#FactsNotFear: The Big Security Debate – 8th June 2016

By Muna Adil

Quilliam held a specialist debate on the EU Referendum in the House of Commons, UK Parliament. The high-profile event was joined by Common Vision UK (CoVi), The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), and The UK in a Changing Europe.

The dialogue centred on the effects of Britain’s EU membership and how a Leave or Remain vote would impact terror threats, crime, and the capabilities of security networks and intelligence agencies in the UK.

The question of immigration and its implications on security has been one of the biggest, and perhaps most controversial, concerns voiced in the EU Referendum, with much misinformation being circulated in the election campaign.

With renowned representatives from each side, and neutral specialists to offer their expert opinion, this was set to be a much-needed, balanced, and engaging debate that would see past jaded one-liners to present the unembellished facts to the audience.

The distinguished panel, chaired by CoVi Director Caroline Macfarland, consisted of:

  • Julia Ebner, Policy Analyst, Quilliam
  • Maajid Nawaz, Founding Chairman, Quilliam
  • Professor Anand Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe Initiative
  • Dominic Grieve QC MP, Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee
  • Julian Brazier MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, MoD
  • Rt Hon Damian Green, former Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice
  • Marina Wheeler QC, Barrister, 1 Crown Office Row
  • Keir Starmer QC MP, former Head of the Crown Prosecution Service
  • Dominic Raab MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice
  • Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive, CIPFA

The debate was based around Quilliam’s new report titled “The EU and Terrorism: Is Britain Safer In or Out?” The report, compiled by Maajid Nawaz and Julia Ebner, includes over twenty interviews with security experts across six different countries in three different languages, resulting in the first rigorous, nuanced report on the impact of Brexit on terrorism and extremism-related threats.

Julia Ebner began the event with a short presentation on Quilliam’s report, in which she emphasised the legal, political, and public uncertainty in regards to leaving the EU, proposing that a vote to Leave would only exaggerate that uncertainty, especially where the current security climate is concerned. She concluded:

“Fear rather than facts have shaped the Brexit debate. Both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain campaigners have capitalised on recent terrorist attacks to serve their political agenda. It is important to cast light on the facts.”

– Julia Ebner,

Policy Analyst, Quilliam

MP Dominic Raab, who is a strong proponent of the Leave campaign, opened by claiming that the question of security was completely irrelevant to Britain’s EU membership, since the UK is a self-sufficient state that can handle its own security issues. MP Dominic Raab argued that the only security-related area in which an exit would affect the UK would be border controls, but that too would work in favour of Britain as it would allow more flexibility and freedom in terms of monitoring entry into the country.

Dominic Raab argued that exiting the EU was not equal to exiting organisations such as Europol, or backing out of continuing cooperation and goodwill with the European nations, which he remained in favour of.

“The UK loses nothing from leaving the EU, but stands to gain a lot from doing so.”

– Dominic Raab MP,

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice

Damian Green stressed the importance of the binary choice facing the British people on 23rd of June. The Rt Hon highlighted that serious and organised crime is now equally as global as terrorism, and that its effects should not be underestimated. Citing Norway’s example, the former Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice was of the opinion that cooperation with the EU would not continue as normal and there would be a serious intelligence deficit. According to Damian Green, an EU exit would result in exclusion from the Prüm Convention, which further enables cross-border cooperation especially in relation to combating terrorism and cross-border crime.

“Intelligence sharing within the EU is highly important for counter-terrorism and policing serious crimes. EU members have much larger access to Europol databases than non-member states. Leaving the EU would mean renegotiations with 27 member states, leaving a lacuna in the meantime.”

– Rt Hon Damian Green,

Former Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice

Senior barrister Marina Wheeler applauded Quilliam’s report, hailing it as a great resource on the EU debate. Marina Wheeler emphasised that the UK was “an intelligence super power” and that this was a critical fact to remember when discussing whether revoking our EU membership would affect our intelligence capabilities. She also warned against the danger of prioritising free movement over national security.

The Queen’s Counsel barrister also voiced her concerns regarding the European Courts of Justice invoking ‘fundamental rights’ to make rulings, and stated that the ECJ must be adjudicated by expert national courts. She mentioned that the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights has, in the past, invoked to strike down UK anti-terror measures.

“The free movement of people within the EU comes at the expense of security. The absolute free movement of people within the UK is not a viable option as it allows for crimes such as drug, weapon, and human trafficking.”

– Marina Wheeler QC,


Professor Anand Menon, who sat on the panel as a neutral expert, questioned the jaded accusations of fear-mongering from all sides, claiming that utilising fear as a tool to influence voters to vote one way or another has been one of the most effective campaigning tools in political history.

Anand Menon also emphasised that though both sides may speculate about the future of Britain, the fact of the matter is that there are no facts about the future, and we must make do what best we can with guesswork.

Further, Professor Menon tended to agree with Dominic Raab on the point that EU membership would not necessarily affect the UK’s security measures as they stand in their current state. He invoked the much-used analogy of divorce and claimed that this was not a valid parallel due to the fact of the political assets we command (i.e. we do not stand to lose assets by ‘divorcing’). He also rubbished claims of an ‘EU army’, stating that the UK would have a veto in the matter in any case.

