The Future Of UK Government’s Domestic And External Security Cooperation After Brexit: No Partners In Crime?

In recent years, strategic experts have strictly limited implications of Brexit to socio-economics or regional politics, expressing their concerns over migration, leaving behind unexplored discussions on security cooperation and intelligence interaction, significantly crediting to the European Union Treaty, which, solely tasks the responsibility of external and domestic security to individual member nations (European Union Treaty, Para 2, Article 4). With respect to the context of international security, the role is largely played by the NATO through its binding agreement, inviting EU and other member countries such as US and Canada while functioning as a separate institution with a dedicated organizational structure, though operating from its headquarters at Brussels but functioning entirely independent of the EU.

In the light of NATO’s hesitation to respond towards threats emanating in Central and Western Europe, NATO’s image of a responsible actor has taken a sudden dive. In accordance to the latest UK Government’s National Security and Strategic Defence and Security Review, the threat posed by London emanates largely from terrorism, extremism and regional political instability, particularly London’s exposure to challenges, exclusively the influx of refugees, goods and radical ideologies. To counter these challenges, London extensively cooperate and coordinate with EU security establishments (European Union Treaty, Para 3, Article 4), reinforced by judicial and law enforcement reforms, which oversees intelligence cooperation and law-enforcement interaction not only with EU-member nations but also with external partners. Post Brexit, London will not only be deprived of these stringent yet necessary judicial and intelligence cooperation centric reforms but could potentially compromise UK’s domestic and external security.

London’s Response – “UK, an intelligence super power”

The reason behind London’s confidence and British security expats advocating Brexit, is exclusively based on three principles:

  1. London has been a major critique of European defence mechanisms. The British State Secretary, even on record, hailed UK as an intelligence super power in Europe. The principle reason behind London’s criticism, as mentioned by the State Secretary, was EU’s response to counter terrorism.
  2. Operationally, the European Union security establishments are highly irrelevant, the beneficial outcomes are largely oversighted and overplayed.
  3. The security centric regulations placed within the EU coupled with European Court of Justice rulings are creating unnecessarily hinderance in operations and holding necessary information unlawful, particularly deeming communications intercepted by GCHQ as inadmissible in court.

Undoubtedly, UK’s show of strength lay majorly on various factors such as a nuclear power, holding a permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council coupled with the ability to carry out military operations independently. Additionally, besides swift and timely collection of necessary and vital intelligence by GCHQ, the UK can rely on US-UK intelligence sharing and cooperation agreement along with the Five Eyes alliance, which would further enhance UK’s intelligence reach. On many occasions, EU member nations face challenges in cooperation and coordination of domestic and external security/intelligence institutions, the UK on the contrary, has combined all domestic and external intelligence security institutions into a dedicated Counter-Terrorism model, combining their operational expertise while formulating exchange of information using a single database which is then accessed by intelligence and local law enforcement.

In the last few years, there has been significant increase in exchange of information with the UK, which is also the fourth largest operator to European Criminal Records Information System, which comprised of data of over 155,000 overseas criminal convictions made to the EU during 2015-2016 alone. During the same period, UK issued over 6,600 passport alerts which was received by all member nations of the EU, in accordance with the Schengen Information System. The regulations established within the EU are established in accordance to the laws of international human rights, which provides strong arguments in due process of law, which are largely absent in other intelligence sharing agreements such as Kilowatt network or the Berne Club. In accordance to the European Court of Justice rulings exclusively on data protection, GCHQ was under obligation to function under legal mechanisms.

An insecure future?

In the absence of a pre-stablished structure, London shall be involved in security cooperation on a case-by-case basis. There are numerous partnership agreements between the EU and external nations, but their inclusion varies in regulation and framework.

EU security establishments and probable UK engagements post Brexit


Coming into existence as a dedicated EU agency, Europol provides nations with operational assistance, assists with technical skills and expertise and provides vital strategic inputs. Employing roughly over 1,065 staff members working with roughly over 200 officers deputed by member nations, extensively work in accordance with numerous regulations and frameworks with external partner countries. The UK was a major player, which, on most occasions led all principle sector mentioned in the European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats. Post Brexit, the cooperation will come to an end, along with the UK’s access to secure messaging system (SIENA) database. However, the UK will remain a member of the Europol, participating with other non-EU member countries, but with a limited official interaction. On the grounds of historical relationship, London, could claim certain rights and privileges, but it will not be significantly enough to ignore major technical hinderances. London, seemingly becoming the target of radical Islamists, and terror factions, the outcome of this interaction will be witnessed in near future.

