Intelligence experts have clashed over the impact Britain’s exit from the European Union would have on the UK’s safety after a former head of MI6 claimed the cost of a vote to leave would be “low” and could result in “security gains”.
Former Secret Intelligence Service chief Sir Richard Dearlove said getting out of the EU’s free movement rules could boost security.
He also suggested that there were “vastly varying levels of professionalism in intelligence and security” across the EU’s 28 member states, hinting some of them leaked like “colanders”.
But his views were challenged by other former spy chiefs, with former GCHQ boss Sir David Omand saying the “UK would be the loser in security terms from Brexit, not the gainer”.
Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, said Britain had “come to rely” on access to EU crime and intelligence databases.
Europol is “concerned” Islamic State (IS) has a “more widespread network than we first feared”, which is behind the “new unprecedented threats that we face”, he added.
Mr Wainwright said it was important that intelligence networks across Europe should “come together” in the fight against IS but added that there had been “huge” progress in co-operation across the EU.
Last year 2,500 new cases of cross-border crime and terrorism were launched through Europol by the British authorities, he said. “I see the benefit of that for British police authorities every day.”
Writing in Prospect magazine, Sir Richard said: “The truth about Brexit from a national security perspective is that the cost to Britain would be low.
“Brexit would bring two potentially important security gains: the ability to dump the European Convention on Human Rights – remember the difficulty of extraditing the extremist Abu Hamza of the Finsbury Park Mosque – and, more importantly, greater control over immigration from the European Union.”
The European Convention on Human Rights is not an EU creation, instead it covers the Council of Europe members.
Sir Richard said “few would notice” the loss of the European Arrest Warrant, which has been highlighted as an important factor by the Remain camp.
“Britain is Europe’s leader in intelligence and security matters and gives much more than it gets in return,” he said. “It is difficult to imagine any of the other EU members ending the relationships they already enjoy with the UK.”