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Impact of the UK’s ‘Brexit’ EU referendum on European border control and other security measures

Leaving the European Union may impact the ease of cooperation between UK security forces and offices and their European counterparts
UK citizens will vote on June 23rd 2016 on whether to remain within the European Union

A significant aspect of the four-month operation leading to the capture in March of Salah Abdeslam, Europe’s most wanted man, is that French and Belgian police worked alongside each other with minimal protocol complications since the countries are not only geographical neighbours but members of the European Union. Abdeslam was arrested for his alleged involvement in the Paris attacks of last November.

Joint operations between UK and European security forces

On June 23rd (with a touch of congruity for our sector since it’s the last day of IFSEC) UK citizens will vote on whether to remain in the European Union. Nobody should ignore the fact that the Union is an economic community and began as a common market for trade in coal and steel. And yet, suggesting that the outcome of the referendum is anything other than crucial for physical security in Europe would strike most observers as naïve.

Prime Minister David Cameron has weighed in on the possible consequences: “When it comes to terrorism, when it comes to security, when it comes to our borders, we are better off, we are stronger inside a reformed EU.” Certainly the recent bomb attacks in Brussels underline concerns about terrorism throughout Europe.

French President Francois Hollande also warns: “I don’t want to scare you, I just want to say the truth – there will be consequences.”

Of course it would be overstating the case to suggest that a "Leave" vote will bring an end to cooperation between UK security forces and European counterparts since police forces first began sharing information (though not necessarily resources) when Interpol was formed in 1923. The European Union is not the only backdrop to these matters, and the UK is currently tackling people smugglers by sending amphibious vessels to the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece in a NATO (as opposed to EU) initiative. Such joint exercises would continue even after an “Out” decision on Brexit.

Tightening border control security measures

However, the whispers from Paris on the security ramifications of a departure by the UK are teetering between ominous hints and naked threats. Currently, Britain is allowed to have its own border control officers at major French ports such as Calais and, as a reciprocal measure, French-run passport control is the first checkpoint you reach when taking your car to France from Dover.

This arrangement is in fact the result of a bilateral treaty dating from 2003 and nothing to do with the European Union, but Monsieur Hollande has already made it clear that should my compatriots vote “Leave” then this cosy entente cordiale will become toast or “pain grillé.” With even responsible liberal-leaning media outlets reporting that the Calais “Jungle” transit camps contain would-be jihadists, it seems that UK security is under immediate threat. As security professionals, we all subscribe to the “layered protection” principle. If Dover and other ports on the English side of the Channel become our first opportunity to scrutinise people then border control is clearly weakened, and the Brussels attacks emphasise the need that it be strengthened.

The recent bomb attacks in Brussels and Paris have heightened concerns of terrorism. What ramifications would Brexit have on security cooperations in Europe?
The recent bomb attacks in Brussels and Paris have heightened concerns of terrorism. What ramifications would Brexit have on security cooperations in Europe?

Other security issues of Brexit

Unity usually produces strength, and UK voters may want to heed US General Philip Breedlove, senior NATO commander in Europe, who now believes that Russia and Syria are “weaponising” the possibility of terrorists posing as refugees or economic migrants in order to destabilise Europe. Surely at a time when there is a credible threat of this magnitude, UK voters should forget the clichéd contentious trade issues such as farming subsidies and alleged “wine lakes” and “butter mountains?” The prospect of Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad joining forces in this manner is more worthy of our immediate attention and should be a factor as voters debate where to put their X on the ballot slip come June.

This article has begun with the macro issue of border control and national security. There is a raft of additional subjects to be considered. Major topics will be international legislation on location of CCTV cameras, regulations on retention of footage, collection of biometric data and the sharing of information between EU and non-EU states. There is also the small matter of a £1.5bn Anglo-French drone project that may create the next generation of unmanned combat aircraft.

Repercussions of a "Leave" note on security powerhouses

A “Leave” vote would undoubtedly produce economic uncertainty, but our sector would hardly be alone in this. One footnote, however: the UK will go to the referendum polls as a single country but a “Leave” vote may hasten a split into two. If the decision is to leave but a totalling up of votes in Scotland shows that the Scots wish to stay in Europe, then the Scottish Nationalist Party will demand another chance to devolve and then become a European Union member state. England and Wales will face the prospect of security powerhouses such as IndigoVision and Veracity being part of a separate economic territory.

A vote to leave would not produce the mare’s nest you might expect in terms of certifying products and documenting working methods. CE markings certify compliance with EU legislation but make no claim as to point of manufacture. Similarly, our industry’s increasing use of International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) practice to show responsible quality control and concern with environmental impact will be unaffected by the referendum vote. The ISO has no affiliations with the European Union, pre-dates it having been formed in 1947 and is based in Switzerland, which is not an EU member and unlikely to become one anytime soon.

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