Britain’s Justice Minister has warned that terror suspects currently enjoy a “free pass” into Britain, as the bar for refusing them entry has been set “impossibly high” by European Union (EU) officials. His warning comes as one of the Brussels attackers is identified as a terrorist who travelled to Birmingham last year.
Europol has estimated that as many as 5,000 jihadi who travelled to Syria have now returned to Europe, able to freely travel across the continent from Greece to Sweden.
As an EU member state, Britain is required to abide by rules allowing the free movement of EU citizens, even if they are unable to provide travel documents at the border. And although technically Britain is allowed to detain terror suspects who it deems pose a “serious threat”, in practice the weight of evidence required to do so sets the bar impossibly high,
Speaking to an audience in London today, Eurosceptic Justice Minister Dominic Raab has warned: “Crucially for UK intelligence agencies, we cannot bar individuals on whom we have sketchy intelligence but reason to believe may be linked to terrorist related or other serious criminal activity, or who may have done something which gives rise to questions, such as visiting Syria, without a clear or credible reason,” the Telegraph has reported.
He continued: “In most countries outside the EU, you can bet that individuals flagged in this way would not waltz through passport control without these doubts or question marks being answered or assuaged.
“EU rules set the bar for taking meaningful action impossibly high which means we effectively have to give a free pass into Britain to those coming from the EU.
“It massively increases the pool of people that need to be monitored by the intelligence agencies.”
At least two of the terrorists involved in last week’s Brussels attack are thought to have travelled to the UK on European passports. One of those has been named as Mohamed Abrini, a Belgian citizen of Moroccan origin, who was already wanted for his role in last November’s Paris attacks. Last year Abrini travelled to Birmingham, England, where he took photos of an unidentified football stadium before returning to the continent.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind behind the Paris attack and head of a loose-knit group of at least 90 ‘lone wolf’ jihadis in Europe was also able to travel to the UK last year, visiting associates in London and Birmingham before slipping back across the Channel.
“Europol estimates that up to 5,000 people are back in Europe having attended training camps run by Islamic State. They are back in Europe, free to travel from Greece to Sweden,” Mr Raab said.
“This was evidently a relevant factor in the movements and organisation of those suspected of responsibility for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, including Salah Abdeslam and Mohammed Abrini. Abrini was reportedly in Britain last July, when he took pictures of a football stadium.
“It is too early to accurately assess the extent to which borderless travel facilitated those involved in the Brussels attacks. But, it is undeniable that regaining control over our borders would be a valuable defensive tool in protecting Britain from future terrorist attacks.”
Pro-Brexit minister Dominic Raab: “the British fox hankers for flexibility” but “has been rebuffed by the continental hedgehog”
— Michael Deacon (@MichaelPDeacon) March 30, 2016
His comments have been criticised by Nick Herbert, chairman of Conservatives In and a former police minister, who told the Mail: “We should take no lectures from the Brexit campaigners who oppose all the EU co-operative measures which help to keep us safe.
“They oppose the European Arrest Warrant which brings serious criminals to justice and they oppose EU measures to share DNA records which identify offenders.
“They are willing to place their ideological opposition to any EU co-operation ahead of effective security measures.
“The UK is outside Europe’s passport-free Schengen area, we have border controls and checks, and we can and do turn away people who pose a threat to our country. It is simply irresponsible to suggest otherwise.”
But his comments come as a dossier shows that 50 of Europe’s most notorious criminals have been allowed a free pass into the UK, where 45 of them struck again. Among them are Latvian Arnis Zalkalns, who murdered his Latvian wife before moving to the UK, where he went on to murder 14 year old Alice Gross.
Another listed is Kajus Scuka, who had previous convictions for murder, gross indecency and assault before coming to the UK. Within months of his arrival he had committed rape and three other sex attacks. Sentencing, Judge Peter Kelson said: “It seems to me … even with your convictions for murder and assaults you were free to enjoy the same freedom of movement as any other European citizen.”
Ironically Abaaoud is also on the list – but as one of the five criminals who did not go on to commit an offence in the UK.
EU critics have further pointed out that the free movement principle means Britain’s borders are only as watertight as those of our fellow member states.
In 2006 it emerged that corrupt officials in Bulgaria were willing to issue Bulgarian passports to non-EU foreigners for less than £200. Tens of thousands of passports were issued in this way, prompting Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch to warn at the time: “Entry control to Britain is now only as good as the integrity of the passport systems in other EU countries.”