Border farce – and the ‘big lie’ at the heart of Brexit

On our own? A Border Force boat patrols British waters.  Border Control by Hornbeam Arts is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
On our own? A Border Force boat patrols British waters.  Border Control by Hornbeam Arts is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

This month the UK’s terrorism alert status was raised to ‘severe’ following attacks in France and Austria and once more underlined the continuing vital role of cooperation with EU partners. It demonstrated that political rhetoric around ‘taking back control’ of our borders is not what it seems.

The origins of EU cooperation on policing and terrorism lie with looking at the implications of not working together to deal with the ‘Troubles’ and waves of terrorism across Europe from the early 1970s on.

That was at a time when the British government insisted it could not allow its sovereignty to be compromised by collaborating with European partners on judicial and law enforcement matters.

In the end, the practical necessity of doing so successfully showed the value of collective security. But it took years to create what the EU has now.

The same is true of steps to create the single market which, by removing internal borders between the member states, safeguarded the external border around the EU: one consequence was to guarantee peace in Northern Ireland.

From 1 January 2021, as Brexit finally becomes a reality, we will no longer be free to roam across the EU’s member states, work there, retire, live and love there, on the same basis as locals. Curtailing freedom of movement was a key goal of Brexit.

Leaving the EU, the single market and customs union will also mean importers and exporters facing more complicated, time-consuming and expensive bureaucracy and costs. Less well understood is the risk of losing the protection we had via customs and police border cooperation.

The UK is heavily enmeshed in EU policing and border controls of all types. Even now, it is participating in the merger of three EU police networks focused on covert surveillance. They are to start reporting to the EU Council’s Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP).

In addition, under the EU’s Presidency, the member states agreed recently to ask the EU Commission and Europol “within the framework of their respective mandates, to establish a regular, long-term strategic exchange of experience on this issue,including an exchange on risk assessment tools.”

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This is not intended to replace national action but to add a European dimension to their work. It is inconceivable that the UK does not have an interest in this and in international cooperation to combat terrorism, money laundering, cross border fraud and people smuggling, violent crime and associated organised crime.

The EU’s border agency, Frontex, also works with the UK, and has a “human intelligence” link in Belfast. Its 2018-2020 work programme said “Specific new initiatives, such as intelligence operations, will be developed in order to foster the capacity of acquiring and utilising human intelligence on the spot, in the full respect of the legal framework and human rights.”

So why do the British public have to hear such repugnant divisive rhetoric from the likes of home secretary Priti Patel, whose attack on “lefty lawyers” led to an immigration solicitor being attacked?

And why, when in order to improve policing and security as well as judicial cooperation, UK authorities are quite properly engaged in a whole range of EU agencies and initiatives designed to do just that.

Answers may be found in a report released by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) this month regarding obstacles and challenges to the successful prosecution of crime. It concludes that strong EU-wide measures are needed to safeguard law enforcement standards, ensure justice and basic human rights. It is likely then that the EU will continue to resist pressure, coming from the US among others, to dilute its standards. Instead, it will aim to augment its operational capabilities in the fight against  international crime.

The UK wants access to the various databases it set up with the EU over the years, and the EU states want to continue cooperation with the UK.

So it is becoming increasingly obvious, for both, that the rhetoric of closed borders and sovereign control is a fantasy fuelled by a failure to grasp the basics of policing and law enforcement on the ground.

The fact is that, if the government wants to maintain the territorial integrity of the UK’s borders, and security within those borders, it can’t do so without its EU partners.

The government has been busy building trucking malls, customs posts and making life altogether unnecessarily difficult for importers and exporters. Consequently, it is likely we will all face price rises, food shortages, delays and avoidable inconvenience. Things will not be like that across the channel.

The Big Lie is that we can ‘go it alone’. We can’t. Money is squandered on these internal borders that will contribute nothing but additional costs all round. Hence, we will be poorer and our security will not be enhanced.

It is impossible for the UK alone to combat international organised crime, including illegal migration. Quietly joining these new initiatives is an admission of their value. Obsessed as it is with ‘getting Brexit done’, this is something our government is reluctant to admit.

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