Leaving the European Union would improve Britain’s national security, a former head of MI6 has said, as it emerged that a series of serious intelligence failures had allowed the Brussels bombings to go ahead.
Sir Richard Dearlove said that, in the event of a Brexit, Britain would be able to strengthen her borders and deport extremists more easily – delivering major security gains with very little downside.
His advice directly contradicts that of the Prime Minister David Cameron, and Home Secretary Theresa May, who both insist that Britain is safer inside the EU.
The Belgian and Western intelligence services are reported to have known with a “high degree of certainty” that attacks were being planned for both the airport and the metro system, where bombs did indeed go off on Tuesday.
Yet despite their foreknowledge, intelligence and security forces in Brussels were unprepared and limited in their scope to deal with such a threat, Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported.
And yesterday the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed that Belgian authorities had already been warned that Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, one of two brothers involved in the attack, was a “foreign fighter” and a terror threat. Turkish authorities detained him twice near the Syrian border before deporting him back to Belgium with the warning.
“Whether one is an enthusiastic European or not, the truth about Brexit from a national security perspective is that the cost to Britain would be low,” Sir Richard said in an article for Prospect magazine.
“Britain is Europe’s leader in intelligence and security matters and gives much more than it gets in return. It is difficult to imagine any of the other EU members ending the relationships they already enjoy with the UK.”
Refuting Mr Cameron’s claims that Britain needs to stay in the Union to gain access to intelligence information, he continued: “counter-terrorist and counter-espionage liaison between democratic allies is driven as much by moral considerations as by political ones. If a security source in Germany learns that a terrorist attack is being planned in London, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s domestic intelligence service, is certainly not going to withhold the intelligence from MI5 simply because the UK is not an EU member.”
And he dismissed European security bodies such as the Club de Berne, made up of European Security Services, the Club de Madrid, made up of European Intelligence Services, Europol, and the Situation Centre in the European Commission, as being “of little consequence,” adding “generally speaking [they are] little more than forums for the exchange of analysis and views.”
“With the exception of Europol, these bodies have no operational capacity and with 28 members of vastly varying levels of professionalism in intelligence and security, the convoy must accommodate the slowest and leakiest of the ships of state.”
He also waved away Theresa May’s suggestions that the European Arrest Warrant plays an important role in European security, saying “its importance has been exclusively criminal and few would notice its passing.”
Washington would harbour “disapproval” and “disappointment” over a Brexit, Sir Richard concedes, but he points out that practical considerations “in a dangerous world” would bind allies together.
In fact, he makes it clear that membership of the European Union offers very little, if anything at all, in the way of security for Britain.
“European defence and security policy has proved to be little more than an aspiration,” he says. “A European Rapid Reaction Force has not matured into an effective expression of Europe’s aggregated military power. Britain’s defence interests remain firmly hitched to Nato and a number of strong bilateral relationships, with France as our most important continental partner.
“The inability of the EU member states to act together to stem the flow of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa shows very clearly that, when essential interests are thought to be threatened, the national security considerations of each nation outweigh the principles of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, on which the EU’s policy towards the problem is ultimately based.
He concludes: “Would Brexit damage our defence and intelligence relationship with the United States, which outweighs anything European by many factors of 10? I conclude confidently that no, it would not.”