Inside Justice: Cross-border security should be a priority in a post-Brexit plan

The UK's new relationship with EU security agencies should be a key part of Brexit negotiations. Picture: Getty Images
The UK's new relationship with EU security agencies should be a key part of Brexit negotiations. Picture: Getty Images
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If there ever was a post-Brexit plan, and it’s now looking increasingly like there wasn’t, then resolving matters of cross-border security should have featured near the top of the to-do list.

But while concerns were raised about the ability to fight crime in the event of a Leave vote, there was precious little in the way of contingency planning done in the run-up to June’s vote.

Those moves have now begun in earnest following the referendum result, even if the triggering of Article 50 looks some way off.

And the future of cross-border policing is just one of the many fault lines which has opened up between the Scottish Government and its UK counterpart since the summer.

On Monday, the Home Office confirmed the UK Government would opt in to a new framework which allows for continued membership of Europol, the EU’s police force.

The agreement is essential for maintaining the UK’s current links with law enforcement agencies across Europe.

What happens after Britain leaves the EU, however, is anyone’s guess.

The UK government says it is “exploring options for co-operation” post-Brexit but says it’s too early to speculate on what those arrangements may look like.

For its part, the Scottish Government is unequivocal: the UK must remain a fully signed-up member of Europol and the European Arrest Warrant.

The suggestion that Scotland could become a “safe haven” for European criminals without continued access to the cross-border tools currently at Police Scotland’s disposal is a stark enough warning coming from a politician.

But those were the words of Lord Advocate James Wolffe, a man usually accustomed to more sober-sounding language.

In an article published last week, Scotland’s senior prosecutor said close relationships with colleagues elsewhere in Europe and access to the European Arrest Warrant had “significantly reduced” the time needed to extradite suspects.

And he said the threat posed by transnational criminality was “too urgent and real to contemplate any weakening of our commitment to police and judicial co-operation with our colleagues in other parts of Europe”.

While Police Scotland has perhaps been more guarded in the language it has used, senior officers have stressed the importance of maintaining links with Europol and have suggested that bilateral arrangements will need to be put in place instead should those links be severed.

The force has set up a Brexit task force which is currently exploring some of the contingencies which may be needed.

The unknown quantity in all this is the role of the EU.

Some will question why Britain should continue to benefit from organisations such as Europol and its prosecutorial equivalent, Eurojust, after its rejection of the wider political union.

But in a world where criminality refuses to respect international borders, and where cyber-criminals, drug dealers and paedophiles in one country can cause misery in another, it seems unlikely that EU exit will be allowed to lead to a complete degradation of relationships.

Australia, the United States and Norway are just three of the countries which have partnership agreements with Europol.

If the UK can’t retain the status quo, then a similar arrangement will be needed.