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Security Agreements: European Union

Volume 653: debated on Monday 21 January 2019

I have regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues on a range of matters. The deal that the House considered last week confirmed the commitment of the UK and the EU to a new security partnership and included a transition period. In considering a way forward, we must focus on ideas that deliver the same benefits, are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in the House.

Title V of the draft withdrawal agreement describes the ongoing police and judicial co-operation between the UK and the EU on criminal matters. Given that it has taken 30 months to agree the 13-page section on security and that the section covers only the transition period, why should we have any confidence in this Government completing negotiations to ensure this country’s future safety and security by the end of next year?

Security is an absolute priority for the Home Office, which is why it should come as no surprise to the House that all capabilities on which the UK would wish to co-operate with the EU are covered in the political declaration. If the hon. Lady wishes to continue that kind of co-operation, the best thing to do is to support the deal.

I read the intervention carefully a week ago. Although I have huge respect for those two individuals and listen to them on many issues, I think that they are completely wrong in their assessment.

The last time the Home Secretary appeared before the Home Affairs Committee, he told us that, in the event of no deal,

“we will be as safe—if we are talking about the SIS II system, for example, as we were just now”,

and said that Schengen Information System II is merely a “nice to have”—those were the words he used. Since then, the Met Commissioner has said that losing access to SIS II

“will be more costly undoubtedly, slower undoubtedly, and potentially, yes, put the public at risk.”

The National Crime Agency has also said that there is

“a risk that this country will be less safe as a result.”

What is the Home Secretary’s assessment of the risk to the country, particularly in policing and security terms, from no deal, and why is his assessment different from that of the police?

The right hon. Lady will know that paragraph 87 of the political declaration talks about how the UK and our EU partners will work together to consider continuing arrangements for missing and wanted persons, and on other issues, such as criminal information exchange. Today we are lucky to live in a very safe country. Under our assessment, I am confident that, whether we have a deal or no deal, we will continue to be a very safe country.

The arrival of 39 suspected migrants via crossings in just the last two days is a considerable concern to my constituents in Dover and Deal. When will the Home Secretary next meet his French counterpart to discuss this matter? Will the Home Office carry out round-the-clock aerial surveillance urgently? Can he confirm the date on which the two cutters in the Mediterranean will return to be on station to secure our border?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. We have started to deploy aerial surveillance of the English channel since I declared a major incident. While we await the arrival of the two cutters in early February, we have increased the presence of vessels, including with help from the Royal Navy. I will be meeting my French counterpart, Minister Castaner, this week.

Further to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the police have said that direct access to EU databases such as SIS II are mission critical for their work in tackling criminals and terrorists. What guarantee can the Home Secretary give the House today that, after the transition period, Britain and the police will still have access to these mission-critical databases?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that those databases are important, which is why it is very good that we have an agreement in the political declaration to consider how we can keep using such arrangements. Again, if he is that concerned, he should support the deal.

Is it not the case that our closest security and intelligence partnership is with the United States and the “Five Eyes” signatories, none of which are members of the European Union; that our closest defence partnership is with NATO, not the EU; and that, whether we leave the EU with or without a deal, we will be signing a security and intelligence arrangement with the EU?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the security relationship we have with many other countries, including, of course, with our “Five Eyes” partners—that is a critical relationship—and the NATO alliance. That does not take away from the fact that we also want to continue co-operating with the EU, and I am sure that we will.

Can the Home Secretary help me, please? The European Court of Justice has oversight of the European arrest warrant, SIS II, Europol and Eurojust. He says that we will have arrangements with all three; how does he cross the Prime Minister’s red line on those issues?

That is quite straightforward. If the right hon. Gentleman takes the time to read the political declaration, he will see that it refers to establishing arrangements—for example, for the quick and efficient surrender of individuals. They are not necessarily exactly the same instruments, but we have done this in a way that is consistent with our taking back control of our laws.

I have listened with great care to the Home Secretary. He will be aware that the EU insists on treaty arrangements governing key aspects of international security, justice and policing. Without a treaty, courts have no legal basis to implement arrest or extradition warrants, and cannot allow access to criminal and other databases to third countries. The danger is that there will be a mutual loss of the European arrest warrant and the UK will no longer be able to access the Europol database in real time. How does he justify putting the security of the nation at risk in this way?

The Government have suggested to the EU—if the deal gets through Parliament, this is what will be looked at—having an internal security treaty between the UK and the EU because, as the right hon. Lady quite rightly says, it is best to have these arrangements on a proper legal footing and it makes sense to do that through treaty-type arrangements. I have to say again, however, that if she is really concerned about continued co-operation, she should support the deal.