Building EU-UK security cooperation

Julian King | Jul 2021

One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but there are some signs that the UK and EU are starting to find ways of working better together, where it’s in their shared and mutual interest. The situation around the Northern Ireland Protocol remains tense and complicated, but the two sides have found a way to avoid the latest cliff edge, on chilled meats, and work through the issue together. The EU Member States backed the Commission proposal to grant the UK data adequacy. Discussions are underway on developing mutual recognition of vaccination status for Brits and EU nationals.

Not all aspects of the relationship are moving forward, far from it. The list of problem areas is long and, for the moment, still growing. But where the UK and the EU have shared objectives, where the two sides face common challenges, it’s in everyone’s interests that they evolve effective ways of working together. That’s starting to happen, despite some nosies off, across a range of issues on the G7 and G20 agendas, and in the run up to November’s COP26.

We need to move forward on the internal security agenda too. The challenges from terrorism, extremism, including violent right wing extremism, cybercrime and other serious and organised crime haven’t diminished; in some ways they’ve grown, including the flare up in ransomware attacks, for example. Those seeking to cause harm and profit from these activities don’t recognise Brexit. The case for the UK and the EU finding ways to continue to work together to counter terrorism and crime is as strong as ever.

And the Trade and Cooperation Agreement provides a framework for building that practical cooperation. On internal security, the outcome of the long, sometimes painful, negotiations was better than many expected. Things can’t work as they did before; the UK exited and is a Third Country. But the UK and EU did agree a set of arrangements and relationships that allow cooperation in many of the key areas, put that cooperation on a legal basis, and left open the possibility of further developments.

The UK is no longer a member of the key law enforcement Agencies, Europol and Eurojust, but it has liaison arrangements which are at least as good as any other partner and can participate in a full range of operational activities. The management and potential development of future cooperation is left in the hands of frontline practitioners, with a focus on making things work. The UK is out of the European Arrest Warrant, but the UK and EU agreed a legal basis for surrendering people wanted for trial, modelled on arrangements with Norway and Iceland, which is robust and clearly intended to avoid a return to the bad old days of the ‘Costa del crime’.

The UK can’t share information over all of the EU law enforcement data bases, in particular it can’t share ‘alerts’ to look out for people or objects of interest across the most used data base, the Schengen Information System. But it can still share data on vehicle registrations, fingerprints, DNA, other crime scene forensics, on who is coming in and out of our airports, and criminal records. And the UK and European partners can share ‘alerts’ across other systems, like the Interpol data bases – it just takes more work, which all say they are ready to put in. Other more informal networks for cooperation will continue. Including some where the UK was very active over recent years, such as the European networks for tackling radicalisation, for tackling disinformation, or strengthening election security.

There’s potential for further developing cooperation across this area, in particular on cybersecurity. The TCA envisages building links between the UK and the EU’s cybersecurity agency and with the European networks for securing critical digital infrastructure and responding to cyber incidents. This would be well worth doing, to support the shared cyber agenda set out at this summer’s G7 Summit in Cornwall and complement the work that’s underway in NATO.

The key is the appetite and will to use the arrangements and make them work. The frontline practitioners, police, border guards, immigration officers, all say they want to make the most of the possibilities. There are some clearly established basic conditions for continuing cooperation, on respect for fundamental rights and protection of personal data. But it’s in all our interests to try and avoid letting other issues or problems elsewhere in the wider UK/EU relationship get in the way of working together to tackle shared security challenges.