No-deal Brexit poses serious risk to public safety, say police leaders

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Exclusive: leaked letter warns home secretary of significant loss of operational capacity

A no-deal Brexit poses a substantial risk to public safety, with police officers instantly losing vital access to cross-border investigative powers and databases, the home secretary has been told in a letter from the national body of police and crime commissioners.

In the leaked document marked official sensitive the police leaders urge Sajid Javid to immediately draft contingency plans, warning that officers faced a significant loss of operational capacity should the UK crash out of the EU in March.

They say that they are becoming increasingly concerned that such a loss of capacity could pose significant risks to our local communities, and urge the home secretary to act swiftly to address their fears.

The letter from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) cross-party Brexit working group was drafted after consultation with the National Crime Agency and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC). The document expresses alarm that the government does not appear ready for such a crisis.

Over the weekend, the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, suggested that the UK now appeared poised to crash out of the EU owing to the intransigence of the Brussels machine. He put the chances of a no-deal Brexit at 60-40.

The European commissions Brexit preparedness unit, operating under its German secretary general, Martin Selmayr, has already said it would switch off the databases if a deal was not struck in the coming months.

The APCC letter says British police make regular use of 32 different law enforcement and national security measures that depend on EU membership.

These include the European arrest warrant under which 1,735 arrests were made in the UK last year and more than 10,000 people were extradited since 2004 and the Schengen information system (SIS), a vast database used by police to search for terrorist suspects, missing people and to check vehicle registrations and passport details. The SIS was checked 539m times by British officers in 2017.

The UK courts additionally depend on the European criminal records information system to establish the history of foreign offenders.

The crime commissioners say forces will need to spend extra time and money on suboptimal techniques to fight home-grown and foreign criminals unless a Brexit deal is struck.

The letter, signed by three commissioners representing the Conservatives, Labour and independents, says: Considerable additional resource would be required for policing to operate using non-EU tools and that such tools would be suboptimal potentially putting operational efficiency and public safety at risk.

Recruitment, vetting and training of staff to use these tools would take a substantial amount of time. We are therefore concerned that a no deal scenario could cause delays and challenges for UK policing and justice agencies, it says.

The EU and the UK have said they wanted to agree terms on a deal by the time of a leaders summit in Brussels in October, though the timescale appears increasingly optimistic.

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An armed Metropolitan police officer patrols in Horse Guards Parade, central London. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The commissioners write that police forces would only have a very challenging five-month period in which to prepare for the loss of the EU-wide powers should such a deal not be achieved. They ask that the Home Office confirms it has developed effective contingency plans for a no deal scenario.

In the letter, they say: These shared tools, measures, initiatives and capabilities which have been developed over the last 40 years of cooperation across the EU have saved many lives. We must find ways to protect these mutually important capabilities when the UK leaves the EU in order to ensure the safety and security all our citizens.

A home office spokesman said: There is widespread recognition that the UK and EU can most effectively combat security threats when we work together. It is important we maintain operational capabilities after Brexit, and we will continue to make this case to the European commission.

He added that although the government was confident an agreement on cooperation could be reached, it was also preparing for every eventuality, including no deal.

Richard Martin, a deputy assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan police and the NPCC lead on Brexit, said: From a policing perspective, it is in the interests of both sides to negotiate an arrangement that allows for continued close working, whether as part of existing mechanisms or negotiated alternatives.

Without such arrangements, both UK police and EU member states will lose capabilities including identifying criminals and missing persons who cross our borders, detaining and swiftly surrendering suspects under EAWs, quickly identifying previous history of offending or the sharing biometric data.

A small law enforcement team is in the process of producing contingency plans in the event that access to some or all of the European policing measures are lost. The contingency measures we are considering will be slower, less effective and ultimately will reduce the ability to identify risk and prevent harm on both sides of the channel.

Public service information notices are expected to be published imminently by the government on the need for citizens and businesses to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

The release of 70 pamphlets was postponed after concerns that it would be seen as a political ploy to bolster the prime ministers Chequers plan in which the UK would remain as a rule-taker in relation to standards on goods and rules on state aid.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/aug/06/police-leaders-warn-home-secretary-public-safety-threat-from-no-deal-brexit

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