Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat Chair of the London Assembly’s Transport Committee and member of the Police and Crime Committee reflects on the benefits of the EU in the field of policing and security.
Much of the debate over Brexit has centred upon economics, the impact of immigration and trade. However, a key issue that is often overlooked is whether or not the EU helps make Britain safer.
My view is that it very much does, which is just one of the many reasons I was such a passionate Remain supporter.
As a London Assembly Member and a member of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee, I believe there is convincing evidence the European Union has contributed to the safety of London, and to the wider country.
Over the last few decades the EU has developed a limited common foreign and security policy. It has been far from perfect, but it has led to real action being taken in some areas, such as a common response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the application of sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine.
Then there is the area of security and intelligence co-operation. Media attention was given to the comments of Sir Richard Dearlove, a former head of MI6, when in March he declared “the truth about Brexit from a national security perspective is that the cost to Britain would be low.”
I would turn his statement around. When it comes to our security do we want to be paying any further costs at all, especially in terms of loss of life of UK citizens? A low cost, is of course still very much a real cost.
Moreover, even if Sir Richard believes that the costs of Brexit would be low, his colleagues have very differing views.
Lord Evans, a former boss of MI5, and John Sawers, another former head of MI6, wrote in the Sunday Times on 8 May that the EU “matters to our security” and further added that reducing data sharing “could undermine our ability to protect ourselves.” Eliza Manningham-Buller, another former MI5 boss, warned that “if we isolate ourselves we would lose influence…..and put ourselves in greater peril.”
European co-operation has perhaps been most powerfully been demonstrated in relation to the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
Speed of extradition is a huge benefit. Under the EAW it takes an average of three months, compared to 10 months for non-EU countries. Some people still need reminding that one of its greatest successes was that the failed 21st July London bomber Hussain Osman, was returned from Italy in just eight weeks.
The EAW has seen a significant number of foreign criminals removed from British soil. Between 2010 and 2014 we handed over 5,365 potential criminals to other EU countries. Among those were 70 wanted on child sex offences, 100 for rape and 115 for murder, plus 497 on drug trafficking charges.
The EAW also allows us to extradite those wanted for trial in the UK. In the same time period other EU countries handed over 675 individuals to Britain, including 189 from Spain alone. The days of “Costa del Crime” are long over thanks to the EAW.
It is not surprising that Sir Hugh Orde, the former head of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) warned that criminals would know that it would take longer to extradite them if Britain were outside the EU.
In addition to quoting these statistics and evidence from informed people, I think consideration should be given to a much broader issue. We should never forget that some of the strongest supporters of Brexit around the world are the West’s enemies. There are very good reasons why many former Pentagon and NATO bosses called for Britain to stay in the EU.
So in many respects my overall view is that the final departure of Britain from the EU is bad news for the security of London and Britain. The immense challenge is now to try to ensure that, post-Brexit, as many measures of international co-operation and effective security protection for UK citizens are maintained.
In just the last week Lord Harris has published a hugely impressive report looking into what could be done to improve London’s resources and readiness to respond to a major terrorist incident.
In looking ahead to the consequences of Brexit I think I can do no better than quote directly from him. His words sum up exactly the predicament we now face:
“Currently through our membership of a range of EU Justice and Home Affairs measures, we have access to increasingly sophisticated information sharing arrangements. In addition to these, we are a full member of Europol and undertake significant collaboration with other member states. It is essential, in the EU exit negotiations, that UK policing is able to maintain the required international arrangements that currently work to keep us safe