A Brexit base for Police Scotland will be opened in Midlothian as the force confirmed plans to put 360 officers on standby to deal with incidents that may arise because of the EU exit.
The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March and the force hopes to have the officers available from mid next month.
They would deal with any incidents related to the potential impact of Brexit such as protests and disruption at ports, and would also be available to deployed elsewhere in Britain on a mutual aid basis.
Officers will work in a multi-agency control centre that will be set up in a Police Scotland control room at Bilston Glen.
Deputy chief constable Will Kerr was briefing members of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) at a meeting in Glasgow today. The planning has been based on identifying “reasonable worst case scenarios” in the possible event of a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “This is purely a contingency at this stage and part of our planning to allow us to give officers the required notice about changes to their shifts under police regulations.
“These officers will be deployed to local policing duties when not required for policing purposes related to Brexit.
“We have taken this decision so that we have enhanced capacity to respond to greater policing demands during this period. Our principle focus is, and will remain, the safety of the citizens of Scotland.
“As outlined to the SPA board last week, we are currently planning for a variety of possible scenarios, including potential disruption around Scottish sea and air ports, and protest events, to wider challenges across the UK leading to potential public disorder, which could lead to mutual aid requests from other police services in the UK.
“The chief constable has made it very clear that we will respond to such requests, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland, but any request will always be considered against the needs of policing in Scotland.”
Officers will be drawn from local and national divisions and from back office functions.
At an SPA board meeting in Kilmarnock last week, chief constable Iain Livingstone confirmed previous plans to cut 300 officers from the force had been dropped.
It came amid a recruitment drive launched on social media at the start of the year to recruit an extra 100 officers.
SPA chairwoman Susan Deacon said: “These contingency plans can give the public confidence that our police service is well prepared to deal with the potential implications of the UK’s exit from the EU.
“Over recent months, the chief constable has reported regularly to the board of the Scottish Police Authority on the development of his contingency plans and the authority has considered carefully the resource implications of various scenarios.
“The operational deployment of police officers is a matter for the chief constable and it is important that his operational responsibility is understood and respected.
“As the situation develops, the Chief Constable will brief the Scottish Police Authority regularly so that we can continue our scrutiny of these arrangements and raise matters of concern and public interest.”
Scottish justice secretary Humza Yousaf welcomed the news.
He said: “Decisions around officer deployment, contingency planning and mutual aid are operational decisions for the chief constable. However, I welcome this prudent, sensible approach to contingency planning to ensure Police Scotland remains best-placed to keep people safe.
“The Scottish Government is carefully considering the implications of leaving the EU and intensive preparation is underway, including our work with the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland.
“The reality is the UK is not prepared for a no-deal Brexit in less than two months’ time.
“Such an outcome to the Brexit negotiations would be a catastrophe that would cause significant short-term disruption to the lives of ordinary citizens as well as to businesses and long-term harm to our economy.
“We will continue to press the UK Government to ensure this is avoided by taking no-deal off the table, while working on preparing for all eventualities.
“The Scottish Government has also been clear that any costs related to EU exit should not have a detrimental impact on Scotland’s public finances and should be met by the UK Government in full.”