Police prepare contingency plans for post-Brexit loss of European data-sharing systems

New national unit established to help forces mitigate impact of EU exit

Credit: Oseveno/CC BY SA 3.0

Police chiefs are preparing contingency plans for the possibility that, following the UK’s exit from the European Union, forces will lose access to EU systems and programmes that enable cooperation and data sharing across borders.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) have completed a joint review of the potential risks of the loss of access to EU systems. There are a number of key tools, data stores, and pieces of legislation that police chiefs fear UK forces could be deprived of following Brexit.

This includes two EU databases containing information on criminals, immigration offenders, and missing persons: the European Criminal Records Information System; and the Schengen Information Systems.

Police chiefs are also concerned that UK law enforcement will lose the use of European Arrest Warrants and European Investigation Orders – which could complicate or even prevent the extradition of suspects. The UK may also no longer receive information and support from two EU agencies: Europol and Eurojust.

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Although police leaders remain hopeful that a deal can be struck to ensure the UK’s continued use of EU tools and programmes, the NCA and the NPCC – along with the UK’s Criminal Records Office (ACRO) – are to create a team of officers and other police staff who will lead a centralised effort to help forces cope with the potential Brexit fallout. This unit will be housed within London’s Metropolitan Police, governed by the NPCC, and funded by the Home Office. 

The team will be tasked with examining the benefits, drawbacks, and practical implications of using non-EU systems and processes. This may include international tools and programmes run by Interpol, as well arrangements with individual countries or Council of Europe conventions.

But Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, said that, even where alternative arrangements are potentially available, these are “without exception slower, more bureaucratic and, ultimately, less effective”. 

“The loss of [EU] tools and the limitations of the alternatives will be felt in [other] European countries too,” she said. “The UK is one of the biggest contributors of intelligence to Europol systems and leads half of its operational coordination meetings. For every one person arrested on a UK-issued European Arrest Warrant, the UK arrests eight people on warrants issued by other member states.”

Richard Martin, NPCC’s Brexit lead and the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said that 70% of Europe’s “transient organised crime groups” operate in at least three different countries across the continent.

“Criminals don’t respect borders,” he added. “If we and EU partners were no longer able to use key instruments, we would no longer be able to share real-time alerts for wanted persons, including serious criminals, we would respond less swiftly to alerts for missing people on either side of the Channel delaying reuniting them with their loved ones, [and] our collective ability to map terrorist and criminal networks across Europe and bring those responsible to justice would be reduced.”

NPCC members have also agreed to prepare for the potential that a no-deal Brexit may provoke civil unrest, as well as disruption to borders and travel in and out of the country. 

Sam Trendall

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