Post Brexit will it be the UK or the EU’s security that will be the weaker?

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In June 2018 Brexit negotiations were seeming to make slow progress and at an address to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier threw a cat among the pigeons  by stating post Brexit the UK will be locked out of the EU’s policing and security databases, lose access to the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and no longer have a role in managing agencies such as Europol and Eurojust. Barnier added that security cooperation is based on trust, a trust that is founded on an ecosystem and that cooperation between the UK and EU on crime and security would be conditional on the UK remaining subject to the European Court of Human Rights. In relation to the latter, Barnier should have no concerns as there are no moves in the short term for the UK to leave the Council of Europe and thereby withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, a document that in 1953 was written primarily by British lawyers!

If Barnier’s threat come to fruition what the UK will lose includes:

  1. Access to the Prum Treaty on the exchange of DNA profiles;
  2. Access to the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II);
  3. Europol’s other databases related to terrorist and criminal activity;
  4. Use of the EAW.

At the EU Summit in Brussels on the 29th June 2018 the UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May warned the EU that should the UK be frozen out of cooperation on security and criminal activity related to serious crime this would put not just the UK but citizens in the other 27 EU Member States at risk. This raises the question if the UK is denied access to important databases will it compromise UK security? In essence I do not think it will, but it could slow down progress in investigations into terrorism and serious crime.

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Firstly I think it is totally wrong of Barnier and his team to even to contemplate having the issue of cooperation related to terrorism and security on Brexit negotiations’ agenda. The key issues in those negotiations should focus on freedom of movement of trade and persons, trade and customs tariffs and so on, not security. Of course by leaving the EU both the UK and the EU should have separate negotiations on issues related to cooperation on terrorism and serious crime, but one where negotiations are carried out with a great desire  to reach an agreement without any politicking that benefits citizens in the whole of Europe, not just those in the EU. There appears to be an arrogance with the EU in thinking of itself as Europe, but there are many European nations that are not in the EU and have no intention of doing so. Of course post Brexit the UK will be come a third country (that is one not in the EU), but please note that also post Brexit the UK will still be a European state! As such intelligence sharing and cooperation between the UK and EU Member States will still be important. Terrorists and criminals to not take into account national state borders when carrying out their activity. Both terrorist acts and serious crime like the trafficking of persons, drugs and firearms have a devastating affect on its victims. In short this is simply about nothing more than keep all European citizens safe be they in or out of the EU.

In saying this the non-EU states of Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland have limited access to EU terrorism and criminal databases through the Schengen Aquis, so why can’t the UK have the same access? It might be the EU is taking  a hard line stance against the UK because the UK does not want the Court of Justice of the European Union to have any form of governance over UK law. It could also be because post-Lisbon Treaty 2009 no EU Member State has wanted to leave the EU with its many unelected bureaucratic bodies (hence the democratic deficit that has been seen with the EU). As such it can be argued that the likes of Barnier is using Brexit and its hard line stance with the UK as a lesson to other EU Member States should they wish to leave the EU in the future. At the time of writing my recent travels has revealed how widespread is the desire of many citizens in EU Member States for their home state to leave the EU. In part this could be down to how the EU has developed from the European Economic Community based solely on trade to a quasi-federalist state post Treaty of Union and Treaty of Lisbon.

If asked I see the hard line Barnier is adopting would more detrimental to the EU and the citizens in its remaining Member States than the UK. The UK has what is termed a ‘gold standard’ in relation to intelligence gathering and sharing among its security services and the police and it is a model that is constantly developing and improving. GCHQ’s Director, Jeremy Fielding recently came out saying that in 2017 GCHQ and the UK played a critical role in foiling a least four attacks on mainland Europe. Fielding’s statement came out following Barnier’s threats and it is very rare for a security service director or senior police officers to feel the need to come out and get involved in a political issue. The UK’s intelligence model is one that other EU Member States want to emulate. Also the UK is part of the Five Eyes, which is an intelligence sharing agreement between the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and as such currently vital intelligence can be rapidly fed in to the EU systems by the UK, something the EU would lose if Barnier’s threats are realised. The EU should be grateful to the UK as Europol’s former director, Sir Rob Wainwright, who left the post earlier this year, shook up Europol by introducing and improving its intelligence and cooperation structures, all based on the UK’s model. He is currently assisting the UK’s Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee on the status of Brexit negotiations on security and the options available for future policing and security cooperation between the UK and the EU.  In relation to EAW’s, there is a possibility that the UK and the EU can negotiate a similar extradition procedure that is as rapid as the EAW because the use of EAW’s has been a two-way process as just as many EAW’s have been carried out by UK policing agencies on behalf of Member States as the UK has made requests. I am confident that as such the UK and the EU can agree on a form of swift extradition. This is important as many EU Member States’ constitutions prohibit extradition of its citizens to third countries, for example Germany.

While in my opinion it is wrong for the EU to use security and serious crime as a political football I am confident pressure will be put on the EU by the Member States and its security services and policing agencies to maintain close cooperation with the UK. As I said the UK is not leaving Europe, it is leaving the EU and the EU is not Europe. Should the EU maintain a hard line on these issues I think the biggest loser with be the citizens of the remaining 27 member States.

