Barnier calls for 'realism' from UK over post-Brexit security

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speaking on security cooperation in Vienna (Reuters)

Michel Barnier delivered a dose of “realism” to the debate over post-Brexit security today as he warned the UK will be locked out of databases used to tackle crime and terrorism.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator spelled out what he said was the hard truth about coming changes to cooperation over crime and terrorism during a speech in Vienna.

He said the EU was “constrained” by the UK government’s red lines and called on London to take responsibility for the consequences of their choices.

“In this field of internal security, it is particularly hard to speak about what will no longer be possible. But we have, I have, to speak the truth,” he told an audience at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

“If we want to build a new relationship, we need a basis of good will and confidence. We also need more realism about what is and what is not possible.”

One major change will come in the way the EU and UK exchange security information.

The UK currently has access to databases such as the Schengen Information System which helps to track the movements of criminals and terrorists, as well as stolen cars and lost children.

But Barnier said today that Britain currently stands to lose access to the records, which were used 5bn times by EU law enforcement agencies last year alone.

He said: “Let’s be clear: based on the UK’s positions, our cooperation will need to be organised differently.

“It will rely on effective and reciprocal exchanges, but not on access to EU-only or Schengen-only databases.”

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier called for more “realism” from the UK over security cooperation (Reuters)

In response to Barnier’s speech, a UK government spokesperson argued that “current operational capability” could be maintained because the UK has complete regulatory alignment with the EU.

And they warned: “Any drop in the breadth and quality of cooperation would have a direct impact on public safety and on our collective ability to deliver justice across Europe.”

EU negotiators have already ruled out continued UK membership of Europol and the European Arrest Warrant, citing the UK’s refusal to remain signed-up to its Charter of Fundamental Rights as a stumbling block.

And they warned yesterday that any security cooperation deal could be ended if the UK Government were to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.

The last Conservative manifesto only commits to remaining part of the convention for the duration of this parliament.

“These are not bureaucratic issues,” Barnier insisted today. “This is about the lives and liberties of our citizens.”

Conservative MP Marcus Fysh, a member of the UK Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee, said Barnier offer was “reasonable” and called on the government to work on data sharing mechanism “rather than arguing over extensions of the current system.”

Yahoo UK have asked the Department for Exiting the European Union for a comment.

During the same event, European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said he was “far from happy” about continued uncertainty over the future of the 1.24m UK citizens currently living in another EU country.

He is meeting Home Secretary Sajid Javid today to discuss the issue today and will appear before the Common’s Brexit committee tomorrow.