It's been just over a week since a terrorist bomb went off just minutes from my apartment in Brussels, a city I visit regularly in the course of my work as British member of the European Parliament. Of course, it's always with hindsight that we second guess the work of the security forces after the event and bring to any assessment of terrorist attacks weaknesses in systems that seem more glaringly obvious now, even if you did notice them beforehand. With that said, I remember just a few short months ago in a Strasbourg meeting of Ukip MEPs, several of my colleagues (some with military experience) noting security shortfalls and poor procedures at Brussels airport.
Since the terror attacks in Paris in November last year, Brussels was already a city on high alert; with extra armed guards around high-risk buildings and new security procedures put in place. Yet these weren't enough to prevent this most recent tragedy - with lives being brutally snuffed out on the same streets and passageways I have walked a many times.
While we can never hope to eradicate such violence altogether, the UK can and must do more to prevent future attacks. We must co-operate with our neighbours and share intelligence since this is arguably the biggest failing of last week on the part of the Belgium authorities. Troops on the streets cannot make up for inadequate intelligence on ISIS operations in your own country.
In the week following the attacks a debate is underway on just how best the UK can co-operate with our EU partners on security matters and whether Brexit - British exit from European Union - helps or hinders such intelligence sharing? It is my firm belief that in order to reduce the security risks to British citizens we must leave the European Union and work with the EU as an independent nation, one with certainly the best intelligent service on the continent and arguably the world. This is not just my view. Since the Brussel's attacks many senior people in the world of intelligence have had their say.
Writing in Prospect magazine, Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6 recently stated:
"...the truth about Brexit from a national security perspective is that the cost to Britain would be low. Brexit would bring two potentially important security gains: the ability to dump the European Convention on Human Rights--remember the difficulty of extraditing the extremist Abu Hamza of the Finsbury Park Mosque--and, more importantly, greater control over immigration from the European Union."
Sir Richard also explained how intelligence co-operation with the USA is far more important than our intelligence sharing with EU partners:
"Would Brexit damage our defence and intelligence relationship with the United States, which outweighs anything European by many factors of 10? I conclude confidently that no, it would not."
With a career in intelligence stretching from 1966-2004 this is certainly someone whose advice we should consider. Soon after the media picked up on Sir Richard's comments, the former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and also former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) General Michael Hayden made comments to the BBC and Sky News which concurred with Sir Richard's.
"I don't know if the European Union contributes a great deal to ... espionage. I can understand why Sir Richard is saying what he's saying" he told Sky's Adam Boulton.
It's not just former intelligence chiefs who are critical of the EU's role in keeping us safe.
The former secretary general of Interpol, Ronald K. Noble wrote an article for the New York Times last year, in which he wrote that:
"Europe's open-border arrangement, which enables travel through 26 countries without passport checks or border controls, is effectively an international passport-free zone for terrorists to execute attacks on the Continent and make their escape."
He went on to warn that:
"The so-called Islamic State could attack again today, tomorrow or next week. Until passports are screened systematically at every single entry point, the 26 Schengen countries must suspend their open border arrangement and close this passport-free travel zone throughout Europe."
In recent days, the government minister Andrea Leadsom MP has echoed these sentiments, saying that:
"Getting rid of internal borders without properly policing external borders has proven to be a huge risk. Having a European passport - as it appears a number of terrorists do have - is actually making things even more difficult. Would we lose anything from Brexit in terms of intelligence sharing? No. Would we gain anything in terms of national security? I am afraid I think the answer has to be Yes."
It is undeniably true however, that crime is international, and we do need to co-operate with our continental neighbours. So if the British public were to vote to leave the European Union, cross-border crime and security co-operation would continue.
As Sir Richard stated in his article, British intelligence supplies a great deal of information to its continental counterparts and it is in their interest for this arrangement to continue.
Post-Brexit we will still be members of the world's largest international police organization (Interpol).
We can work together to prevent cross-border crime and terrorism via the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
We can work with our French neighbours via inter-governmental border agreements like the Le Touquet treaty and the Sangatte protocol (which govern UK borders at French ports). We can even sign a cooperation agreement with the EU's own law enforcement agency Europol; just like non-EU countries like Australia, Norway and Switzerland have.
In the run up to the June referendum on the European Union, both sides will roll out experts in various fields to speak on their behalf. You will have to listen to both sides and make up your own mind about how to vote on 23 June, taking into account various factors such as sovereignty, trade, the environment and the costs of membership.
Today, no city in the world is safe from terrorist acts. The criminals only need to get past our security measures once to score their propaganda victory. But it is absolutely clear now that in the area of intelligence sharing and security, Brexit is unlikely to have any negative results and is far more likely to have many positive ones. Brexit offers us the best of both worlds in the field of national security - ongoing close cooperation with our European partners but with restored independence to make our own decisions, control our own borders and deport radicals who our pose a serious risk to our nation's security.
Steven Woolfe is the Ukip MEP for the North West
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