The UK government has threatened to stop sharing intelligence with Europol if the EU fails to offer Britain a favourable trade deal during Brexit negotiations.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd yesterday said the UK would restrict access to its intelligence data if no agreement was forthcoming, a move that could seriously impact the EU law enforcement agency’s ability to fight organised crime and terrorism.
Speaking with Sky News on the day the UK government triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal mechanism that will facilitate Britain leaving the 28-nation union, Rudd said: “We are the largest contributor to Europol, so if we left Europol then we would take our information, this is in the legislation, with us.
“The fact is the European partners want us to keep our information in there, because we keep other European countries safe as well.”
In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk triggering Article 50, UK Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday hinted that an unfavourable trade deal could result in intelligence sharing arrangements between Britain and the EU coming to an end.
Writing a week to the day after a major terror attack in the heart of Westminster left four people dead, May told Tusk: “With Europe’s security more fragile today than at any time since the Cold War, weakening our cooperation would be a costly mistake.”
EU officials reacted to May’s comments – which she repeated during a statement to the House of Commons yesterday afternoon – with anger, warning they would not give in to threats and blackmail.
Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, said the security of European citizens is far too important to use as a bargaining tool in trade talks, and that both security and trade will both be vital aspects of any future partnership between Britain and the EU.
Responding to May’s position, Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialist bloc in the European Parliament, said it would be an outrage to use people’s lives in trade negotiations, and that he felt as though the UK was attempting to blackmail its way to a favourable deal.
Earlier this month, the British boss of Europol predicted that the UK would continue to cooperate with EU countries on crime and terrorism after Brexit.
Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee, Rob Wainwright told British lawmakers that Europol’s future plans included the UK remaining as one of its members in one form or another.
Noting UK security services’ considerable expertise in counter-terrorism, Wainwright said Britain is “a very important partner in the security field”.
It has been reported that the British government has calculated that its withdrawal from Europol would do very little damage to UK security, but could significantly hinder the work of EU law enforcement agencies.