Home Affairs committee says it will be ‘near impossible’ to reach agreement on access to criminal databases
MPs have urged the Home Office to prepare for the possibility it will face a “cliff edge” in the exchange of data needed to protect public safety after the Brexit transition period, in a report that warns existing arrangements for leaving the EU could compromise the UK’s security.
The UK has yet to negotiate access to EU-wide criminal databases used by police and intelligence agencies after Brexit, and it will be “near impossible” to secure access by the time the transition period ends in December 2020, the Home Affairs Select Committee said in a report.
The report said prime minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, which MPs will vote on this week, contains no reference to either the Schengen Information System (SIS II), which facilitates data sharing on missing and wanted individuals and stolen objects, or ECRIS, which records convictions in other member states.
British police forces access SIS II more than 500 million times a year, according to the report, but access to the database is still being negotiated under a separate security treaty.
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“A failure to retain access to SIS II and ECRIS would be a significant downgrade of our policing and security capability at a time when cross border crime and security threats are increasing,” the report said. “It is crucial that the Home Office plans for a possible cliff edge in data exchange after the transition period ends, and publishes a full and detailed risk assessment of the impact of losing access.”
It added: “We are extremely concerned that the government is either being complacent or failing to be transparent about the security implications and it should provide full and accurate information to parliament about the security risks,” it said, following arguments from within the EU that the databases should be limited to countries in the EU or Schengen Area. There is far too much complacency on this issue, on the part of both the UK government and the EU.”
The committee also said it was “extremely concerned” about the lack of clarity the draft withdrawal agreement gave on what customs and border arrangements will look like after Brexit.
“The wide range of outcomes allowable under the declaration will make it extremely challenging for the Home Office to make preparations for UK border operations after transition ends,” it warned.
“Given the Home Office’s track record in hiring people and developing IT systems, any significant programmes of work will need to begin immediately.”
It said the department should provide the committee with a statement outlining its plans and timeline to transition to “whatever the new system will be”.
The report also said MPs on the committee were “concerned that the Home Office is overly optimistic about how easy it will be to negotiate a replacement process to take over” from the European Arrest Warrant, the EU-wide extradition agreement.
A Home Office spokesperson said the draft Brexit deal “delivers the broadest security partnership in the EU’s history and provides a framework for a future security relationship between the UK and the EU to keep people safe”.
“It is in everyone’s interests to combine efforts on security and, whilst our relationship with the EU will change, we have agreed to share vitally important information, including passenger name records, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration,” they said. “We will also be establishing a streamlined extradition process so that our law enforcement agencies can quickly investigate and prosecute criminals and terrorists.”
In September, the National Crime Agency and the National Police Chiefs Council announced that they were to create a team of officers and other police staff dedicated to helping forces across the UK cope with the potential fallout of Brexit – including loss of access to data-sharing systems.