Prime Minister and Home Secretary admit Government’s Brexit ‘deal’ offers no guarantee of access to vital EU security databases - People's Vote

Prime Minister and Home Secretary admit Government’s Brexit ‘deal’ offers no guarantee of access to vital EU security databases

The Prime Minister this morning told the House of Commons Liason Committee that British access to key anti-crime databases following Brexit was not yet secure and earlier this week Home Secretary Sajid Javid admitted there is “no guarantee” that, under the Government’s Brexit plans, British police and security services will continue to be able to access vital EU data sharing schemes that that help our forces track criminals, deport wanted fugitives, and find missing persons.

The comments, made by the Home Secretary at the recent Home Affairs Select Committee hearing, refer to the European Criminal Records Information Statistics (ECRIS) and the Schengen Information System II (SIS II).

Statistics published by the EU show that UK police accessed ECRIS almost 100,000 times in 2016, and made over 500,000 queries to the SIS II system in 2017, underlining the day to day importance this data sharing has for our police forces.

The European Criminal Records Information Statistics (ECRIS) scheme, which according to the Home Office’s own impact assessment:

  • Gives the Criminal Justice System more information about foreign criminals
  • Increases opportunities for the police to put public protection measures in place
  • Gives immigration enforcement more opportunities to take action on foreign criminals
  • Allows for more consistent sentencing of criminals

And the Schengen Information System II (SIS II) scheme, which according to the Home Office gives the police real-time access to:

  • Persons wanted for arrest for extradition purposes, for which a warrant has been issued
  • Missing persons who need to be placed under police protection or in a place of safety, including minors and adults not at risk
  • Witnesses, absconders, or subjects of criminal judgements to appear before the judicial authorities
  • People or vehicles requiring specific checks or discreet surveillance
  • Objects that are misappropriated, lost, stolen and which may be sought for the purposes of seizure or for use as evidence (e.g. firearms, passports etc)

During the EU referendum voters were told that leaving the EU is the “safer option”.

Stephen Doughty MP, member of the Home Affiars Committee, said:

“Forget no deal - the Home Secretary admitted to me this week that their so-called Brexit ‘deal’ could lead to a serious security downgrade at our borders – yet another reason why it’s time for a People’s Vote.

“It would be a dereliction of duty for any Home Secretary to make it harder for our police forces to find criminals and bring them to justice. If Brexit really means losing access to these vital data sharing schemes, as Sajid Javid suggests, that means communities across Britain would be put at risk as a result.

“The Brexit elite claimed that leaving the EU would be ‘the safer option’, but now we hear from the Home Secretary himself that it means our police and border force could find it more difficult to protect the public.

“Every day we see more evidence of how damaging and irresponsible the Government’s Brexit plans are. The way to keep Britain safe and get us out of this mess is to give the public a People’s Vote.”

/ends

 

Notes to editors

The relevant exchange between Home Secretary Sajid Javid and member of the Home Affairs Committee, Stephen Doughty MP:

Stephen Doughty: It is a wish list. Can I ask you about SIS II, will we have access to SIS II at the end of this process in the way that we do now?

Sajid Javid: We cannot be 100% sure. What this document does do is set out the route map to try to achieve that.

Stephen Doughty: To try.

Sajid Javid: Yes. Within this document it is within scope that—

Stephen Doughty: It is not guaranteed?

Sajid Javid: It is not guaranteed.

Stephen Doughty: The SIS II data was accessed by us 540 million times last year. The information we have had from the NCA is that I think there were 10,000 hits identifying criminals, those involved in all sorts of activities. There are 76.5 million notices on the SIS II database so it is a pretty crucial thing for our security and safety. However, you are not able to guarantee we will be able to access that database at the end of the process?

Sajid Javid: It is clearly an important database. This document does not guarantee access but what it does do is keep within scope the ability to continue to access that and, indeed for that matter, the ECRIS data system as well, which is another EU-wide data system.

Stephen Doughty: You would expect us to have access to this database in the form that we do today at the end of the process?

Sajid Javid: I cannot guarantee that.

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/the-work-of-the-home-secretary/oral/92960.pdf

The Prime Minister had the following exchange with the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Yvette Cooper MP, at the Liaison Committee:

Yvette Cooper: Can you confirm, we don’t have access agreed to the SIS II database or the ECRIS database in the political declaration?

