I spent a fascinating day in Northern Ireland with the Committee for Exiting the European Union. The border issue is about so much more than trade. It is about identity, community and peace.
In the committee session I asked Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris, PSNI and Simon York, Director, HMRC Fraud Investigation Service, about the co-operation needed with our EU partners and the impact on security.
Stephen Kinnock: I want to come back on the issue of EU-wide co-operation. With crime becoming increasingly cross-border, policing has to be as well, and you have mentioned a number of instruments such as the Schengen information system, the European arrest warrant, Prüm, joint investigation teams and so on.
I think you have also mentioned that there are different scenarios for Brexit, different types of Brexit, ranging from no deal at all through to a model that envisages very close co-operation. Have you done a study of each of those scenarios in the context of what it might mean in losing the ability to co-operate through these instruments with EU partners? What impact might that have on the security of the island of Ireland and more broadly the United Kingdom?
Deputy Chief Constable Harris: We are engaged on three pieces of work. At a national level, we have engaged with the NCA and the National Police Chiefs Council in preparing for Brexit with work on the cross-jurisdictional powers that are currently afforded to the UK by the EU. Also we are engaged with our own Department of Justice in Belfast about policy, legislative, operational resource implications, but in particular we have commissioned work jointly with the Acting Commissioner of An Garda Síochána on the implications of UK’s departure.
As a police officer, and not wishing to stray into any sort of political domain, we are unsure of what the landscape is going to look like going forward but we know certain things are going to change. Our responsibility, and An Garda Síochána’s responsibility, is to do our very best to maintain the safety and security of everyone on this island. We are very firmly focused on that. We have a very good working relationship with An Garda Síochána but a working relationship has to be backed up with the legislation and policy that allows information sharing, intelligence sharing and evidence sharing quickly so that investigations can move on at a pace. Those are the things that we wish to address.
Uniquely, we have an intergovernmental treaty that affords police-to-police co-operation on the island of Ireland. That will still exist beyond Brexit and we want to make sure that the provisions are used to their full for police-to-police co-operation.
What we are very clear about is that the border areas in particular do not feel that they become less safe; they could be subject to crime and people can use the border as a means to obstruct justice. We have worked very hard over the last 15 to 20 years to increase the feeling of safety and respect for the rule of law and order and lawfulness in those areas and we do not want to lose that ground. That is why we are working closely with An Garda Síochána in respect of this and scoping out what might be done.
Stephen Kinnock: The central management of these instruments is in continental Europe, in Brussels or other cities through the agencies of the EU and across continental Europe. Are you engaged in dialogue with those authorities—I guess it is a three-cornered triangle: yourselves, the Republic of Ireland and the EU side—to start to sketch out some of the scenarios where you could have equivalence to the Schengen information system and the European arrest warrant? That equivalence can only be agreed. As you say, it is a two-way street. It would need to have the agreement of the EU side and this side. What sort of dialogue are you having with the rest of the European Union on these things?
Deputy Chief Constable Harris: We are not having a direct dialogue. Our dialogue will be facilitated primarily through involvement with our own Department of Justice here but also the national law enforcement working groups that we are involved in.
The NCA and the NPCC are making representations on behalf of UK policing plc as to what the criminal justice policing landscape should be and the structures we need in place after Brexit. That is being driven by the centre. We do not have direct conversations on that, but certainly we will bring our influence and our factors—in that we have a land border—to bear on this.
Simon York: That is the same for us. The Home Office is leading on the criminal justice, law enforcement and security discussions, so it is building that picture. We are feeding into that with our evidence. We are talking to the Home Office who will be pulling that picture together but, as Mr Harris said earlier, there is a real mutual interest in law enforcement, customs, tax authorities or whatever across Europe in retaining good ways of collaborating and sharing intelligence, for example.