1.The open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is the only land border within the Common Travel Area, the special travel zone between the Republic of Ireland and the UK. It is also the UK’s only land border with an EU Member State. The border is 310 miles long, running from Lough Foyle in the west to Carlingford Lough in the east, and includes more than 300 crossing points. The “porous” nature of the border means that close co-operation is required between UK and Irish law enforcement agencies to tackle cross-border criminality.
2.The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s national police service, have established high levels of operational co-operation. Other UK and Irish law enforcement agencies, such as HM Revenue & Customs and the Irish Revenue Commissioners, have similarly well developed connections. Some arrangements for cross-border co-operation have not been subject to direct change as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. These include the work of the Joint Agency Task Force. Other aspects of operational co-operation between UK and Irish law enforcement agencies were, however, underpinned by EU police and judicial co-operation mechanisms. Agreements, such as those allowing for efficient extradition arrangements through the use of the European Arrest Warrant and real-time information-sharing through EU security and justice databases, allowed criminals to be sought across jurisdictions and brought to justice.
3.The loss of access to EU Justice and Home Affairs tools on 1 January 2021, at the end of the transition period, meant that replacement measures needed to be agreed before that date to facilitate effective policing, security, and criminal justice co-operation on the island of Ireland. Although responsibility for policing and criminal justice was devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive in 2010, the negotiation of international treaties is an excepted matter reserved to the UK Government. The Northern Ireland Department of Justice, as well as law enforcement agencies in Northern Ireland such as the PSNI, were therefore reliant on the Government negotiating replacement mechanisms to enable effective policing and criminal justice co-operation with the EU.
4.The UK and EU negotiated a new security partnership as part of talks on their future relationship, and on 24 December 2020, the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) between the UK and EU was announced. Part Three of the agreement covers Law Enforcement and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters. On publication of the deal, the Government stated that the agreement “provides a comprehensive package of operational capabilities that will help protect the public and bring criminals to justice”. For its part, the European Commission claimed that the draft treaty allowed “for strong co-operation between national police and judicial authorities, including ambitious extradition arrangements, and the swift exchange of vital data”.
5.Both parties have taken steps to ratify the TCA. The European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020, transposing the TCA into UK law, received Royal Assent on 30 December 2020. Whilst on 29 December 2020, the Council of the EU approved provisional application of the TCA from 1 January 2021. The European Union’s full ratification of the agreement is due, pending consent from the European Parliament and, following this, an adoption of a decision on the conclusion of the TCA by the Council of the EU. At the time of writing, the European Union is expected to complete ratification of the TCA by the end of April 2021.
6.Noting the potential for disruption in policing, security and criminal justice co-operation as a result of the UK’s loss of access to EU Justice and Home Affairs mechanisms, the Committee decided in September 2020 to launch an inquiry into how the Government planned to ensure the continuation of effective cross-border co-operation on the island of Ireland after Brexit. The purpose of the inquiry was to identify the specific challenges posed by the loss of access to policing and criminal justice tools and to assess how to maintain effective cross-border co-operation across the Common Travel Area.
7.The Committee received and published written submissions from a range of sources including Government, law enforcement agencies, non-departmental public bodies, and academics. From October to November 2020, we took oral evidence in public on a virtual platform. We held four oral evidence sessions, which were webcast. First, we heard from academics specialising in EU Justice and Home Affairs law and UK-Irish criminal justice co-operation. Secondly, we took evidence from the PSNI, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) on the operational effects of the loss of access to EU Justice and Home Affairs tools and potential replacement mechanisms for cross-border co-operation. Thirdly, we took evidence from Naomi Long MLA, the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, who expressed her concern at the time about the potential effect on justice agencies of the “huge uncertainty” about arrangements after the end of the transition period. Finally, we heard oral evidence from Robin Walker MP, Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office who explained how the Government planned to facilitate cross-border co-operation after 1 January 2021.
8.Following the announcement of the TCA on 24 December 2020, the Committee decided to hold three further evidence sessions to scrutinise the effects of the TCA on policing, security and criminal justice co-operation between the UK and Ireland. We took evidence from academics specialising in EU Justice and Home Affairs law and UK-Irish criminal justice co-operation and heard their assessments of the new framework for law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation agreed as part of the TCA. We then took evidence from the PSNI, the NCA, and Border Force about the operational impact of the new mechanisms. Finally, we questioned Government on the new security partnership and asked how it intended to deepen the UK’s bilateral relationship with Ireland in the fields of policing, security and criminal justice co-operation. The conclusions and recommendations in this Report are founded on the submissions that we received. We would like to thank everyone who took the time to provide our inquiry with oral and written evidence. Our thinking on these issues has also been informed by informal discussions with Irish law enforcement agencies as part of the Committee’s virtual visit to Dublin in March 2021. We would like to thank officers north and south of the border for their approach to cross-border policing and security and, above all, for keeping people safe.
1 House of Commons Library briefing, , accessed 7 April 2021. The CTA also includes the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
2 Police Service of Northern Ireland ()
3 Police Service of Northern Ireland ()
4 (Simon Byrne, Chief Constable, Police Service of Northern Ireland)
5 For example, see: Kramer, A., Dickson, R. & Pues, A., , August 2019; Police Service of Northern Ireland (); Colin Murray & Dr Clare Rice ()
6 (Steve Tracey, Assistant Director, Organised Crime Directorate, HMRC)
7 Colin Murray & Dr Clare Rice ()
8 The Joint Agency Task Force was established in 2015 as part of efforts to tackle cross-jurisdictional organised crime on the island of Ireland. The Joint Agency Task Force is led by senior officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, An Garda Síochána, HMRC and the Irish Revenue Commissioners. A number of other organisations including the National Crime Agency and the Irish Criminal Assets Bureau are also involved in operational activity.
9 For example, see: UK- Irish Criminal Justice Co-operation Network (); Kramer, A., Dickson, R. & Pues, A., , August 2019; Colin Murray & Dr Clare Rice ()
10 Devolution in Northern Ireland, 1998–2020, Briefing Paper , February 2020
11 (Naomi Long MLA, Minister of Justice, Northern Ireland Executive)
12 HM Government, , 24 December 2020
13 HM Government, , Part Three: Law Enforcement and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters, December 2020, p.25
14 European Commission, , 24 December 2020
16 Council of EU, , 29 December 2020
17 Council of the EU, Press Release, , 29 December 2020
18 , Session 2019–21 by Rt Hon Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, 23 February 2021
19 For the inquiry’s terms of Reference see: Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, , 7 September 2020
20 (Naomi Long MLA, Minister of Justice, Northern Ireland Executive)