Europol building, The Hague, the Netherlands
Europol building, The Hague, the Netherlands

Intelligence Analysis Centre (INTCEN)

This agency is responsible to provide necessary intelligence to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and the External Action Service. Their focus remains on topography and geographies, violent extremism and proliferation of nuclear weapons and threats to the global order. Post-Brexit, the UK will not have access to this service.

Operations in Mediterranean

In accordance with Operations Sophia, the Royal Navy assists in countering trafficking of persons and employs combat vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. In case of any agreement or formal arrangement, the UK could still be part of this operation, or could dedicate its resources to strengthening NATO.

Intelligence sharing and UK cooperation post Brexit

The EU has numerous information systems and databases in place, with little or virtually no access to nations outside the region of Schengen. Post Brexit, the UK will lose its access to these essential resources, forcing London to formulate agreements on a case by case basis with the EU or draft agreements with individual member countries. Although, this will not be possible in every scenario since EU has exclusive dominance in negotiations.

Schengen Information System

It provides timely alert to EU member nations with a possible suspect or person of interest traveling within the Union. Post Brexit, it is still not clear as to how London will negotiate with EU.

European Criminal Records Information System

Created in 2012, the standard database to exchange information on convicted felons, is exclusive to EU member nations. Like Norway and Switzerland, the UK too shall use the Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, 1959, to access the database.

Passenger Name Record Data

It is a system to collect, store and process information of passengers travelling via flights within the EU and sharing them exclusively with Australia, Canada and the US. In its preliminary opinion, the European Court of Justice in 2016, opined that the access of data given to Canada is conflicting in accordance to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, particularly the sharing of sensitive information such as religion, membership to a group or events from personal life. This ruling will have certain implication on the UK, which could then formulate an agreement with the EU. Since, the exclusivity to negotiate lies principally with the EU, London cannot negotiate with individual member nations.

Prüm Convention

This enables the member nations to exchange crime scene information such as DNA fibres or fingerprints. Certain provisions shall be applicable on Switzerland and Norway, which could be an example for the UK .

European Arrest Warrant

During the years 2004-2015, the UK extradited over 8,000 individuals to member nations of the EU. This database is a vital tool not only for the Crown Prosecution Service but also for the National Crime Agency along with MI6 and MI5. However, there is no framework for third party nations to access European Arrest Warrant, there are certain agreements the former has with Norway and Iceland, which could be implemented by the UK.


In accordance with the aforemtioned statements and arguments, it is safe to say that, post Brexit, the UK will witness a sudden decline in intelligence partnerships and intelligence engagements which could potentially challenge the domestic and external safety and security of the nation particularly in the light of rise in lone wolf attacks, influx of refugees, rise of Islamic fundamentalism and vehicular borne incidents. It all depends upon the understanding and in-depth knowledge of the key policy makers to engage in systematic negotiations on security.

Besides this, the UK will not only loose its steering tendency particularly on European Security Policy, policy makers must quickly and swiftly engage with viable partners in an effort to establish agreements and ratify new security provisions in the light of emerging threats.

However, the cooperation and coordination within intelligence agencies will not end immediately, the UK could, on later stage suffer the implications of Brexit. This would largely occur due to limited access to EU database, its vast expertise and experience will too diminish coupled by the reliance of global power nations on its agencies particularly its ability to counter threats in Africa and Middle East, this could then adversely impact London’s relationship with Washington. This could then carve two regional groupings, power nations that are empowered in all domains and power nations that once were, now too small to realise.


Council of the European Union. 2012. Official Journal of the European Union.

HM Government. 2015. “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom.”

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Mr David Davis). 2017. “New Partnership with the EU.” London.

Walton, Richard. 2016. “Being in the EU Doesn’t Keep Us Safe from Terrorists.” The Telegraph, February 26, 2016.

House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee. n.d. “The Government’s Negotiating Objectives: The White Paper.”



Brandon Lewis MP Minister of State for Policing and Fire Services. 2016. “Proposal for a DIRECTIVE of the EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT and of the COUNCIL Amending Council Framework Decision 2009/315/JHA, as Regards the Exchange of Information on Third Country Nationals and as Regards the European Criminal Record Information System (ECRI.”

Advocate General’s Opinion in the Request for an Opinion 1/15. 2016. According to Advocate General Mengozzi, the agreement on the transfer of passenger name record data, planned between the European Union and Canada, cannot be entered into in its current form 3.

The Department for Exiting the European Union. 2017. “The United Kingdom’s Exit from, and New Partnership with, the European Union.”–2.

European Commission. 2017. “Speech of First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Future Force Conference.” In Speech of First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Future Force Conference. European Commission.

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