Mind the security gap

Claude Moraes says a bespoke interim agreement is urgently needed to avoid standstill

As the UK gets ready to leave the European Union, finding ways to safeguard cooperation with the EU on justice and home affairs has proven more difficult than expected. Over the years, British security has become increasingly dependent on successful integration with EU-wide policies. The UK currently has the advantage of being granted a ‘special status’ in the area of freedom, security and justice (AFSJ). However, with Brexit the UK’s relationship is about to fundamentally change.

The EU’s data-sharing tools are a central aspect of the UK’s cooperation in policing and security, allowing for a wide range of information to be exchanged on a ‘real-time’ basis. This includes data on suspects wanted for arrest or questioning, stolen vehicles, missing people, criminal records, DNA and fingerprint data, and criminal offences and structures.

These tools are underpinned by a number of EU laws, so the UK would need new agreements with the EU to retain access to them after the transition or implementation period. These new agreements must ensure that expertise and intelligence between the UK and the EU27 continues, as well as cooperation in policing and judicial matters. UK-EU collaboration must continue, particularly on policing and security matters to protect the benefits from key joint bodies such as Europol and the European Arrest Warrant. With Brexit the UK will also leave the legal framework for moving data between the two areas. The UK needs to act now to ensure data flows can continue uninterrupted.

The UK risks losing national security exemptions on data usage guaranteed by the EU’s GDPR legislation, rights to retain bulk data and other powers granted to British security services. Agreeing an adequate data protection regime in the UK is fundamental to ensuring mutual trust, human rights and the exchange of personal data for law enforcement purposes. The problem is negotiations for a new ‘Data Adequacy’ agreement can only begin when the UK has formally left the UK from April 2019. Even worse, securing Data Adequacy – a status granted by the European Commission to non-EEA countries – is a lengthy process that could take up to 18 months.  What is needed is a bespoke interim agreement to avoid a temporary standstill in information exchanges, which would be mutually detrimental.

The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Justice and Home Affairs Committee, which I chair, has outlined a suggested level of priority that cooperation measures should be given in the future EU-UK relationship. Areas of cooperation that should be prioritised are continued cooperation in Europol and Eurojust, data exchange in ECRIS, SIS II and PNR.

With Brexit rapidly approaching, international cooperation should not be treated as an option but essential to the security of the UK. Getting it right soon means safeguarding the justice, security and freedoms for both EU and UK citizens.

 

Claude Moraes

Claude Moraes is a Labour MEP for the London region.