Theresa May is refusing to take security cooperation with the EU off the table in the Brexit negotiations, despite the recent terrorist attacks to hit the UK.
The Prime Minister today stood by her words in the Article 50 letter to the EU in March, which stated that if no trade deal was reached after Brexit “the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”
When the letter was delivered, the EU reacted with anger to the perceived threat, and Downing Street was forced to reassure Brussels that any suggestion May was linking a trade deal with security was a “misunderstanding.”
At a campaign rally in Stoke this afternoon, May suggested security cooperation would be part of the negotiations.
After repeating her mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, May said: “What we do need to ensure is that we do continue that cooperation with our European partners in a whole variety of areas in dealing with serious and organised crime, cooperating in relation to matters relating to terrorists.
“That will be an important part of negotiations, I understand the importance of that.
“I’ve already negotiated with them in those areas and came back with exactly the result the United Kingdom wanted.”
According to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, the UK is the largest contributor to Europol – the EU agency that helps coordinate cross-country working on tackling organised crime.
Earlier this year the agency established a European Counter Terrorism Centre in recognition of the growing threat posed by ISIS/Daesh.
If the UK was to leave the EU without an agreement to continue playing a role in Europol, it could remove its crime database from the agency, and would no longer be able to access information supplied by other countries.
It was today revealed one of the London Bridge attackers was Youssef Zaghba, a Morrocan-Italian who was stopped from travelling to Syria 15 months ago by Italian authorities.
Information on Zaghba was shared with MI5 in April 2016, but he was not deemed to be a “subject of interest”.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee before the election, accused the Prime Minister of risking the UK’s security with her stance.
She told HuffPost UK: “Security cooperation should be kept separate from the rest of the negotiations.
“It should be a no brainer for both Britain and Europe to continue with full policing and intelligence cooperation and Europol membership.
“So the idea that the Prime Minister wants to mix it up with trade and free movement negotiations is completely wrong.
“Her threat to withdraw from security cooperation as a bargaining tool helps no one and risks undermining our security too.
“Security and intelligence sharing are vitally important and should be completely separate to the rest of the negotiations.
“Theresa May should make that clear immediately. After the events of recent weeks, this is too important to our national security to mess up.”
May today said the security services needed to discover what lessons could be learned from the attacks, but refused to guarantee any extra powers for British authorities to close down mosques or ban hate preachers.
She said: “We need to ensure that MI5 and the police are able to get on with that investigation as they need to do now.
“Then we will look at how the processes were followed, what they did. They will want to be looking at that because they will want to learn lessons for the future, if there are those lessons to be learned.”
She added: “The police and Security Service have done a good job in foiling a number of plots – just five in the last three months, and a significant number in the last few years as well.”
When pressed on if she would introduce an Extremism Bill, May replied: “I published, as you know, as home secretary a counter extremism strategy. We’ve already taken forward a number of the elements in that.
“As I said when I gave my statement earlier this week, I think it is very important that we do call out extremism in this country. I’ve been saying this, but generally I think we’ve been overall too tolerant of extremism.
“I want communities to have to the confidence of being able to come forward, to speak about extremism in their midst, but also know how to deal with it.
“That why we’re going to set up a commission on countering terrorism for the first time, it’s the first time any country has done this, to work with the public sector, to work with the private sector, with community groups, to ensure that they are able not just to identify extremism but able to deal with that, to come forward so we strengthen our bonds as a society, and we deal with these extremists and we call it out properly.”
The Prime Minister dodged a question on whether President Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK should be canned in light of his criticisms of London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
She said: “The special relationship we have with the United States of America is the deepest and strongest defence and security relationship for our country.
“I think Donald Trump was wrong in the things that he has said about Sadiq Khan.
“In the aftermath of the London Bridge attack, we have been working with Sadiq Khan.
“Party politics is put to one side, we work together.”