A no-deal Brexit would be “incredibly damaging” for our security, the head of UK counter-terrorism policing has warned.
Neil Basu insisted he was not making a political point by sounding the alarm about the security dangers of crashing out the EU without a deal, in a series of broadcast interviews on Wednesday.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he said: “Criminality does not respect borders … and if you can’t share intelligence on people who are travelling across your border who may be a threat to your country or may be travelling to other countries as a threat, those things are a significant diminution of our security.”
He added: “We already have bilateral relationships with a lot of countries to share intelligence, but there is no doubt about it, a no-deal Brexit would not be good for security for this country or for Europe.”
Earlier, he was asked by ITV’s Good Morning Britain whether this was part of what Brexit supporters have hailed “project fear”.
Basu, an assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan police, said: “This isn’t a political point, this is a factual requirement between security services and policing and my counterparts in Europe and our need to share information.”
He added: “It is self evident that the inability to share data, to share intelligence, to share biometric information, with key partners … would be incredibly damaging for wider policing and for counter-terrorism, so yes it is a real concern.”
Basu said there was a central team working on contingency plans, while counter-terrorism police liaison officers were “embedded” in embassies and agencies in Europe.
He said: “They are working very hard with their counterparts to understand how we cope if there is a no-deal Brexit, but as I said, a no-deal Brexit for operational security would be a very bad thing.”
Previously, police chiefs have warned that Britain’s EU membership gives them access to 40 crime-fighting tools which would be lost if there was no deal.
Europe-wide measures have become part of the everyday life of police officers. The Schengen information system, which allows officers to check if EU nationals are wanted by police in their home countries, was used 539m times by British police last year.
Under current measures it takes six days to check if a foreign national has criminal convictions elsewhere. Under any replacement system in the event of no deal, that could take 66 days.
The measures are important for both British and European police. For every suspect arrested under the European arrest warrant who is wanted by British police, officers in the UK arrest eight on behalf of their European colleagues.
Richard Martin, the police chief lead on international policing, has said a no-deal Brexit would make it harder to arrest the two Russian novichok suspects if the two men left Russia and entered an EU country. A European arrest warrant has been issued for the pair, obligating police across the EU if they get the chance.
Basu also highlighted concerns that some far-right extremists have been radicalised by Brexit.
He told Today: “That’s entirely possible. We saw an uplift in hate crime following the referendum. My concern is that this is a very divisive issue … It has polarised a lot of families, a lot of communities and we are appealing for calm, reflection and debate. We will absolutely support any kind of lawful protest but where it veers into the unlawful territory we will and must take action.”
His comments come after the pro-EU MP Anna Soubry was repeatedly abused outside parliament earlier this month.
Basu said: “There are a lot of politicians that feel very vulnerable. It cannot be right that someone going about their lawful business is either intimidated or obstructed from doing so.”
He also accepted that police should have intervened to stop Soubry being abused. Basu said: “There is no doubt that the community policing that we put in place wasn’t assertive enough to stop people who were intent on being intimidating. We are determined to get that right and make politicians feel as safe as they can.”
Basu’s interviews marked the launch of a cinema advert campaign to increase awareness of suspicious activity and encourage people to report it to police.
The 60-second film shows a series of scenarios, such as a man stockpiling hazardous material and another buying weapons, before rewinding and zooming in on the danger.
In 2017 and 2018, about a fifth of the information passed to police from the public had a “significant” role in thwarting attacks, he said.
Four far-right extremist plots and 14 Islamist terror plots were foiled in the last two years.