The new security partnership between the UK and the EU, concluded as part of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) between the two parties in December 2020, has welcome implications for cross-border security on the island of Ireland. Before the announcement of the TCA, we heard concerns that a failure to secure a deal on security could lead to a reliance on cumbersome extradition processes, and create intelligence blind spots for criminals to exploit. The agreement mitigates these concerns and, importantly, provides a platform for UK and Irish law enforcement agencies to build on their already well developed systems of co-operation, which are to the mutual benefit of all on these islands. Now that an agreement on UK-EU co-operation in this field has been reached, however, the Government and the Irish Government should convene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference as soon as possible to discuss security co-operation as part of ongoing efforts to minimise the opportunities for organised crime gangs to exploit the Common Travel Area.
Over the past two decades, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s national police service, have made great progress in developing co-operation mechanisms to tackle cross-border criminality on the island of Ireland. These means of co-operation and information sharing will become increasingly important now that the UK has left the EU and lost direct access to many EU Justice and Home Affairs mechanisms, including its security and justice databases. The UK’s data adequacy status will be key to the continuation of efficient data sharing across the Common Travel Area. Reaching decisions on data adequacy in a timely manner will therefore be critical. The Government must explain how it plans to ensure that the UK’s data protection regime will continue to clear the necessary bar in future to maintain the country’s data status. Ministers must proactively engage with the European Commission on this as part of efforts to ensure that data adequacy decisions are reached in good time, ahead of deadlines for their adoption, and to avoid uncertainty about the future of data-sharing arrangements on the island of Ireland. The Government will also need to consider, and explain how it plans to mitigate, the risk of there being a difference between the tools and systems that UK law enforcement agencies use for cross-border information sharing and those that Irish and other EU authorities have access to.
As part of this process, the Government must set out how it plans to mitigate, limit or eliminate delays in receiving arrest warrants from EU partners following the UK’s loss of access to the Second-Generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). The new extradition arrangements agreed as part of the TCA will avoid the significant delays that might have occurred if the UK and Ireland had had to rely on the cumbersome 1957 European Convention on Extradition. They include many of the features of the European Arrest Warrant and, importantly for co-operation between the UK and Ireland, mean that extradition will continue to be subject to judicial control rather than operating through political channels. However, the UK’s loss of access to SIS II following the end of the transition period has the potential to create delays in UK law enforcement and crime agencies receiving arrest warrants from their counterparts in the EU when the location of a suspect is not known. The Government must address this issue.
The UK-EU Specialised Committee on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Co-operation provides a forum for the Government to seek to develop its co-operation with the EU and, thereby, enhance cross border co-operation with Ireland. The Specialised Committee will have a crucial role in developing and monitoring the law enforcement, security and criminal justice arrangements in the TCA, and its important work would benefit from the formal input of devolved representatives. When the Committee is established, the Government should invite representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive to participate in its proceedings in order to articulate their perspective on security co-operation on the island of Ireland.
Organised criminals seeking to exploit the Common Travel Area will no doubt adapt to the new security environment that they face, and while we are assured that the TCA has kept the lights on, the Government and the EU should continue to develop their security relationship. A strong UK-EU security relationship will help to bolster the already well established mechanisms of co-operation between UK and Irish agencies to maintain the security of the Common Travel Area.