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article imageEU's anti-terror fight at risk after Brexit

By Michel MOUTOT (AFP)     Oct 3, 2018 in World

Britain's looming exit from the EU risks hindering essential Europe-wide cooperation to thwart terrorist attacks, experts warn, despite the determination of security agents on both sides of the Channel to keep working together.

The main problem is London's eventual loss of unlimited real-time access to pan-European databases in case Britain crashes out of the bloc without a police cooperation deal in place.

Even if such a "hard Brexit" is avoided, the country's National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) announced last month that it is setting up an operations centre to train agents for new sharing protocols after the UK leaves in March 2019.

But those tools are expected to fall far short of the European arrest warrant, the Schengen Information System -- which British police consulted 539 million times last year -- or the Europol network, said NPCC head Sara Thornton.

"The fallbacks we're going to have to use will be slower, will be more bureaucratic and it would make it much harder for us to protect UK citizens and EU citizens," she said.

Despite British agents building solid relations with European counterparts  having worked side-by-si...
Despite British agents building solid relations with European counterparts, having worked side-by-side on jihadist attacks, their determination to coordinate closely after Brexit will still run into bureaucratic challenges, analysts say
Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS, AFP/File

For Malcolm Chalmers, a security expert and deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute, "if the UK was no longer able to take part in the EU databases that are developing rapidly, if no new means of involvement were to be found, then there would be a significant downside, because it would be much harder to replicate that level of data sharing.

"It doesn't mean that there would be no cooperation without UK membership, but it would be slower, more ponderous," he told AFP.

"The real issue is speed and simplicity: the more complex the processes are, the more time it takes, the less the police can do," he added.

- 'Stovepipes' -

British agents have built up solid relations with their counterparts across Europe, having worked side-by-side on several long cases as jihadist attacks have increased in Europe.

Yet their determination to coordinate closely after Brexit will nonetheless run into bureaucratic challenges, analysts say.

London's eventual loss of unlimited real-time access to pan-European databases in case Britain ...
London's eventual loss of unlimited real-time access to pan-European databases in case Britain crashes out of the EU without a police cooperation deal in place is the main problem
Ben STANSALL, AFP/File

"Even in a ideal world where the UK and the EU maintained near-perfect information sharing, the counter-terrorism and law enforcement challenges would remain immense," according to a report from the Soufan security think-tank in the US last month.

"The threat level will continue to remain elevated for years to come, and the possibility of a no-deal Brexit will simply make that threat more difficult to counter by creating unnecessary stovepipes that will hamper the sharing of information and intelligence across relevant agencies," it wrote.

Given the high stakes, however, and the disastrous potential consequences in case of intelligence-sharing failures, most agents remain optimistic that frictions will be kept to a minimum.

Nobody wants to be held responsible for allowing a terrorist attack simply because following the new...
Nobody wants to be held responsible for allowing a terrorist attack simply because following the new post-Brexit procedures kept vital intelligence from crossing the Channel in time
Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS, AFP/File

Nobody wants to be held responsible for allowing a terrorist attack simply because following the new procedures kept vital intelligence from crossing the Channel in time.

"Brexit or no Brexit, agencies will continue to cooperate with London as they have done for the past 50 years," said Alain Chouet, a former head of France's DGSE foreign intelligence agency.

"With the English, things work pretty well, as long as we don't mess directly in their affairs," Chouet added.

"One of our agencies' missions is to make up for international political hazards. We're paid for that, we do it, and the English do the same," he said.

"For our agencies, cooperation has always gone well. And it will continue to do so."

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