• Sat. Oct 29th, 2022

Policing a serious concern as co-operation with EU authorities remains up in the air

Dec 19, 2020

Significant concerns have been expressed over the countrys preparedness for leaving the EU by an influential group of MPs less than two weeks before Brexit day on 31 December.
The Commons Brexit select committee has called on the government to ensure there is a robust contingency plan in place in the next fortnight to cope with the fallout as it criticises the lack of an overall state of readiness for business and citizens.
Many of the details of the new trade and travel barriers are only beginning to sink in. Some will not emerge until it is known if the UK and the EU have been able to hammer out a deal before the Sunday deadline.
The committee has warned that borders must not be compromised if there is no agreement on policing that ensures continued access to law enforcement tools including the European arrest warrant.
With just seven working days until the end of the transition period, significant concerns remain, said Hilary Benn, chair of the committee.
The warning comes in a report published on Saturday as Downing Street and Brussels continue to try to hammer out a deal, deadlocked over fishing, by the European parliaments deadline.
At this late stage the government must be ready to implement contingency plans where necessary to mitigate the effects of any disruption. Failure to do so would mean the worst possible start to the new year for many people and businesses who are already experiencing the toughest of times, the report says.
Benn said the government still cannot provide business, traders and citizens with certainty about what will happen in all the areas affected by the negotiations.
The report adds that decisions have been made too late, communication with businesses has been patchy at best and police may be forced to use slower and more cumbersome systems.
The cross-party committee, which backed the report unanimously, warned that the combination of Brexit uncertainty and Covid-19 could hamper UK businesses.
Provisions to ensure the UK border is secure and safe must be put in place while ministers must carefully monitor the effectiveness of alternative means of intelligence sharing for law enforcement, the report says.
If the UK crashes out without a deal it loses access not just to the joint arrest system but also to four other systems including: live passenger number records vital in counter-terror operations; the Schengen Information System II database of missing persons and stolen goods; fingerprinting and DNA records in a system known as Prüm; and the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), which holds records of criminals across the bloc.
Prior to connecting to the Prüm DNA framework, which contains millions of records on criminal suspects, data exchange was done manually by the UKs National Crime Agency.
The government has said it would still be able to co-operate with EU security and police counterparts using Interpol and other forums.
However police representatives have said the alternatives will leave the UK in a weaker position.
While the precise nature of future co-operation with the EU on law enforcement remains unclear, the UKs safety and security must not be compromised, the MPs say.
They recognise that UK law enforcement agencies have been working hard to develop alternatives to EU databases but warn the fallback systems for exchanging data are slower and more cumbersome.
They say a EU-UK surrender agreement to replace the European arrest warrant is unlikely to be ready in time and urge the government to open talks with the Irish government over bilateral policing arrangements for the island of Ireland.
The MPs praise the government for its early decision to phase in customs and regulatory controls in three stages between January and July, and the recent agreement on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.
But they call on Westminster to work with the devolved governments to minimise traffic disruption near British ports, citing the lack of veterinary officers to provide health certificates for food and animal products mandatory for exports to the EU from 1 January.
Decisions on the border model are complicated but have been made too late and the late delivery of IT systems for customs makes training and testing difficult. The MPs warn that trade with the EU may be hindered if sufficient numbers of customs and veterinary staff to perform checks and give advice are not in place.