Brexit could become a new opportunity for terrorists

Brexit could become a new opportunity for terrorists
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Terrorism has become a major international security issue. While the Treaty of the European Union clearly states that national security is a national issue, it has also realized the benefits of increased collaboration against a common enemy. In the past five years, the European Parliament has increased their security budget, expanded Europol’s access to information, established the PNR, and tackled money laundering head-on to prevent the financing of terrorism. There are a multitude of databases and tools that Europol has created for the betterment of the entire Union’s security.

In leaving the EU, the UK also leaves an invaluable security network it helped to build.

First and foremost is the Europol Information System. The EIS allows instant and unfettered access to intelligence on “serious international crimes, suspected and convicted persons, criminal structures, and offenses and the means used to commit them” all throughout the EU. For example, if the Croatian government wants to access French cell phone records of a suspicious individual, they can do so without a lengthy bureaucratic process that only allows perpetrators to duck consequences for longer. In the case of money laundering and terrorist financing, it allows the trail of cash to be followed from country to country. If a suspicious individual is noted making an unusual bank transfer in one member state, the EIS makes that information available to all.


The EU takes money laundering very seriously and addresses it with its Anti-Money Laundering Directives (AMLD). There have been six to date, and two in the past three years with another coming into effect in 2020. The AMLD requires member states to have a central register of transactions, including tying cryptocurrency movements to their source. They also set minimum sentences and standards for investigation.

A similar tool to the EIS is the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS). ECRIS logs DNA evidence, fingerprints, and records of convicts across the EU and third country citizens residing in the EU. This essentially restricts the movement of criminals before they are caught and prevents the practice of hiding in another country. This information is also used in conjunction with Passenger Name Records (PNRs) in order to identify and track the movement of individuals flying both domestically and internationally. This combined with the Schengen Information System immigration database means multiple layers of protection against potentially dangerous travellers. And when they do get through, the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) makes sure they are brought to swift justice.

According to a UK government report on EU security efforts, “When a request is issued for an individual wanted to face prosecution for a crime, the receiving Member State’s courts recognize this automatically and start simplified domestic proceedings, avoiding the need for the request to pass through government ministries.”

The common theme between all these measures is convenience, cooperation, and speed.

These measures have led to public perception of adequacy in fighting terrorism increasing by 9 percent from 2016 to 2018, showing forward momentum. This perception change is in response to thousands of arrests and over 45,000 extremist messages removed from the internet. Current terrorist arrest rates are nearly double those of 2014.


New threat of Brexit

Along with France and President Macron’s task force that runs right next door to his presidential office, the United Kingdom has been one of the leaders in the charge against terror. They are a permanent member of the UNSC, and their intelligence has contributed greatly to the common data sets of Europol. Robert Wainwright, a British diplomat, was the leader of Europol from 2009 to 2018, overseeing it officially become an agency of the EU in 2010. This level of British leadership is no surprise, as the MI5 has designated their terrorism threat as severe.

Criminals love instability, and nothing brings about instability like times of radical change. The United Kingdom’s controversial vote to exit the European Union has brought with it a mounting threat of increased money laundering, especially to fund terrorist organizations. This is not only due to the economic instability that comes with the shift, but also due to their unclear status as a part of Europe’s international networks of policing and intelligence. 

The EU is about to implement its 5th Money Laundering Directive to combat shell corporations, misuse of virtual currencies, and create a public register of corporations and their beneficiaries. This will improve the already high-level attack against the funding of terrorism and flow of illicit funds that we have seen under the supervision of FATF. 

It is unlikely that the UK could follow suit as effectively without the intelligence of Europol. The issue of laundering, even currently, costs the country 24 billion sterling pounds per year. According to a UK proposal to maintain a close partnership with Europol, the nation “contributed over 6,000 pieces of information to the Europol serious and organized crime analysis projects” – “more than any other member state.” It is clearly a symbiotic relationship that both parties will be worse-off for losing. In order to curtail that instability and maintain ties with Europol, a divorce deal is necessary.

