British intelligence about terrorists and other serious criminals would have to be deleted from EU systems if the Brexit trade negotiations were to collapse, a former EU security commissioner has warned.
Sir Julian King, who was the UK’s last commissioner in Brussels until last year, said that in security terms “the difference between a deal and no deal is significant” and the negative impact would be felt immediately.
“UK [intelligence] data that was held in EU systems could – indeed would – be deleted, if there was no data adequacy arrangement covering how you share data,” said the former British diplomat in a briefing organised by the Royal United Services Institute.
The UK would instantly become disconnected from a range of databases and systems such as the European Criminal Records Information Services, which shares data about prior convictions across all EU countries, he added.
The internal market bill aims to enforce compatible rules and regulations regarding trade in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Some rules, for example around food safety or air quality, which were formerly set by EU agreements, will now be controlled by the devolved administrations or Westminster. The internal market bill insists that devolved administrations have to accept goods and services from all the nations of the UK – even if their standards differ locally.
This, says the government, is in part to ensure international traders have access to the UK as a whole, confident that standards and rules are consistent.
The Scottish government has criticised it as a Westminster "power grab", and the Welsh government has expressed fears it will lead to a race to the bottom. If one of the countries that makes up the UK lowers their standards, over the importation of chlorinated chicken, for example, the other three nations will have to accept chlorinated chicken too.
It has become even more controversial because one of its main aims is to empower ministers to pass regulations even if they are contrary to the withdrawal agreement reached with the EU under the Northern Ireland protocol.
The text does not disguise its intention, stating that powers contained in the bill “have effect notwithstanding any relevant international or domestic law with which they may be incompatible or inconsistent".
The bill passed its first hurdle in parliament by 77 votes, despite a rebellion by some Tory MPs.
Martin Belam and Owen Bowcott
Warnings about the UK losing direct access to EU security databases in the event of no deal have been made previously, but King’s remarks about deletion represent a little discussed risk. It would have an “immediate impact” fighting terrorism and serious crime across Europe, he said.
The Brexit talks have entered a critical phase with UK and EU negotiators currently determining whether they can enter the “tunnel” – the final, critical phase of high-level negotiations, which is conducted in absolute secrecy.
Both sides are hoping to reach a final agreement prior to the EU council in the middle of October, for a deal that would spell out what the UK’s trading relationship with the 27 country bloc would be when the transition period concludes at the end of the year.
Sir John Scarlett, a former boss of MI6, said data sharing between the UK and the EU and its member states had grown significantly in recent years and that it was critical in tackling terrorism and drug trafficking.
The former spy chief said that “after the attacks in the Bataclan in Paris in 2015” intelligence sharing about the attackers and their ringleader were critical to investigators scrambling to piece together information about the planning of the attack.
Investigators in both the UK and across Europe needed to track “personal movements, crossing frontiers, knowing where people are at any one time,” and “financial movements at the same time,” Scarlett added.
“The jihadist extremist threat is absolutely definitely still there,” Scarlett said. “Last year in the EU there were 21 terrorist related attacks of which three succeeded”. One was the knife attack at Fishmonger’s Hall in London Bridge, where two people who had been attending a conference on prison rehabilitation were killed.
Britain would also have failed to have negotiated a replacement for the European arrest warrant in the event of a no deal, Scarlett warned. “Operationally, it really matters … the ability to arrest serious criminal suspects in the UK, or elsewhere across the EU,” the MI6 boss said.
King said that he thought the prospects for a security deal – not generally thought to be a topic of controversy – were inextricably bound up with the overall negotiations, where there are sticking points about state aid and checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. “This is not an area where they [the EU] are envisaging separate arrangements,” King said.