Priti Patel has insisted that the government’s Brexit deal will help make the UK safer, following concerns from senior police officers and Labour MPs about the lack of access to a key EU information database.
The home secretary was under pressure to defend the deal after it emerged that the UK will automatically forfeit its membership of Europol, Eurojust and the European Arrest Warrant and will no longer benefit from the same real-time sensitive data-sharing agreements when the UK exits the transition period on 1 January.
The deal allows cooperation on security and policing issues, but Brussels said the UK will no longer have “direct, real-time access” to sensitive information.
Crucially, the UK will lose access to the EU’s Schengen Information System II (SIS II) database of alerts about wanted or missing people and items such as stolen firearms and vehicles.
Government officials said on Friday that the deal would ensure law enforcement officers had the tools they needed, while new border controls and the end of free movement would help protect the public.
The Home Office said the agreement includes streamlined extradition arrangements, fast and effective exchange of national DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data, and continued transfers of Passenger Name Record data.
In a statement, Patel said: “The safety and security of UK citizens is the government’s top priority and the UK will continue to be one of the safest countries in the world. I’m immensely proud of the comprehensive package of capabilities we’ve agreed with the EU.
“It means both sides have effective tools to tackle serious crime and terrorism, protecting the public and bringing criminals to justice. But we will also seize this historic opportunity to make the UK safer and more secure through firmer and fairer border controls.”
From July 2021, the UK will start receiving advance data on all goods coming from the EU into Great Britain, something that has not previously been possible under EU rules.
The UK is also phasing out the use of alternative identity documents used to enter the UK. From 1 October 2021, the UK will refuse to recognise EEA and Swiss national identity cards.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for Brexit, deputy assistant commissioner Richard Martin, told peers last month: “We have over 4m alerts on the Schengen Information System about people, property and things that my officers need to look at … We checked it 603m times last year because it is integrated into our system.”
While contingency plans had been made to “still have access to the alerts that we consider to be the most important” using an Interpol system, the loss of access to SIS “is still a capability gap and it will have a massive impact on us”, he added.
In the run-up to the UK’s separation from the EU, police chiefs raised concerns about access to information and the loss of the European Arrest Warrant. Under the warrant, the UK extradited more than 11,000 wanted criminals between 2000 and 2019 and received hundreds in return.
The agreement includes a fast-track extradition system to replace the warrant, which will be “unprecedented for a non-Schengen third country”, according to Brussels, and DNA and fingerprint data will continue to be exchanged through the Prüm system.
The UK cooperates with European partners on hundreds of cross-border criminal and terrorism investigations through Europol, the EU’s policing agency. The National Crime Agency has said it will have to reorganise hundreds of these operations with new agreements with each country it currently works with inside Europol.
Following the announcement of the deal, the NPCC said: “We welcome the agreement between the UK government and European partners. We are working with the government to fully understand the detail of the security agreement and how it will be implemented, and ensure we are prepared for any changes to the way we currently operate.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said Labour would be questioning the government over future security plans. “For our nation’s security, no deal would have been disastrous, so securing a deal was always preferable.
“We will be holding the government to account on their commitments on our future security partnership. We must do all we can to address serious and organised crime and terrorism, which know no borders,” he said.