How would Britain’s security change following a Brexit?
In short, Brexit would change Britain’s security by nearly nothing by itself, but that it would permit further changes that might strengthen Britain’s (and therefore also Europe’s) i) preventative defence against terrorism; and ii) reactive prosecution of crime generally.
On 22 March 2016, terrorists detonated two bombs in Brussels, killing 31 people (as at 23 March 2016) and wounding 230 people.
This was the third such recent atrocity in Europe. On 07 January 2015 at Paris, terrorists killed 20 people, centred on a magazine Charlie Hebdo (the magazine published imagery of the Prophet Mohammed months earlier; the terrorists sought revenge). On 13 November 2015, again at Paris, terrorists killed 130 people.
With a certain degree of predictability, those in favour of EurIn, also known as Project Fear, wrote to the Daily Telegraph to explain how dangerous life would be if Britain left the European Union. Even the American military establishment was wheeled in deliberately to confuse the different and distinct roles of NATO (the “Alliance” as cited herein) and the European Union.
In response to such scaremongering, former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service Richard Dearlove, MI6, published in Prospect Magazine. Dearlove wrote:
Brexit would bring two potentially important security gains: the ability to dump the European Convention on Human Rights — remember the difficulty of extraditing the extremist Abu Hamza of the Finsbury Park Mosque — and, more importantly, greater control over immigration from the European Union.
The crucial practical business of counter-terrorism and counter-espionage is conducted, even in Europe, through bilateral and very occasionally trilateral relationships. Brussels has little or nothing to do with them, in large part due to what is known as the “Third Party Rule,” a notion that is little understood outside the intelligence fraternity but which is essential to intelligence liaison worldwide.
This rule states that the recipient of intelligence from one nation cannot pass it on to a third without the originator’s agreement. If an intelligence service breaks this rule it becomes a pariah. Politicians who loosely talk about intelligence sharing seldom seem to understand that this principle is crucial for the protection of sources and is one of the keystones of trust on which successful security partnerships are built.
There would be disapproval of Brexit in Washington, and some disappointment too, but the practical consideration of living in a dangerous world and depending on true friends would win out.
On 24 March 2016, in reaction against Dearlove, the head of Europol Rob Wainwright said on BBC Radio 4 (reported in the Guardian) that Dearlove was ten years out of date, and that things had moved on. However, Wainwright chose not to spell out carefully how things had moved on. He also carefully avoided the necessary unbundling of Project Fear‘s misleading narrative.
To me, Dearlove’s description of how security intelligence works is as relevant now has it has been for centuries. His precise identification of the laws that restrict our ability to implement security measures - restrictions on extradition and border controls in particular - have proven to be spot on right in all three cases of terrorism set out at the top of this blog.
By contrast, Home Secretary Theresa May believes that the European Arrest Warrant is such an important part of Britain’s security, that staying within the European Union is a must for Britain.
But, as usual, Project Fear uses false logic to mislead the people by omission and falsehoods. It is a deliberate confusion. European Arrest Warrants are a tool to chase criminals after a crime has happened. By contrast, anti-terrorism intelligence is all about preventing crime from happening in the first place.
Which tool would have been more useful to Paris (twice) and Brussels recently?
In any event, European Arrest Warrants are as much a threat to the people as terrorists are. A classic case of the state’s abuse of the warrants was found in the hideous case of Ashya King. Various British government agencies had imprisoned King’s parents in Spain for exercising their lawful choice to find relevant health care for their child on the unsubstantiated claim of “child abuse”. Quite why the British judge fell for the warrant application it is still a deliberately unanswered question.
Other EurIn/Project Fear sources deliberately confuse membership of the European Union with a choice to pretend Europe doesn’t exist, for example Norton-Taylor’s blog on the Guardian (11Jan2016). In the real world, no-body questions the extent to which western intelligence agencies should co-operate. But they are questioning the extent to which western intelligence agencies can trust each other with their respective sources, as they have been for centuries and will continue to do so forever.
Meanwhile, the autopsy of Belgium’s approach to defending against Brussel’s attacks goes on. Journalist Frank Gardner has explained that Belgium’s security network is largely unfit for purpose. Six police departments grind against nineteen different city mayors, split between two major levels of government, divided by three main languages (with two additional dialects). On broadcast media, Gardner has also explained that intelligence agencies in Belgium don’t speak to Belgium police, so Belgium police ask the British police for intelligence, that the British police get from British intelligence, that British intelligence get (in part) from Belgian intelligence.
Embarrassingly, on 23 February 2016, 13 former leaders of the British Armed Forces wrote to the Telegraph to urge Britain to choose EurIn, not Brexit. By 24 March 2016, the letter itself seems to have mysteriously disappeared off the internet.
The embarrassment for EurIn/Project Fear must be palpable. For all of the “co-operation” that apparently only the European Union can magic-up, continental Europe remains apparently incapable of preventing terrorist attacks. Terrorists keep on killing. Three times within a year (broadly).
Whether Britain chooses to remain in the European Union, or chooses to leave it, Britain’s reliance on and contribution to co-operative intelligence services will remain indefinitely. Britain will continue to operate the “need-to-know” basis strictly, respect the confidentiality of all of its sources, and the end-users of shared data. Britain’s security absolutely depends on this confidence, more than anything else. Being a member of the European Union is absolutely irrelevant to this confidence.
How many more European victims of terrorism do we need to see before we realise that the EurIn/Project Fear fanatics provide brilliant opportunistic niches for ISIS to carry on their sinister work on our turf?