Sputnik logo

I discuss these issues in greater detail in my interview with Radio Sputnik

 

UK’s MI5 Director Warns UK is Facing Intense Terror Threat

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MI5’s Director, Andrew Parker has warned the UK’s security services are facing an intense challenge from terrorism. He said the tempo of counter-terrorism operations was the highest he has seen in his service with MI5, currently running at 500 live operations involving 3,000 individuals. Even though seven major attacks have been prevented in the last seven months in 2017, the UK has suffered five attacks, four in London, one in Manchester with four inspired the Islamist narrative, one allegedly by the far right narrative.

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The threat comes from individuals who have returned to the UK after having fought with Islamic State (IS) in Syria/Iraq and IS’ use of electronic communications and propaganda to recruit/inspire individuals to carry out attacks (mainly low level using vehicles and sharply bladed instruments). Following the loss of control of Raqqa this week, although IS no longer controls major/important geographical locations, their narrative is still alive and influencing individuals. Due to the overwhelming forces fighting them, it is likely IS could see they would lose the territory they controlled and have made preparations to carry out their fight by use of guerrilla warfare in Syria/Iraq, placed sleeper cells in western states containing individuals who have fought and been trained in Syria/Iraq and continue to use their effective communications system to recruit/influence new followers. This in itself will pose a threat to many states’ national security in the next few years.

national action logo1national action at Liverpool

 

Regarding the UK, Andrew parker did not mention the terrorist threat the UK faces from the extreme far right. Since the group National Action were proscribed as a terrorist group in December 2016 there have been a number of arrests linked to the group. This includes the arrests on the 27th September 2017 where eleven suspected members of National Action were arrested with six of them suspected of preparing acts of terrorism.

severe threat level

 

This explains why the UK’s threat level is still at severe (an attack is highly likely). Questions will continue to be asked as to how attacks still occur, but as Andrew Parker said, seven serious attacks were prevented in 2017 alone. The UK’s counter-terrorism model of security where the security services work alongside the police supported by units like the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) is still effective. Those assessed as a risk will be investigated, but those who are not on any intelligence system or who is perceived as a peripheral figure still pose a threat. It is impossible to mount 24 hour, seven days a week surveillance on all those in the intelligence systems. It is logical that resources are focused on the greatest risk and as such I see the UK’s threat level remaining at sever for the near future.

 

I discussed this on BBC Radio Scotland at 6.50am this morning and will be again for BBC Radio WM between 9.05-9.20am (BST) today.

 

Police confirm attack outside Buckingham Palace is a terrorist investigation

police buckingham palace

The attack by a male armed with a sword on three UK police officers close to Buckingham Palace just after half past eight yesterday evening has been confirmed by the Metropolitan Police to be a terrorist investigation. A 26 year old male from Luton, Bedfordshire was arrested after being retrained with the use of CS gas by police officers after he injured three police officers who, thankfully were not seriously injured.

While we have seen a number of incidents in Europe where attacks have taken place targeting civilians in public places over the last couple of years, the last being in Barcelona in August  this is not the first time in 2017 that police officers or the military have been targeted by terrorists. In April 2017 a male attacked a police bus parked up in the Champs-Elysees with an automatic weapon killing one officer and injuring two others. On the 9th August 2017 six French soldiers were inured in Paris when a vehicle was driven at speed into them and then drove off (with the suspected driver later stopped and shot on a motorway in northern France). Both of these incidents are  believed to have been terrorist attacks.

With the attacks on civilians carried out by Islamic State inspired terrorists who targeted what is termed as ‘soft targets’ such as restaurants, bars/pubs, theatres and other public venues, the military and the police are perceived as hard targets. What have seen in the likes of the attacks in London yesterday and the two mentioned above in Paris, the type of attack has been relatively easy to carry out and lacks sophistication. Along with other public venues or events likely to be targeted,  we are also likely to see similar types of attacks on the police and military in Europe in the coming years. In continental Europe as the police are routinely armed, such attacks will no doubt result in the attacker being killed as we saw with the two Paris attacks on the police and the military, but in Britain 93% of the police officers are not armed. As we have seen following the recent UK terrorist attacks, no doubt the attack outside Buckingham Palace will once more raise the question if more British police officer should be routinely armed. Being a retired English police officer who was proud of the fact that the vast majority of British police officers were not armed because they policed by consent of the public, even I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that where officers are posted to locations identified as being a high risk of a terrorist attack should be armed in order to save their own lives. If the Metropolitan Police’s Constable Keith Palmer was armed when he tackled with the terrorist who drove into people on Westminster Bridge and then tried to enter the palace of Westminster that contains the UK’s Parliament, it might have saved his life.

It appears that the former UK security service (MI5) director, Lord Evans, is right and we will have to expect a number of these attacks in the coming years. This is of great concern and the question remains as to how  to stop individuals who are inspired by any form of an extremist narrative from carrying out an attack b driving a vehicle into a crowd of people or stabbing their victims in public places? Enhancing the sharing intelligence between policing agencies at international level is one way, as seen recently in Holland where following information passed on by the Spanish police to their Dutch counterparts resulted in the cancellation of a concert because of a suspected terrorist attack that resulted in a male being arrested by the Dutch police for preparing such an attack. On many occasions it is found that following an attack the police or the security services have some information on the attacker, but, due to the sheer volume of resources needed, it is impossible to have 24/7 observation on every person who is in an intelligence system. What can help is all of us being that bit more vigilant and if you suspect anything at all, no matter how minor you may perceive it, contact the police. In the UK we can do this by contacting the police on the Anti-Terrorism Hotline, 0800 789 321.