Scenarios moving forward: Deal vs. no deal

It is unclear if citizens and voters in the midst of a burning summer understand the severity of the situation and exactly how much is at stake. All of the aforementioned security tools will be lost without a proper exit strategy. Here is the reality of the situation from a European, not transatlantic, point of view.

Theresa MayTheresa Mary MayWill Ocasio-Cortez challenge Biden or Harris in 2024? The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Money talks: Why China is beating America in Asia MORE’s deal included paying 39 billion euros to the EU to settle their debts and a much-needed transitional period until at least the end of 2020. This transitional period would allow for the relationship between the UK and EU to be hammered out after the secession, while leaving the UK under EU law without the ability to vote on EU resolutions, something Brexiters are not keen on. However, an agreement is crucial due to a myriad of issues ranging from the status of UK nationals working elsewhere in the EU to the relocation of financial institutions. Not to mention Brexit was motivated mainly by economics, hoping it will stimulate the domestic sector, but without a security deal the UK may have some difficulties securing investments. Essentially, all of these concerns can be answered if a deal is met. The EU would essentially taper off the relationship instead of chopping it on October 31.

Under hardliner Boris Johnson, the threat of a no-deal Brexit is higher than ever. Even though Theresa May leveraged the no-deal scenario against the EU to the best of her abilities, Johnson’s far-right, cavalier attitude has the future of the United Kingdom truly up in the air. May’s July 24th resignation was in the wake of three failed attempts to get British MPs on board with her exit plan. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the EU’s insistence on an Irish border backstop, which would keep the entirety of the United Kingdom under European customs regulations, including packages sent from the UK to Northern Ireland. This obviously goes against the fundamental goal of Brexiters, which is trade and commerce unregulated by the European Union. The EU has refused to reopen negotiations without a backstop or a technical backstop solution. Johnson has promised that, regardless of a deal, the UK will complete its exit on October 31.

With only three months to decide on the fate of European security, there are several scenarios on the table. In a report entitled “The EU-UK relationship beyond Brexit: options for Police Cooperation and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters,” Europarl outlines what the next courses of actions could be. Both parties are clear on wanting some sort of relationship, yet the extent is not agreed on. Theresa May wanted a “deep and special partnership.” However, the report states that “It is very likely that this enhanced cooperation would not be as comprehensive as the agreement between Denmark and Europol, given (i) Denmark is a member of the EU, and (ii) it would necessitate a robust agreement on the protection of personal data.” Even then, Denmark is only given “semi-direct access” to the EIS. An unprecedented special Operational Arrangement is the best case scenario. A Strategic Arrangement, similar to the ones with Bosnia or Albania, only offers general intelligence access. As for the EAW, the report outlines several possibilities, all of which require extra, cumbersome bureaucratic processes to access records and procure warrants. Then, finally, a no-deal scenario would leave the UK reliant on Interpol and its own records to solve crimes.

The no-deal scenario essentially makes the UK no different to the EU than, say, Mongolia as far as criminal justice cooperation. 

The lack of cooperation compounded with the issue of bank headquarters and their anti-laundering experts fleeing the United Kingdom leaves the country entirely to its own devices on that front. In addition, it will be far more difficult to track the movement of criminal individuals or groups as they move through Europe into the UK.

This problem requires first and foremost for an exit deal to be made to open the door for negotiations, then for those negotiations to carefully weigh politics and ethics in protecting European security.

Brexit should not become a new opportunity for terrorists who are already taking advantage of European solidarity and security breaches. The UK may become somewhat of a breeding ground for European terror.

Let’s hope a deal is struck for the sake of our world’s security.

Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing Orne, Normandy, since 2007; she led a commission investigating jihadist networks in Europe and wrote a report for NATO on the financing of terrorism. Follow her on Twitter @senateur61.