In November 2018, the UK Government and EU jointly published a withdrawal agreement that set out the terms by which the UK would exit the EU. At the same time, a non-binding political declaration was published that outlined the principles on which the future relationship between the UK and EU would be based.
The terms of the UK’s exit from the EU contained in the withdrawal agreement and political declaration have consequences for Home Office responsibilities on policing and security cooperation, UK border operations and immigration.
The transitional arrangements secured in the withdrawal agreement are vital for the UK in all three areas, because no adequate preparations have been made for other arrangements to be put in place. Leaving the EU without a transitional period would put security and border operations at significant risk.
The political declaration is seriously lacking in detail and provides insufficient clarity about both the future security partnership and future arrangements at the border. There is a real danger that the UK’s position will be weakened in the future partnership. The Government has provided a distinct lack of information on its immigration proposals, and of time for Parliament to consider them before the vote on the deal.
On security and policing issues, continued cooperation between the UK and the EU via Europol, criminal databases and through extradition arrangements are all crucial. We are very concerned by the lack of clarity offered by the political declaration about each mechanism. We are deeply disappointed at the EU’s resistance to UK participation in the Second Generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) database given the importance of this security cooperation to both the UK and the EU. There has also been a concerning lack of progress in securing the UK’s future relationship with Europol and the European Arrest Warrant. As it stands there is a significant risk that the UK and the EU are facing a security downgrade.
We are also concerned that insufficient preparations have been made for negotiating the security treaty. The lack of a security backstop in the withdrawal agreement means there is a real risk that the transitional arrangements will expire before the future security partnership is concluded, and therefore there will be a security shortfall. We are concerned that security arrangements are being subordinated to the trade arrangements and political considerations.
It is seriously damaging that the Government is not being open with Parliament on the implications of the deal it has reached with the EU. We disagree with the Home Secretary’s description of access to SIS II as merely a “nice to have”, and we are seriously worried about complacency in this area. We urge the Government to be clearer with Parliament about the security risks.
On border issues, we welcome the negotiation of transitional arrangements. However, we have the same deep concern about the lack of clarity in the political declaration. The deal could entail close alignment with the EU customs union and single market rules on the one hand, and could mean substantial divergence on the other. There are a ‘spectrum’ of possible outcomes for checks and controls at the border, but the Government has offered no certainty about where on that spectrum the UK will be. This makes it difficult both for Parliament to assess the merits of the proposals, and for the Home Office to make adequate preparations for the implementation of the future partnership.
On immigration issues, it is impossible for us to respond to the Government’s policy for its post-Brexit system, as at the time of agreeing this report we still have not seen the Immigration White Paper we were first promised 18 months ago, and it seems highly unlikely that the White Paper will be published before the meaningful vote on the 11 December, which is extremely disappointing. Given that new immigration arrangements will have a significant impact on UK citizens’ ability to live and work in the EU in future and on EU citizens ability to live and work in the UK, we are very troubled that this information is not available to Parliament before the vote.
The Government has previously made it clear that failing to reach a deal on security would be an unthinkable outcome in the Brexit negotiations. However, we are concerned that security and home affairs considerations are not being given sufficient priority.
Published: 7 December 2018