Leader: Government cuts cannot put UK’s security at risk

With EU ministers agreeing stricter border controls within a week of the Paris attacks, now is not the time to cut Britain’s policing budgets

Frances Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. Picture: Getty

It was unsurprising and inevitable that European Union leaders have moved quickly to tighten border controls.

It may be just a week since the Paris terror attacks, but there was little doubt that much stricter checks would have to be introduced.

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Revelations that some of the attackers entered France from Belgium have heaped pressure on EU ministers to tighten the current system.

France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve had earlier warned that it was “urgent that Europe wakes up, organises itself and defends itself against the terrorist threat”. French prime minister Manuel Valls also upped the stakes when he warned that the Paris attackers exploited the migration chaos to “slip into” the country.

The Schengen zone has allowed citizens of 22 EU countries, plus non-EU Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, to cross borders without showing their passports.

However, there is little doubt that temporary restrictions – which will be put in place until permanent arrangements can be thrashed out – were needed in the wake of last week’s atrocities.

They mean travellers at the external borders of the zone will not only have their passports examined, but will also have their personal information checked against pan-European databases.

The introduction of “systematic and co-ordinated checks at external borders” will be accompanied by plans for an airline passenger name registry and tougher penalties for arms trafficking.

Home Secretary Theresa May had earlier backed the French calls for a firm clampdown, saying: “What we have seen is that there was a clear link between security of the EU’s external borders and security within the EU.”

However, Ms May may well have reason for concern closer to home if predictions of a cut of more than 20 per cent in the government’s policing budget are proved to be true.

The timing of a leaked letter from one of the UK’s most senior police officers, warning that such a reduction would “reduce very significantly” the ability to respond to a Paris-style militant attack in Britain, could not have been worse.

Sent to the Home Secretary and copied to the Treasury, Number 10 and the security services, it warned that if cuts beyond 10 per cent were imposed “the ability to mobilise large numbers of officers would reduce very significantly across the country” and that police forces would struggle to deal with multiple militant attacks.

David Cameron’s spokeswoman said he would do “everything necessary to keep people safe”. The government has already said it would protect the counter-terrorism budget, and promised additional resources to the intelligence agencies and for cyber security. But London mayor Boris Johnson met the Prime Minister to appeal against the cuts.

If any proposed cuts mean that Britain is unable to maintain the heightened levels of security that is needed to keep the entire country safe then a rethink is clearly needed at the highest levels of the government, even if Chancellor George Osborne’s entire spending review has to go back to the drawing board.