Ad-hoc intergovernmental arrangements will not doby David Anderson / March 3, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Exposing Europe’s intelligence failures
The UK is as well-equipped to fight international terrorism as any western country—which is just as well, since the level of plotting over the past 15 years suggests that it faces a more acute threat than most. And we have two particular advantages: skill at integrating intelligence derived from human and technical sources at home and abroad, and world-leading levels of co-operation between intelligence agencies and police. This country also benefits from laws that have been increasingly effective in converting intelligence into guilty pleas or jury convictions.
Of course, domestic skills in disrupting and prosecuting terrorism are not enough. The UK has been a net exporter of terrorists since the 1990s, when the presence of radical Islamists in the capital led French officials to coin the nickname “Londonistan.” But there is traffic in both directions, and unless both expenditure and obstructions to travel are vastly increased, the sea surrounding Great Britain and the invisible frontier with Ireland can only be a partial defence. Anyway, national borders count for nothing in the online world where our lives increasingly take place, and where terrorists increasingly conduct their business.
So international collaboration is central to identifying and combating threats to national security. Here too, the UK is fortunate. The Five Eyes alliance with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand is by some distance the most effective intelligence-sharing arrangement in history. Anglo-American co-operation is especially close: in this respect at least, the special relationship continues to flourish. And the period since 9/11 has seen co-operation with many other countries, though its extent is often limited by lack of trust or by human rights concerns.
As British jihadists travel to and from Syria by increasingly elaborate routes, and terrorists pose as asylum seekers, it is obvious that the UK needs to enhance intelligence and operational links with its European neighbours. But links can be maintained from outside as well as inside the European Union. The most effective collaboration today is often on a bilateral basis.
Are there terrorism-related reasons for the UK to remain in the EU? I believe that there are, and that they outweigh the countervailing factors—in particular, the often exaggerated legal difficulties, which may have been further reduced by David Cameron’s recent renegotiation, in refusing admission to EU nationals on security grounds. Here are three of them.
First, the EU has developed some effective mechanisms, often as a consequence of major incidents such as 9/11, the Madrid bombings, 7/7 and the Paris attacks of last year. They include the European arrest warrant, a directive requiring the retention of basic phone and email data and the recent agreement to share the records of passengers on flights within the EU.
They also include shared databases which—as I have seen for myself at UK ports—alert officers to the arrival of persons of interest to the authorities of other EU member states, without the usual rigmarole associated with international co-operation.
The value of these mechanisms was demonstrated in 2014 when, against the instincts of some ministers, the UK rejoined 35 EU police and criminal justice measures from which it had just opted out. A House of Lords Committee reported that maintaining the opt-out would have had significant and adverse repercussions for internal security. This episode recalls the observation attributed to Jean Monnet, a founding father of the European project, that the English resist ideas but they do not resist facts.
No doubt some of these benefits could be replicated by negotiation from outside the EU. But in the words of Rob Wainwright—the Briton who is director of Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency—this course would be more costly and certainly much less effective.
Secondly, and perhaps surprisingly to anyone who reads British newspapers, the UK has been a leader in this area. The EU action plan on terrorism is closely modelled on the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST. The UK has taken the lead in producing EU policies on counter-radicalisation, aviation security and risk and threat analysis. Under British leadership Europol, some 10 per cent of whose cases concern counter-terrorism, has developed into an effective information hub. The British have promoted essential legislation, and done much to manage the vital EU-US relationship.
The UK could, of course, surrender its leadership and hope instead to be allowed to join whatever arrangements others devise. But that notion attracts polite bafflement in Brussels, and it is easy to see why.
Finally, it is beneficial that arrangements within the ambit of EU law are fully underwritten by international human rights standards. As an experienced advocate before the European Court of Justice, I am well aware that its judgments do not always give pleasure to national governments. There have been recent hints that the Court may go further than law enforcement would wish in limiting the retention of phone and email records.
But such gripes, even if justified, count for little when measured against the advantages of legal accountability and compliance with fundamental rights. As governments improve their co-operation against international threats, the need for a strong legal counterbalance, applying mutually agreed standards, becomes more pressing. Ad hoc intergovernmental arrangements, excluded from the jurisdiction of supranational courts, do not meet that need.
European frameworks can help the UK to keep its people safe. They can also promote trust in the lawful exercise of power.
Now read: Why we need police to tackle the terrorists