Haras Rafiq is the Managing Director of Quiliam.
As a result of recent mass-casualties in Brussels and Paris, the imminent threat of terrorist attacks in Europe and the ability of extremists to circumvent European security services have cast severe doubts over the quality of European intelligence sharing and ability to effectively prevent deadly attacks. In lieu of the upcoming EU referendum, the issue has emerged as a key-argument for both Leave and Remain campaigners. Nonetheless, this incapacity, combined with the increasing push for increased intelligence sharing across the Union and the development of European intelligence agencies, means that only by leaving the EU can the UK prevent being pressured into cooperation with weaker partners under ineffective multilateral structures, and guarantee the integrity, security, and well-functioning of our own security services.
Although I agree with my friend and colleague Maajid Nawaz, the Founding Chairman of Quilliam, who argued in his recent piece in the Jewish News that membership to the EU can offer the UK security, owing to current intelligence sharing arrangements. I disagree with him and believe that leaving the EU wouldn’t undermine cooperation between the UK and EU member states. By leaving the EU, the UK will be able to create bilateral and multilateral intelligence sharing agreements with EU member states that will maintain, if not strengthen, intelligence sharing.
Is Britain safer within or out of the EU in terms of intelligence? Beyond Germany and France, no other EU member state has intelligence services that are even comparable to Britain’s. Amongst several other failures, the fact that the Abdeslam brothers, both involved in the November attacks in Paris, had earlier that year been subjected to questioning by Belgian police yet neither Dutch nor French authorities were informed, confirms the inability to effectively share intelligence between EU member states. A Remain vote on June 23 may force the UK to participate in European projects, which actually impedes the efficiency of the largely superior UK security services.
While remaining in the EU might enhance British influence in the establishment of European intelligence frameworks like the Prüm convention or the European Intelligence Agency, this is not in the UK’s interests. As our independent research shows, experts and politicians in the security realm largely perceive the Five Eyes (consisting of the United States, Britain, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia) as the main body for intelligence sharing, particularly as enhanced European security cooperation will put the security and availability of intelligence sources at risk. Increased intelligence cooperation with European member states with inferior intelligence agencies would simply jeopardize the security of our information.
The decisiveness and urgency which is required to counter the drastically growing terrorist threat arguably discourages incentives to further EU intelligence sharing for the UK. Terrorists thrive with jurisdiction gaps the democratic political inefficiency. Engaging in intensive yet ineffective discussions with 27 other member states on sensitive intelligence-sharing will only leave such gaps open for exploitation.
As former police and intelligence officer Henry Bolton has said, cases reveal that some EU member states’ security apparatuses were connected to crime and terrorism. Intelligence cooperation with Europe must therefore emphasize bilateralism and trust. We need to avoid deeper multilateral intelligence integration, which substantially restricts the sovereignty and freedom of British intelligence to operate. Cooperation with weaker services is not precluded, however. Bilateralism allows for us to better control the sharing of intelligence with trusted partners, while simultaneously protecting our information.
The recently revealed internal divisions between MI5 and MI6 over the exposure of the alleged rendition of Abdul Hakim Belhaj during the Blair era by MI6 could further mirror the divisions that we will experience in the European Union, should Britain remain a member. Covert renditions by MI6 are said to have prompted a “prolonged breakdown of trust between Britain’s domestic and foreign spy agencies”. The former Director General of MI5, Eliza Maningham-Buller’s critique of the Blair administration stressed that such actions jeopardize the safety and security of intelligence informants and officers. Now, imagine how this would play out on a multilateral European level with 28 largely different and uneven intelligence services acting under one umbrella. Should one agency act in a manner that is perceived as inappropriate by some member states, the entire EU umbrella is going to be impacted.
Essentially this is not a matter of Britain distancing itself from EU member states, it is a matter of distancing ourselves from an ineffective EU negotiation table, and turn towards better bilateral cooperation with European partners. The consistent enlargement of the EU has resulted in a negotiation table with more than 25 partners that have to reach consensus on sensitive issues, which makes sensitive discussions increasingly long-drawn and inconclusive. It is time we changed this and vote to leave the EU and reassert democratic strength and effective intelligence bilaterally cooperation.