Haras Rafiq is Managing Director of Quilliam.
In the wake of recent mass casualties in Brussels and Paris, the imminent threat of terrorist attacks in Europe and the ability of extremists to circumvent European security services have cast severe doubts over the quality of European intelligence-sharing and their ability to effectively prevent deadly attacks. And during this EU referendum campaign, the issue has emerged as a key argument for both Leave and Remain campaigners.
In my view, this incapacity, combined with the increasing push for increased intelligence-sharing across the Union and the development of European intelligence agencies, means that only by leaving the EU can the UK avoid being pressured into cooperation with weaker partners under ineffective multilateral structures, and guarantee the integrity, security, and well-functioning of our own security services.
Beyond Germany and France, no other EU member state has intelligence services that are even comparable to Britain’s. Amongst several other failures, that the Abdeslam brothers – both involved in the November attacks in Paris – had earlier that year been subjected to questioning by Belgian police without either the Dutch nor French authorities being informed confirms the inability of EU member states to share intelligence effectively. A Remain vote on June 23 may force the UK to participate in European projects, which would actually impeded the efficiency of the largely superior UK security services.
While remaining in the EU might enhance British influence in the establishment of European intelligence frameworks such as the Prüm convention or the European Intelligence Agency, this is not in the UK’s interests. As xour independent research shows, experts and politicians in the security realm largely perceive the Five Eyes (consisting of the United States, Britain, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia) as the main body for intelligence-sharing, particularly since enhanced European security cooperation will put the security and availability of intelligence sources at risk. Increased intelligence cooperation with EU member states with inferior intelligence agencies would simply jeopardise the security of our information.
The decisiveness and urgency required here to counter the drastically growing terrorist threat – of which the massacre in Orlando is a grisly reminder – arguably discourages incentives to share our intelligence with these states further. Terrorists thrive with jurisdiction gaps. Engaging in intensive yet ineffective discussions with 27 other member states on sensitive intelligence-sharing would only leave more gaps open for exploitation.
As Henry Bolton, a former police and intelligence officer, has said, there is evidence that some EU member states’ security apparatuses were actually connected to crime and terrorism. Intelligence co-operation with Europe must therefore emphasise bilateralism. We need to avoid deeper multilateral intelligence integration, which would substantially restricts the sovereignty and freedom of British intelligence to operate. Cooperation with weaker services should not be precluded – but bilateralism allows us to better control the sharing of intelligence with trusted partners, while simultaneously protecting our information.
The recently revealed internal divisions between MI5 and MI6 over the exposure of the alleged rendition of Abdul Hakim Belhaj during the Blair era by MI6 could further mirror the divisions that we will experience in the European Union, should Britain remain a member. Covert renditions by MI6 are said to have prompted a “prolonged breakdown of trust between Britain’s domestic and foreign spy agencies”. Eliza Manningham-Buller’s critique of the former Blair administration stressed that such actions jeopardise the safety and security of intelligence informants and officers.
Now imagine how this would play out on a multilateral European level, with 28 largely different and uneven intelligence services acting under one umbrella. Should one agency act in a manner that is perceived as inappropriate by some member states, the entire EU umbrella would be impacted.
Essentially, this is not a matter of Britain distancing itself from EU member states. Rather, is a matter of distancing us from the ineffective EU negotiation table, and turning towards better bilateral cooperation with European partners. The consistent enlargement of the EU has resulted in a negotiation table with more than 25 partners that have to reach a consensus on sensitive issues, which in tuurn makes sensitive discussions increasingly long drawn-out and inconclusive. It is time we voted to leave the EU to reassert our democratic strength – and restore effective intelligence bilaterally cooperation.