EU and UK hail 'close co-operation’ on security but things won’t be the same

The worst-case scenario feared by law enforcement leaders in Britain and the European Union has been avoided.

"No deal would have been a disaster” one senior police officer told me last week.

Instead, the new UK-EU security deal includes what the European Commission calls “ambitious arrangements” on the way air passenger data, criminal records, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data are shared. But there’s an important postscript in the Commission’s summary: “UK will no longer have direct, real-time access to sensitive EU databases that support the EU’s area of freedom, security and justice”. Many of the details on how the new arrangements will work are still not yet clear - and to borrow a tired, Brexit cliche, that’s where the devil is. But we can be certain the new security deal will not match what went before it.

Much of the focus now will be on a small selection of huge law enforcement catalogues which, by their nature, we don’t see and rarely hear much about.

One of them is the Schengen Information System, known as SIS II - and Britain is now out of it.

It provides police with data alerts on criminal suspects, missing people and stolen property.

The UK has become one of the system's biggest users and its value was underlined by the Irish Minister for Justice who called it a “game-changer” when the Dublin government joined.

Although senior law enforcement and security officials might be frustrated by this exclusion, they will not be surprised. What’s most important now is how the UK and EU counterparts can find workarounds.

There’s precedent and perhaps some evidence of pragmatism in the halfway houses outlined today.

For example, the UK will no longer be a member of Europol, but there will be “continued cooperation”.

The UK will no longer be part of the European Arrest Warrant system, but will continue to have access to the Prüm database, which connects DNA and fingerprint records with police forces across Europe and is said to have helped identify suspects in hundreds of investigations.

The UK was right to present itself as a security and policing power during the Brexit negotiations - its law enforcement and intelligence agencies are respected across the continent.

The UK's intelligence agencies are respected across the continent. Credit: PA

But there are limits to that posture - in crime fighting, the need to mount cross-border investigations into terrorism, money laundering and child exploitation has changed the way police forces work.

Issues like sovereignty don’t look the same in relation to policing as they do on fishing. There are many conversations still to be had, but there’s some relief today.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said it welcomed the agreement, but added that its members are “working with government to fully understand the detail of the security agreement…”. Look out for the detail.

This was a negotiation. The EU dangled its databases - the UK its own security strengths. They both agreed to 'close co-operation' today.

But the security relationship won't be the same, and a lot of the detail of how it will work is still unclear.