Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

UK access to EU police database hangs in balance

  • The UK may lose access to the EU's police database (Photo: Daniele Zanni)

The MEP who chairs the EU's border-free Schengen zone working group says the UK needs to be cut off from a major EU police and security database.

"The UK cannot have access to the Schengen Information System," according to Tanja Fajon, a socialist MEP from Slovenia who chairs the LIBE Working Group on Schengen Scrutiny, on Monday (7 December).

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This system is used by police and border guards across the Schengen zone of 27 European countries and contains data on missing persons, stolen property, or suspected criminals.

Although the UK is not part of the Schengen, it was given restricted access to the database since 2015 as a means to increase reciprocal security with other EU states.

But years of abuse by the British authorities, including making illegal copies of the database and failing to share alerts, has caused outrage among some European lawmakers.

Those findings were detailed in an internal report leaked to EUobserver in 2018, leading MEPs to demand responses from the European Commission.

With the UK no longer part of the European Union, and negotiations continuing for a new post-2020 partnership pact, MEPs are pressing to make sure London no longer retains any access to the police database.

Fajon has tabled a European Parliament draft report on Schengen.

In it, she blames the commission and the council, representing member states, for having failed to take the UK to task over the issue.

"This loss will have a major operational impact," said Martin Hewitt, who chairs the UK National Police Chiefs' Council, in a letter dated 11 November, 2020.

Steve Rodhouse, a director in the UK National Crime Agency, made similar comments in early November.

He noted the commission maintains there is no legal basis for the UK to retain access to Schengen Information System as of next year.

As such, they are working under the assumption the UK will be cut off from SIS and are now seeking more cooperation with Interpol - the world's largest international police organisation.

But Interpol is not directly integrated into the UK's police national computer and border systems, making police work more difficult.

Security cooperation between the UK and EU member states is also strained in other areas.

The Brexit withdrawal agreement seeks to maintain "operational cooperation" on such issues but only if the two sides agree to a new trade deal.

That possible deal is currently under intense talks.

Michael Gove, the British minister in charge of Brexit, has also taken issue with the European Court of Justice.

"Before we have access to systems like the Schengen Information Systems II, we have to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. We cannot accept that," he stated last month.

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EUobserver's revelations of how the UK violates and abuses an EU police database sparked heated debate in the European Parliament's civil liberties committee - as the European Commission refused to respond to questions given the confidentiality of the leaked document.

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According to a classified report, the UK made illegal copies of EU security data, and its disregard for EU rules on handling such data was a "serious and immediate risk". The Commission now says "practical steps" have since been taken.

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