With the impending vote on Brexit – the referendum to decide whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union or stay in it – tensions are rising high. But a vote to leave on 23 June this year could have far reaching consequences for British security and ability to fight terrorism and organised crime, and potentially increased risk for the EU at large, writes Benoit Gomis, international security analyst at the UK’s Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
There are many and valid criticisms directed at the EU on matters of security. Open borders make policing the flow of individuals, and among them potential terrorists, difficult. The state of information sharing between the police and security forces of member states leaves a lot to be desired. But despite these shortfalls, the EU offers greater stability and security than Britain would have without it, argues Gomis, for a number of reasons.
Despite its shortcoming, the EU provides unprecedented avenues for coordinating counter-terror and anti-crime activity. Given that illicit activities tend to be transnational by nature, response to them has to be of the same kind. Were Britain to leave the Union, it would make its cooperation with the other 27 of its neighbours more difficult and tenuous.
“Were the UK to leave the EU, a number of new bilateral agreements with the EU’s institutions and its member states would need to be negotiated and implemented at a time when relevant authorities are already under heavy strain,” writes Gomis. It is far from clear how long that could take, and until such agreements are in place, Britain is under threat. Additionally, Britain currently enjoys collaboration with international partners that would have to be renegotiated, as well.
Outside the EU, Britain would lose access to many vital tools that the European arsenal provides. This includes Europol, which has proven increasingly vital in fighting crime and terror, information exchange among local forces, and investigations on cross-border crime. Likewise, Britain would lose access to CEPOL, which provides training to law enforcement around the EU; OLAF, the European Anti Fraud Office; and Eurojust, “the EU’s agency in charge of boosting cooperation on judicial matters,” among other vital tools.
Despite its weaknesses, the EU provides an umbrella of protection to member states, and meaningful tools to cooperate in response to threats. Upon leaving the Union, Britain would be left to fend for itself.