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insecurity complex

UK and EU 'have spent only one hour' discussing how security is going to look post-Brexit

A new report says that ‘time is running out’ to sort out what the security relationship between the two entities will be after March 2019.

Shot soldiers Regiment return from Afghanistan British soldiers on parade in Northern Ireland following a tour of Afghanistan in 2009 PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

THE UK AND EU have spent a little over one hour discussing what the future of security between the two will be post-Brexit.

So says a new report from a UK House of Lords committee on home affairs.

The report, published today and entitled ‘Brexit: The Proposed UK-EU Security Treaty’ (it can be viewed here), stresses that ‘time is running out’ for the UK and EU to come up with a viable security treaty which would work to both sides’ benefit.

“The committee supports the government’s ambition to continue security cooperation after Brexit, but there is no evidence that sufficient progress has yet been made in the negotiations,” the report states.

Rather worryingly, it adds: “The committee believes it is unlikely that such a treaty can be agreed in the time available.”

It also suggests a scarcely-credible statistic – that the committee heard evidence during the course of its work that ‘by mid-May, the UK and EU negotiators had spent little more than an hour discussing the future internal security relationship’.

The report piles yet more pressure on the shoulders of Prime Minister Theresa May in a week in which high-profile resignations from her cabinet over how Brexit is being handled (including Brexit minister himself David Davis) have been ten-a-penny.

Despite those setbacks, however, it looks like May will still be publishing her government’s hotly-anticipated white paper on the UK’s Brexit negotiating strategy today.

Northern Ireland

Regarding a subject rather closer to Irish hearts, the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, the report states that the issues surrounding the lack of an amended security treaty ‘affect them with particular acuteness’.

Security forces in the two jurisdictions have a long-standing history of both formal and informal cooperation with regard to counterterrorism and cross-border crime (such as smuggling), it says.


The PSNI meanwhile states that the challenges of policing the border are unique due to the ‘post-conflict society’ nature of Northern Irish life, and the fact that the Northern border is the only such physical differentiation for either country.

The committee was told, by research project BrexitLawNI, that the loss of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) post-Brexit would be “one of the most serious security-related issues arising” from the exit vote, a statement endorsed by Chief Constable of the PSNI George Hamilton, who described such a scenario as “the biggest practical vulnerability” arising from Brexit.

Between 2007 and 2017 the PSNI sought 154 EAWs, leading to the extradition of 47 suspects to the North. 113 of those applications, 73%, referred to suspects believed to be located in the Republic.

The committee concluded that it was “confident” that such informal cooperation between gardaí and the PSNI would continue.

However, it stressed that formal agreements regarding access to EU security instruments are essential for the effective policing of the border, especially with regard to extradition arrangements.

“Here, perhaps more than in any other aspect of security cooperation, the negotiations should not be treated as a zero sum game, but as an opportunity to develop a partnership that will benefit both sides,” it states.

“(The lack of engagement) worsens an already precarious security and intelligence situation on the island,” security consultant Tom Clonan told

Cabinet meeting Theresa May, pictured yesterday at Westminster Abbey Stefan Rousseau / PA Images Stefan Rousseau / PA Images / PA Images

It erodes capacity for all-island coordination in routine and intelligence-led policing. It further frustrates a full return to normal policing on the island and is a boon to dissidents and so-called organised criminals in both jurisdictions here.

The issues surrounding border security are being handled from an Irish point of view by the Department of Justice. A request for comment had not yet been responded to at the time of publication.

Other conclusions

The report also states that, given the lack of engagement thus far, ‘pragmatic compromises’ need to be made on both sides.

It calls on both the UK and EU to change their mindsets ‘urgently’ to achieve the ‘over-riding objective of protecting the safety of citizens post-Brexit’.

Regarding the UK government’s ambitions for security cooperation, it says that there is ‘no evidence that sufficient progress has been made’, and opines that ‘it is unlikely that such a treaty can be agreed in the time available’, ie before 29 March next year, when Britain will officially leave the EU.

By turns it’s harshly critical of Britain’s performance on the security issue, remarking that if the UK wishes to maintain access to EU databases (UK police forces accessed the Schengen Information System II, a criminal-tracking database, 539 million times in 2017) and the expertise of agencies like Europol, it must ‘be willing to be flexible’.

“The EU has given little indication that it will be prepared to negotiate a bespoke treaty,” the report states. “The (British government) therefore needs to show realism about what it can achieve in the time remaining. If a comprehensive treaty cannot be agreed, a series of ad hoc security arrangements could help to ensure the level of cooperation we need.”

“It’s time for pragmatic compromises, on the UK side, and also on the EU side,” said Lord Jay of Ewelme, chairman of the committee.

Red lines won’t save people’s lives – getting agreement on effective police and security cooperation will.

“If a hard Brexit follows with a hard border, these developments amount to something of a perfect storm in defence, intelligence and policing terms,” Clonan meanwhile says of the Irish situation.

That represents a threat to our fragile peace process.

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