Brexit will not weaken the UK’s security services or make the country more susceptible to terror attacks, Scotland Yard’s former counter-terrorism chief has argued.
Richard Walton, who led the Metropolitan Police’s anti-terror command until last year, explained the UK has strong international intelligence links and that state-to-state bilateral cooperation was more important than with the European Union (EU).
Writing for Policy Exchange, he points out that “Belgium, France and Germany remain at the heart of the EU with all the attendant data sharing – but it didn’t stop attacks in cities from Brussels and Paris to Berlin.”
He explained how “most counter terrorist investigations have international dimensions beyond the UK and Europe and their success is largely dependent on the extent to which a country’s police and intelligence agencies have ‘global reach’ and strong bilateral state to state relationships”.
The counter-terrorism expert referred to comments from anti-Brexit former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who insisted Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to Brexit “poses a direct threat to our national security”.
The Lib Dems claimed the UK uses the EU’s police database “16 times a second”, so pulling out of it would exclude the nation from the “devastatingly effective crime fighting and antiterrorism tool” which locks up “53 people every day”.
Hitting back, Mr. Walton wrote: “Searches on Europol may have helped the North West Counter Terrorism Unit confirm the frequency and routing of [Manchester bomber Salman] Abedi’s travel from the UK to Libya and back.
“But bilateral cooperation is necessary to obtain additional evidence including CCTV imagery to prove whether Abedi travelled alone or with accomplices.”
He praised the UK’s “global network of intelligence officers” and spoke of “the importance of bilateral state to state co-operation in counter terrorism investigations” and intelligence sharing networks such as the ‘Five Eyes’ countries, comprised of the UK, the U.S., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
Last week, it was claimed the FBI warned UK security chiefs that Mr. Abedi was plotting an attack in Britain months before the bombing. Within days of the explosion, UK security services had detained dozens of people in this country and were working with Libya’s police to identify and detain members of the Abedi family.
“In the aftermath of an attack such as we experienced in Manchester last week, this network comes into its own with British operatives already deployed ‘on the ground’ who can fast track enquires with local agencies and facilitate a subsequent deployment of counter terrorism professionals from the UK,” Mr. Walton continued.
Concluding: “During the EU referendum debate, it was argued by some that Brexit would negatively influence the ability of the UK to conduct counter terrorism investigations, especially those with international dimensions.
“The reality is that Brexit will have little if any impact on UK counter terrorism operations even if it ceases to become a formal member of Europol.”