Britain’s ability to track intelligence targets could be limited by its departure from the EU, he saidby Jay Elwes / February 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
John Sawers, the former head of MI6, is worried. I spoke to him at his offices the day before Boris Johnson gave his optimistic speech about Britain after Brexit. Sawers, however, did not share the Foreign Secretary’s upbeat mood, in particular when it came to keeping Britain safe once we have left the European Union.
“My concern on the intelligence and security front is over the exchange of data,” Sawers told me, as we sat in a meeting room overlooking the West End. “Data is now central to the way in which security services in particular monitor threats—track people who might pose a threat to UK security. And the rules on exchange of data are going to be set in the EU.”
Sawers stressed that in the short term, Brexit would not affect British security arrangements with other European countries, but that in the longer term, “we won’t be round the table with our voice, with our weight, stressing the vital importance of these data exchanges to our national security.” This, he said, will effect Britain’s ability to work with partners to track intelligence targets and also criminals.
The stress that has been put on the economic consequences of Brexit has meant these highly sensitive security relationships have been overlooked. For Sawers, however, the future of these relationships is of fundamental importance—and the consequences of British departure from the EU go wider still.
“We are distracted as a nation by the requirements of Brexit,” he said. “I think the country’s become less confident. And less outward-looking itself. And now of course we are saddled with the Brexit negotiation.”
The distraction of Brexit has come at an especially challenging time for Britain, Sawers said. “We have made less impact in the world in the last ten years than we did in the 30 years before that,” he told me.
In the “period 1980 to 2010, Britain was quite an influential player in the world.” However, he said, “I don’t think since 2010 we’ve really had a big influence in global affairs.”
The reasons for this decline, according to Sawers, were a combination of the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as the economic shock caused by the global financial crisis of…