The UK government has decided to remain a full member of Europol at least until Britain officially leaves the European Union, the Home Office announced this week.
British officials decided to opt in to a new intelligence-sharing programme with the law enforcement agency after fears were raised that the UK could lose access to vital information on drug trafficking, people smuggling and terrorism if it failed to do so.
The move was one of the first significant decisions on membership of an EU institution taken by Theresa May’s government since Britain voted to leave the 28-nation bloc on 23 June earlier this year. The decision will now be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before the European Commission is informed of the UK’s intention.
Britain has been a member of Europol since it was created in 1998, and chose to remain so when given the option of choosing which European justice and home affairs matters to be part of in 2014. Europol is funded by the European Union.
The UK government says it is currently exploring ways it can continue to work with the agency once it leaves the EU, but that it is too early to say how future arrangements might work at this stage.
Minister for Policing and the Fire Service Brandon Lewis commented: “The UK is leaving the EU but the reality of cross-border crime remains. Europol provides a valuable service to the UK and opting in would enable us to maintain our current access to the agency, until we leave the EU, helping keep the people of Britain safe. We now await the outcome of the scrutiny process.”
In the lead-up to June’s referendum on UK membership of the EU, a range of experts argued that Britain’s crime-fighting abilities would be severely hindered by an out vote. Europol chief Rob Wainwright said a vote to leave would result in Britain becoming “a second-tier member of our club”.
He said Brexit had “the potential to harm the UK’s ability to fight terrorism and crime, because of the extent to which police co-operation information systems and other capabilities in the EU have become embedded in the [British] police community and, to a lesser extent, the intelligence community”.
In an opinion piece for the Guardian published before the vote, Labour MP Keir Starmer told readers that criminals and terrorists would rejoice if the Britain left the union. “One of the most important and widely underappreciated benefits of our membership of the EU is the additional security it provides in the fight against cross-border crime, terrorism, people trafficking and sexual exploitation,” he wrote.