Is Somebody Going to Lose on Security Cooperation?

Milena Di Nenno

Brexit negotiations are still open, although slowed by the pandemic. The deadline for the transition period is however closer than it seems, as it is set for 31 December 2020. Trade, free market, and the relationships with the Republic of Ireland have been discussed without any material conclusion. But, it seems there is something that has been acknowledged lesser importance: the security guaranteed within the European Union through cooperation in various security areas.

No Deal equals no cooperation on security. The reason for this is that the EU, throughout the years, has built a pretty effective apparatus for information and competence sharing among Member States. The United Kingdom has always played a fundamental role in the system of security cooperation, but will not anymore, if there is no agreement on the matter.

The main areas in which security cooperation at EU level has always been crucial are: terrorism, cyber-security and data protection, and arrest warrants.

Is Somebody Going to Lose on Security Cooperation?
Europol headquarter in The Hague. Source: Europol website

As for terrorism, many believe that cooperation in this area will not be touched by Brexit for two main reasons. First, it is supposed to be driven also, and sometimes more effectively, by other international agreements and institutions. Second, counterterrorism is to be considered a priority not only for the internal security of EU Member States, but also for security of the whole Europe continent. On the other hand, however, the EU provides figures, such as the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, and a strategy adopted in 2005, and both of them direct Member States on an equal and coordinated path to fight terrorism at domestic level.

What is also relevant about security cooperation at European level is the degree of data sharing among European Member States. This data are safeguarded through an advanced system of data protection, but any Member State can have access to the databases when security is concerned. The position of the UK in European cybersecurity still depends on the Brexit talks. There are very contrasting positions on this issue. The former EU security Commissioner, the British Julian King, has already stated that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, British data will have to be immediately deleted from EU security system. However, the UK has demanded to continue to have almost full access to the Europol – the European police- database and data-sharing arrangements. It is the British intelligence, the MI6, that particularly recognizes that there would be a “weakening of data capability and data exchange capability and subsequently investigative capability in the EU and or in the UK,” as the former chied of MI6, John Scarlett, stated.

As well as British intelligence emphasizes on the importance of data sharing, the British police highlights the importance of the European Arrest Warrant security measure, that simplifies the extradition of people wanted for a criminal offence from one European Member State to another. Thanks to this security measure, the UK has sent to other EU countries 900 people wanted and had the opportunity of putting before a British judge almost 200 people in the period 2018-2019.

Number of people surrendered under the European Arrest Warrant. Source: National Crime Agency in BBC .

Both the EU and the UK will be losing a valuable partner and a significant position on security management and protection, if there is a no-deal Brexit.

The UK will lose access to EU databases and security measure, as previously explained. But, the EU will not only lose access to British data. The EU will lose the expertise of the British intelligence, which gives a focus to most of European case-work. The UK is, in fact, one of the major contributors to the Europol, in terms of intelligence collection and military capacity.

The UK is well aware of it. According to St-Pierre, the head of the Berlin firm Modern Security Consulting, advisor of European governments, the UK is using its electronic security capability as “major bargaining chip”. What are they bargaining for? Neither the EU and the UK are willing to strongly oppose the idea of security cooperation between the two. Yet, the problem is that an agreement would imply UK’s acceptance of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over data and privacy. And, of course, this poses relevant problems concerning UK’s sovereignty and Brexit itself.

  • To what extent would UK’s acceptance of ECJ’s jurisdiction on data and privacy be problematic for a post-Brexit UK?
  • Is there the possibility to reach a compromise on security cooperation, even if there is not yet an agreement on the other areas of Brexit?
  • In the case of a no-deal Brexit, which of the two, the UK or the EU, will realize to have lost the most?

Further Reading

London School of Economics, Britain unplugged: the security risk of a no-deal Brexit is dire

Stevens and O’Brien, Brexit and Cyber Security

RAND Europe, Defence and Security after Brexit

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Is Somebody Going to Lose…

by Milena Di Nenno time to read: 3 min