A new national unit will assist police forces to use alternatives if the UK loses access to current European Union (EU) data sharing and co-operation tools, such as the European Arrest Warrant or Europol systems. The contingency plans, which were agreed upon by all chief constables on 17 September, will see UK law enforcement revert to the use of international police tools through Interpol, bilateral channels and Council of Europe conventions to enable the extradition of suspects, the tracing of missing people and the sharing of intelligence about crime and terrorism.
A small team led by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has reviewed the UK’s use of EU instruments and the operational risks posed by their loss and identified alternative non-EU tools and processes for using them. Following approval of the plans at a meeting of all chief constables in London, work will now begin to establish the unit and recruit officers and staff.
It will be staffed by officers and staff from police forces, the NCA and the national Criminal Records Office with a central co-ordination team and a network of regional single points of contacts who will advise and help forces to use alternative mechanisms. Funded by the Home Office and hosted by the Metropolitan Police Service, the unit’s governance will be through the NPCC.
NPCC chair Sara Thornton said: “Existing EU tools allow us to respond quickly and intelligently to crime and terrorism in the UK and the EU. They make us better at protecting the public. The alternatives we are planning to use, where they exist, are without exception slower, more bureaucratic and, ultimately, less effective. The loss of these tools and the limitations of the alternatives will be felt in European countries, too. The UK is one of the biggest contributors of intelligence to Europol systems and leads half of its operational co-ordination meetings. For every one person arrested on a UK-issued European Arrest Warrant, the UK arrests eight people on warrants issued by other Member States.”
Thornton continued: “We have agreed on a model that minimises the risks and makes best use of already pressured police resources. It doesn’t predict a worse case scenario, but it does prepare for it. It’s vital that our operational planning is joined up across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so we’ll be working closely with Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Our relationship with our European counterparts remains strong and we will continue to work together in the interests of both UK and EU citizens.”
Criminals “don’t respect borders”
Police have agreed that some of the most important instruments are the Schengen Information System II, the European Arrest Warrant, the European Criminal Records Information System, Europol and Eurojust and European Investigation Orders.
The NPCC’s lead for Brexit, namely DAC Richard Martin, observed: “Criminals don’t respect borders. 70% of transient organised crime groups operate in more than three countries. If we and our EU partners were no longer able to use key instruments, we would no longer be able to share real-time alerts for wanted persons, including serious criminals. We would respond less swiftly to alerts for missing people on either side of the Channel, delaying reuniting them with their loved ones. Also, our collective ability to map terrorist and criminal networks across Europe and bring those responsible to justice would be reduced. We remain hopeful that a deal allowing us to maintain these capabilities can be struck.”
Chief constables also signed-off plans to prepare for the possible effects of a no-deal Brexit, including public protest or disorder and possible disruption linked to transport and borders. The plans will see a small team established that will review intelligence, assess threats and consider them against existing plans for civil contingencies, refreshing or developing new plans as required. Plans will then be tested and exercised.
Chief Constable Charlie Hall, the NPCC’s lead for operations, explained: “Our first priority is to gather intelligence and establish a realistic threat assessment that distinguishes real from perceived threats. At this stage, we have no intelligence to suggest there will be an increase in crime or disorder as a result of a Brexit deal or no deal. Like other public bodies, we’re preparing for possible outcomes and, in each case, we’re working with the relevant Government departments to ensure that we’re ready to respond. As you would expect, these plans will need to be dynamic and will change in response to what will undoubtedly be a changing threat assessment.”