Police will still be able to keep people safe after Brexit
After four and a half years of uncertainty, anguish and argument, the UK finally completed its departure from the European Union on New Year’s Eve.
Brexit has dominated political debate and news agendas since the 2016 referendum, not to mention fuelling countless ugly rows in homes and streets across the country. But in the end, quite rightly, this subject was eclipsed by the worrying increase in cases of the new COVID-19 variant and our inevitable slide into a third national lockdown.
Although we are currently preoccupied by the more immediate issue of the pandemic, and although the long term impact of leaving the EU may not be felt for many months, this is a significant moment and a huge amount of work has been taking place behind the scenes to prepare for it.
Since 2018, I have been a member of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ EU-Exit Working Group, set up to get Police forces and PCCs around the country ready for changes to policing and law enforcement caused by Brexit.
Along with the other members of the group, Kent PCC Matthew Scott and Leicestershire PCC Lord Willy Bach, we welcome the agreement that was eventually reached on December 24.
Brexit is a complex jigsaw
The deal in the end was better than was expected. Although Britain has lost certain security information avenues, it has regained its sovereignty and many facilities that we expected to lose, have been retained.
When looking at policing and security, it is really important to remember that Brexit is a complex jigsaw. To reflect on the settlement, one has to look across the whole paper, across the 50 odd strands, not just policing.
So, there have now been changes to our international policing tools. This means that forces in the UK have now lost access to a European database called the Schengen Information System (SIS II).
Officers will no longer be able to automatically share information with other EU member countries using the database, or to use the database to obtain information about people.
Alternatives are slower
However, forces will still be able to access the databases managed by Interpol to see whether the people their officers are dealing with have been flagged up in other countries – either as wanted, missing or as having other risk factors.
We have also lost the European Arrest Warrant, which requires member states to arrest criminal suspects and transfer them back to whichever country issued the warrant so they can be put on trial there.
Policing has always known that whatever emerged in the final deal, it was going to be inferior to the pre-Brexit arrangements. Losing live access to information on the SIS II database and losing the European Arrest Warrant will make fighting crime more difficult. Alternatives do exist, but they are slower, more complicated and less reliable.
However, there have also been some successes, such as the fact that forces will continue to have access to Europol, and the criminal records information included in port Passenger Name Records.
Police forces are resilient
I also know that forces across the country are incredibly resilient, many of these changes had been anticipated long ago and procedures have been put in place to ensure officers are prepared for them.
The deal that was made in the closing days of 2020 has given certainty on the tools that will be retained and on changes that need to be made on their working arrangements.
I appreciate that many people are still concerned, but I would like to reassure everyone that despite the changes, we will still be able to keep people safe and bring people to justice.
When the clock struck 11pm on New Year’s Eve, it marked the end of the transition period, the end of our membership of the EU, but also the end of a four year period that I think few will remember fondly. Hate crimes spiked in the aftermath of the referendum, scenes of angry protests outside Parliament were broadcast around the world and the country was split into artificial distinctions of ‘leavers’ and ‘remainers’.
Now our departure from the EU is finally complete, I hope we can move on, put the unpleasantness of the last few years behind us, and above all concentrate on the important matters of keeping people safe and defeating this terrible pandemic.