One of the more conciliatory things said by one of our EU partners when a referendum was in the offing was by the Finnish Prime Minister, who proclaimed that: ‘The EU without Britain is pretty much the same as fish without chips.’
By contrast one of the more shameful things claimed by Project Fear was that ISIS would be voting for Leave and our security would be compromised if we had the temerity to back Brexit. The fact that now the British fish is well on its way to leaving our Continental chips means cooperation and solidarity on security matters is no less vital but also no less workable.
Terrorism, extremism and international law cooperation have been high on the agenda of the Home Affairs Select Committee on which I have served since 2014. At the height of the Referendum campaign we visited Europol headquarters in The Hague. With the Committee evenly split between Leavers and Remainers there was keen competition to garner evidence that European policing cooperation would inevitably suffer if we were outside the EU, or not.
What scuppered the Remain side was that we met more employees of US Homeland Security there than we did French police. And they work alongside Scotland Yard secondees, Australian and other ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence allies. The fact is that Europol doesn’t just exist for 28 EU member states but has operational agreements with 14 other countries from the US to Colombia and strategic agreements with 4 more including Russia and Turkey.
There are all sorts of different protocols about data sharing which apply to every state but needless to say the more that is shared the better. And the UK has traditionally been one of the biggest inputters of intelligence on a whole range of crime and security matters. Criminal gangs trafficking drugs, people or terror do not respect national boundaries and are certainly not deterred by a circle of stars on a flag. We are working side by side with many non-EU enforcement agencies and just to add insult to injury we were told the Americans don’t even pay rent. I am sure we could cope with a relationship like that.
The strongest intelligence sharing relationship is in fact entirely outside the EU with our so-called ‘Five Eyes’ partners the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Our respective policing and military intelligence services collaborate much more closely than is often the case on the Continent. Shockingly we were reliably told that Belgian police had to ring up Scotland Yard to get intelligence on recent terrorist attacks in their own country ahead of hearing from their equivalent of MI5.
British intelligence cooperation and expertise has been forged the hard way out of the dark days of IRA terrorism and is respected across the globe. In these times of heightened security concerns our Continental partners need to be part of that more than ever. Do we really think that the French police will decline to share information about a suspected terrorist cell posing a threat to Britain from a cross-channel port just because we are not a member of the EU anymore? Get real!
Similarly there will be new arrangements for many other justice and policing measures that are in our mutual interest and can be achieved through bilateral or multilateral arrangements but not by the sledgehammer of an EU wide justice system or the expansion of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights by the ECJ.
Fish and chips can still come in many different forms.