No-deal Brexit poses threat to policing

 

Sir, – Last Wednesday, the UK government released details of its contingency planning for a possible no-deal Brexit. Forced to publish the information by a vote of parliament, the document on Operation Yellowhammer contains 20 “reasonable worst-case planning assumptions” as of August 2nd, 2019 (with one assumption redacted). The concise nature of the document (five pages long) reflects the fact that each assumption is little more than a brief forecast for “Day 1 No Deal (D1ND)” and, in some cases, the days and weeks to follow.

The 20 assumptions cover the movement of freight across the English Channel, travelling to and from the EU, business readiness, the supply of medicines and fresh food, and the risks of severe weather and flooding, among other issues.

One assumption refers directly to cross-border police cooperation; it is afforded only one sentence. It states that, “Law enforcement data and information sharing between UK and EU will be disrupted” (Assumption 10).

There is no specific mention of An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), or whether and to what extent they will be disadvantaged by any foreseeable disruption.

The document outlines that the UK government will apply a qualified model of “no new checks with limited exceptions” in the short term in order to avoid an immediate risk of a return to a hard border, but problems of immigration and freight are not the only issues of concern at the Border.

Police cooperation, both physical and virtual, is integral to the apprehension of suspects and the investigation and prosecution of rural crime, human trafficking, drug smuggling, cybercrime, and the financing of terrorism, among other offences.

Any deterioration in cooperation could cause policing activities and criminal investigations in these areas to fail.

Central to the tackling of cross-border crime and the facilitation of police cooperation at the Irish border is Europol, a centralised EU agency that has facilitated information sharing and operational coordination for the past two decades.

The EU agency has grown in importance because it is a centralised intelligence hub that has been servicing, and receiving intelligence from, each EU member state for 20 years.

It has also filled a large gap in Ireland’s policing infrastructure which can be traced back to a historical lack of governmental interest in cross-border policing post-independence.

Losing access to Europol means that various joint investigations, intelligence files on specific criminal networks and day-to-day communications between Garda and PSNI officers may be jeopardised.

The public might reasonably expect that both countries will have relocated these functions elsewhere: to Interpol, regional taskforces and bilateral mechanisms (each with their own procedural and data-sharing limitations). We might also expect the same in areas of extradition and mutual legal assistance.

But there is good reason to believe that old and weaker (pre-EU) measures have been revisited, rather than the creation of modern arrangements that meet the needs of police officers.

The document preamble plainly states that “no bilateral deals have been concluded with individual member states with the exception of the reciprocal agreement on social security coordination with Ireland”.

In other words, no new policing agreements have been reached between both countries.

It is naive to think that Europol’s capabilities are easily replaced, especially using legal measures established in a previous century and for separate purposes.

No centralised and comprehensive intelligence database has ever been created by the police services north and south of the Border – nor have they signalled any intention or willingness to seriously consider one now.

Victims of rural and organised crime will be greatly affected if they are denied justice because too little thought and attention was paid to the current lacuna. In fact, Assumption 18 forecasts that criminals and dissident groups in Border communities may operate “with greater threat and impunity” since price and other differentials are likely to lead to the growth of the illegitimate economy post-Brexit.

Protests, civil disobedience and a “rise in public disorder and community tensions” are also predicted.

The Yellowhammer document confidently states that “demand for energy will be met” (Assumption Five), but no such reassurance is given about cross-border policing and crime in Ireland.

The absence of an “assumption” about police failures indicates that it is not a priority. Ireland’s violent history, which is acutely reflected in the proposed political “backstop”, and its historical attitude to cross-border police cooperation, suggests that it should be. – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN McDANIEL,

Senior Lecturer in Policing

and Criminal Justice,

University

of Wolverhampton,

United Kingdom.