The rival sides in the European Union debate have clashed over the potential impact of Brexit on national security as the referendum campaign stepped up in intensity.
Two former spy chiefs argued that Brexit could hamper the UK’s ability to protect against terrorism and David Cameron is set to make the issue a central theme of a major speech on the EU today.
But Justice Secretary and Vote Leave campaigner Michael Gove said the UK could take “immediate steps to make this country safer” if the UK quits the EU on 23 June.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Lord Evans of Weardale, the former director general of MI5, and ex-MI6 chief Sir John Sawers said the UK benefited from the exchange of information with other EU countries.
They warned that “an agreement reached without us would probably be too restrictive for our needs” and “could undermine our ability to protect ourselves”.
And Sir John told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “It’s not just about the day-to-day co-operation, it’s about the wider stability of our continent. We are only secure because the wider Europe is secure.
“Pulling out will make it more dangerous. There is a real risk of the pressures on the European Union – migration pressure, economic pressures, pressures from Russia – pulling the European Union apart. We are seeing politics in Europe going to the extreme left, to the extreme right.
“We need to make sure that the centre is solid and the European Union plays its role underpinning democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe.”
But Mr Gove said Europe “needs to think again” and insisted the country would be safer outside the EU.
He dismissed the warnings from Sir John, highlighting that other experts, including former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove and ex-Interpol boss Ron Noble, had issued warnings about the EU’s “open borders” policy.
Mr Gove said: “I have enormous respect for Sir John and his tradition of public service, but he is flat wrong.” He added: “I’m the Justice Secretary, I know that the European criminal records information system doesn’t allow us to know whether or not criminals come into this country.
“We only find out whether or not people have criminal records after they have already committed an offence in this country. It is a gossamer-thin protection.”