Brexit threat to European anti-terror cooperation

Brexit threat to European anti-terror cooperation

Ahead of the London Bridge terrorist attack, Italian authorities had warned their British counterparts about one of the perpetrators, Italian citizen Youssef Zaghba. He was listed on the Schengen Information System (SIS), an EU-wide law enforcement database, after he was stopped at Bologna airport while trying to reach Syria.

The British government intends to try to retain access to SIS and other databases after the UK leaves the EU. This will be difficult and may be impossible if Theresa May insists that she will not accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) or pay into the EU budget, says a paper from the Centre for European Reform.

The crucial elements of European security cooperation are SIS, the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), and police and judicial co-operation through the EU agencies Europol and Eurojust. ” In none of these areas is Britain likely to retain the same status it enjoys now. But in most of them, the EU and the UK will be able to reach an agreement that keeps the UK as closely associated as possible. This will require a bit of creativity.”

Although the UK (like Ireland) is not part of the Schengen passp0rt cooperation, it spent £35 million plugging its systems into the SIS database as an EU member. But  there is no legal basis in the EU treaties for a non-EU, non-Schengen country to participate in Schengen. Countries like Australia or Canada can only obtain SIS information by asking Europol to run a search for them. In 2010 the UK was refused access to another Schengen database, the Visa Information System (VIS, containing fingerprints and digital photographs of those applying for a Schengen visa) by the ECJ.

Iceland, Norway and Switzerland all have access to SIS, but they have to pay into the EU budget for the privilege. If their courts disagree with the ECJ the access will terminated. Most importantly, “non-EU countries must follow EU data protection standards if they want to access Schengen databases”. Any proposal for a softer deal for London will cause an almighty row in Bern, Oslo and Reykjavik.

The paper includes a table of all the elements of EU police, legal and security cooperation. It concludes:” At a time when the UK government’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has assessed that the terrorist threat to the UK is ‘severe’, the Conservative party and its allies in power would do well to remember what they risk by being too dogmatic.”