The UK could become a “safe refuge from foreign criminals” after Brexit, according to a former Metropolitan Police Special Branch officer.
Chris Hobbs told Julia Hartley-Brewer that, if the UK was to lose access to the Schengen Information System law enforcement database, it could mean criminals slip through the net at the border.
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Mr Hobbs was speaking to Hartley-Brewer about National Crime Agency director-general Lynne Owens’ comments that she was “deeply concerned about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit” and the effect it could have on policing.
“I think if you left it to law enforcement on both sides of the channel [to say] whether cooperation would continue at its present level, law enforcement would say yes, but ultimately the decision will be taken by politicians,” said Mr Hobbs.
He added that Ms Owens was “not a member of Project Fear”.
'Already a problem with Albanian crime networks'
“We’ve seen with the spate of terror attacks, an awful lot of cooperation and intelligence coming from the UK - it would be insane for this information to be cut off,” said Hartley-Brewer.
“You don’t need to be in a political union to share information.”
“When you say vital information, if you’re talking about, for example, GCHQ got wind of a terror attack in France, no matter what happens post-Brexit, that information will be passed,” Mr Hobbs replied.
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“But if, for example, we lose access to Schengen [database], that will be pretty catastrophic. It’s not just the police access - we get access to that on our borders.
“Every time somebody comes through, they’re bounced off the Schengen database in addition to many others.
“If we lost access to that, we could almost become a safe refuge from foreign criminals escaping justice in their own country.
“We already have a major problem with Albanian crime networks, and that’s with borders as they are.”
'Ideal opportunity for criminals'
Border agents and a dog at Gatwick Airport. Image: Getty
He added that even border agents who are “very pro-Brexit” are concerned about “the arrangements that are going to be in place post-Brexit”.
“... especially if it’s a hard Brexit, they’re talking about complete and utter chaos,” he said.
“In that chaos, it’s an ideal opportunity for criminals to slip in and out, it’s an ideal opportunity for people to bring in stuff like drugs.”
The National Audit Office released a report on Wednesday (October 24) warning that only one of the “critical systems” needed to manage the border after Brexit would be ready in time, and that processes to “track and physically examine goods cannot be built before March 2019”.
The number of customs declarations after Brexit would rise from 55 million to 260 million, it said, and the extra 581 staff being recruited were not all likely to be ready by the end of March 2019 due to training.