Professor Menon concluded though the EU may appear to be incompetent, it cannot be held responsible for the EU crisis. If we’re going to be in the EU, we need to be engaged and involved.

“One of the problems about the EU debate is that there are no facts about what happens in the future. I am yet to see evidence that we are letting in people who are a direct threat to the UK, but on the other hand, I find it hard to believe that if we leave, other member states such as France would stop sharing intelligence.”

– Professor Anand Menon,

Director of The UK in a Changing Europe Initiative

Remain advocate, MP, and senior barrister Kier Starmer brought attention to the fact that shared intelligence and information is critical to tackle crime, especially as criminal activity above the street level goes across borders. He claimed that if the UK chooses to exit the EU, renegotiations on intelligence sharing would originate from within the UK, which would mean less British influence on the decisions made.

“The framework of how intelligence is shared between states is what is important. Beyond sharing intelligence, member states also coordinate in investigations, how we arrest individuals, and how we apply justice. Under previous arrangements it took 10 years to extradite those responsible for the 1995 Paris Metro attacks. European Arrest Warrants allow the UK to get dangerous criminals out of the UK.”

– Kier Starmer MP QC,

Former Head of the Crown Prosecution Service

MP Julian Brazier, a proponent of the Leave campaign, appealed to the importance of parliamentary sovereignty. He also pointed to the huge security risks of Russia and Islamic State being on the fringes of Europe.

MP Brazier noted the lackadaisical and whimsical deployment of EU member troops, and their failure in Bosnia and Kosovo, only to be saved by NATO and Russia respectively. The MP also highlighted the Ukraine crisis, indicating an unstable and indecisive EU.

“EU legislation affects our armed forces in many ways including buying military equipment and excessive paper work. Where was the EU when we needed to stop the Bosnian genocide? The EU attitude towards defence is to see it through another bureaucratic sphere.”

– Julian Brazier MP,

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Remain backer and Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, MP Dominic Grieve reminded the panel that the issue of immigration was only peripherally linked to that of national security. Rather, rising immigration over the last fifteen years had been met with declining crime.

MP Grieve opposed Marina Wheeler, Dominic Raab, and Anand Menon, when citing that EU membership has always been and continues to be extremely relevant to UK security. The sharing of intelligence with EU partners is crucial and if we leave, bilateral renegotiation would take time and would be risky because the EU framework provides safeguards, for example against ex-Soviet states.

The MP went on to say that open borders were not an issue for the UK due to its physical, islandic location and lack of Schengen arrangements. He also noted that free movement was not something the UK took lightly, and that just last year, up to 3000 EU nationals were deported from British soil, as streamlined extradition is better facilitated through the EU.

“Continued EU intelligence cooperation only adds to our Five Eyes arrangement, but the idea that we only need Five Eyes is wrong. If we leave the EU, we will limit our influence on issues relating to European security. We have our own border controls, Schengen is not an issue, as it is not a free-for-all with people coming into the UK.”

– Dominic Grieve QC MP,

Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee

Chief Executive of CIPFA and neutral analyst, Rob Whiteman, was of the opinion that the public did not think EU membership made much difference, except on law and order and security. Additionally, up to 90% of public service leaders thought that we continue to benefit from the EU in terms of security. Rob Whiteman also noted the importance of the Five Eyes, but also mentioned that they probably see the UK’s link to the EU as very important. He said that the decision to leave the EU is incredulous to our partners and that it could have an effect on the UK’s global standing.

 “Surveys suggest that the public think the UK benefit from EU membership regarding law and order. European Arrests Warrants are much cited as being a positive benefit from the UK’s membership to the EU. Helping build the EU’s intelligence sharing capabilities is a long-term benefit of being a member of the EU.”

– Rob Whiteman,

Chief Executive, CIPFA

Maajid Nawaz concluded the enlightening discussion by collating the points on which the entire panel was in agreement. Namely, thought there are no facts about the future, the EU Referendum is indeed a crucial and difficult decision to be taken with the utmost understanding and responsibility, but one that must be taken in any circumstances as Britain can no longer afford to hang in limbo. It was noted that though there was a good amount of fear-mongering, this was an effective and widely-used tactic in political campaigning.

Second, Maajid Nawaz noted the irony of the situation by pointing to the fact that the campaign had transformed those who tend to be more conservative in their politics into radicals, whereas those who otherwise tended to be the radicals were now leaning towards a more conservative decision in the referendum.

Thirdly, it was mentioned that, in general, the public did not believe that EU membership would make a significant difference to the UK overall, except where matters of crime and security were concerned, and that up to 90% of public service leaders are in agreement that UK security would be better off if it remained in the EU.

In regards to law and order, it was agreed that NATO was the principle pillar for immediate response to conflict, and that this was more pertinent than ever as serious and organised crime goes as global as terrorism.

It was undisputed that the UK was indeed an intelligence super power, but also that Five Eyes was a critical component of UK security.

Finally, it was agreed by all present that Quilliam’s report was a much-needed resource that covered all of the above issues for anyone who wished to consult a research and fact-based guide in order to come to their own conclusions about the all-important vote on June 23rd.