Theresa May: We don’t have the SIS II database and the ECRIS database specifically identified in the political declaration.

https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/6eaccb9b-e1a3-4298-b307-65356415d112

During the EU referendum voters were told that leaving the EU is the “safer option”

In the 2016 referendum campaign, Vote Leave claimed that leaving the EU is the “safer option” (Vote Leave, accessed 10 September 2018, link).

 

European Criminal Records Information Statistics (ECRIS)

The Home Office’s own impact assessment of ECRIS, from July this year, states that it is the Government’s preferred option to participate in ECRIS, as it would enable targeted requests on non-EU nationals to be more effective. This means it would make it easier for our forces to identify criminals. The assessment further states that:

“The increase in usage of ECRIS to search for information relating to TCNs is likely to result in more information on the overseas offending history of TCNs being made available to the Criminal Justice System.” (Home Office, 10 August 2018, link)

“Having more information on TCN offending allows for more consistent sentencing, increases opportunities for the police to put public protection measures in place and increases opportunities for immigration enforcement action to be taken on foreign national offenders.” (Home Office, 10 August 2018, link)

The benefits of the scheme are described in full as:

  1. Increase in consistent sentencing: Being able to effectively access the previous convictions of TCNs held within the EU ensures TCNs who are prosecuted in the UK are treated in the same way as UK and EU nationals in terms of the availability of that information. Through ECRIS-TCN, previous convictions can be made more easily available to the courts to account for previous offending when sentencing a TCN. This ensures a consistency in sentencing and a fairer application of justice.
  2. Increase in opportunities to put public protection measures in place: Overseas criminal records exchange, enhanced by ECRIS-TCN, allows the UK to access the EU convictions of those TCNs residing in the UK. These can be used for public protection purposes, for instance including by monitoring the individual more closely (for example through the Violent and Sex Offender Register (ViSOR). This minimises the risk to the public of violent and sexual offenders remaining in communities without the knowledge of law enforcement.
  3. Increase in opportunities for removal of foreign national offenders: Using ECRIS-TCN to request criminal conviction information in respect of TCNs can bring to light serious previous convictions. This information can be used to support immigration action, even where no domestic prosecution is pursued. This supports the Home Office objective to maintain public safety as TCNs with serious previous convictions can be removed from the UK and no longer pose a risk to the UK public.
  4. ECRIS and Interoperability: The inclusion of ECRIS-TCN within the Interoperability proposal would substantially increase the number of records that could be checked against for multiple identities by the police.
  5. Benefits of retaining access to this EU tool: Continuing to work with our EU partners on the development of ECRIS-TCN and seeking to participate in ECRIS-TCN supports the Government’s objectives as set out in the “Framework for the UK-EU Security Partnership15” for an overarching agreement with the EU that supports future cooperation on security, law enforcement and criminal justice. By agreeing to participate in measures such as this, the Government is underlining the importance to the UK of EU tools in achieving a practical relationship with the EU on security cooperation after the UK leaves the EU.

(Home Office, 10 August 2018, link)

 

The Schengen Information System II (SIS II)

A Home Office document on SIS II by the Home Office shows that the scheme gives the police real-time access to:

  • Persons wanted for arrest for extradition purposes, for which a warrant has been issued
  • Missing persons who need to be placed under police protection or in a place of safety, including minors and adults not at risk
  • Witnesses, absconders, or subjects of criminal judgements to appear before the judicial authorities
  • People or vehicles requiring specific checks or discreet surveillance
  • Objects that are misappropriated, lost, stolen and which may be sought for the purposes of seizure or for use as evidence (e.g. firearms, passports etc)

(Home Office, April 2015, link)

 

The schemes are accessed hundreds of thousands of times per year by UK forces

Statistics published by the European Union show that Britain sent 97,425 notifications, requests and replies via the ECRIS system in 2016 (European Commission, 2017, link), and made 539,382,244 queries to the SIS II system in 2017 (EU LISA, 2017, link).

 

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd has stressed the importance of both schemes

“The elements of our security that we have access to through the European Union keep us much safer: ECRIS, SIS II and Europol. We hope to negotiate with the European Union a new agreement whereby we have access to them. They benefit from our ongoing participation as well as us having access to them.”