deliver on their promises over Brexit. Among other things, they have promised that the UK will not be less safe nor less secure outside the European Union.

At a briefing given by the National Crime Agency lead on Brexit to the APPG on policing in 2017, we were told that the existing legislative framework—that is, regulatory alignment—and existing EU organisations and mechanisms, including the European Court of Justice, enabled greater and more effective co-operation between the UK and the EU when it came to law enforcement. He said that there were workarounds if we left the EU, but that these would not be as effective or efficient, and that the UK would be less safe and less secure as a result. Intelligence such as counterterrorism information tends to be shared on a bilateral basis rather than an EU-wide basis and is likely to be unaffected. What I am talking about here is the ability to act on that intelligence, bringing people such as terrorists to justice.

What is in jeopardy? The Schengen Information System 2—SIS II—and the European arrest warrant, the EAW, are in jeopardy. No non-EU state has access to the European arrest warrant and no state outside the EU, unless it is in the Schengen area, has access to SIS II. It currently enables police officers on the street in the UK to directly access databases that contain the details of all those wanted under the European arrest warrant, missing people, stolen vehicles, travelling sex offenders and those of interest to counterterrorism officers in all EU member states.

The NCA lead told us that new extradition treaties were likely to be needed with each of the 27 remaining EU states. Norway and Iceland, both within Schengen and the European Economic Area, applied to be part of a modified form of the European arrest warrant in 2001. This was agreed in 2006, but they still await implementation. The NCA lead explained that Europol produces pan-European action plans, and serious and organised crime threat assessments, and that a multiagency liaison bureau exists for each member state. Contrary to the impression given by the Security Minister yesterday, third-party states have only partial access to Europol. The UK is one of the top contributors of intelligence; there was until recently a British director, and 40% of data entries are UK-led.

ECRIS, the European Criminal Records Information System, is a secure messaging system where criminal convictions in the courts of one member country are shared across the EU. This information is used to analyse patterns of offending.

Something else at risk is Prüm, which provides rapid electronic comparison of DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registrations across the EU. For example, a DNA profile found at a UK crime scene can be compared with profiles of those convicted across the EU. Checks take from seconds up to 24 hours. Alternative arrangements under Interpol take months, and some inquiries are never replied to.

The NCA lead went on to say that cross-border surveillance arrangements enable UK criminals to be kept under surveillance in other EU countries and EU suspects to be kept under surveillance in the UK. For every request that EU countries make under this scheme, the UK makes seven requests of the EU. This, too, is under threat. There are also joint investigation teams through the Eurojust process.

We know from the experience of Norway and Iceland with the European arrest warrant that some of these ways of keeping the UK safe and secure are unlikely, if not impossible, to secure in the short to medium term, if at all. The Government will no doubt say that everything is subject to negotiation. The time has passed for us to say that the UK will be less safe and less secure if we leave the EU; we are leaving. The time has come to hold the Government to account to ensure that they deliver on their promise that we will be just as safe and secure outside the EU.

We will bring forward a probing amendment in Committee requiring the Government to negotiate with the EU to produce outcomes equivalent to those provided by these European Union systems and processes. If they fail to deliver equivalent outcomes, they will have failed in their promise to keep us as secure and safe outside the European Union as we were inside it.