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Our National Security Cannot Be Used As A Brexit Bargaining Chip

29/03/2017 18:05
Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

Today, the Prime Minister triggered Article 50. As she did so, with no warning she launched a veiled threat to Europe over security cooperation. Two hours later the Home Secretary made it worse - threatening to withhold security information from Europe if we don't get the deal we need.

This is irresponsible and dangerous and it is a terrible way to start the negotiations. Whatever the deal ends up being on trade or immigration, everyone agrees that security cooperation must continue. It must not be a bargaining chip or held hostage in wider talks. The Prime Minister should urgently make clear that she will not play games over security cooperation and will rule out walking away without a security deal.

Until now, I had assumed - or at least hoped - that security would be sorted separately. That the difficult negotiations would be surrounding the inevitable trade-offs and disputes over trade, immigration and money, but that security cooperation would not be dragged into the bargaining.

After all there is near universal agreement across the UK and the EU that involvement in Europol, and information sharing must continue. Whether people voted leave or remain, we are united as a county in wanting Britain and Europe to work together against common terror and criminal threats. And right across Europe there is strong support for continuing to work with us because counter terrorism and international crime is too serious for them to want to play games with either.

As Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol told us in the Home Affairs Select Committee only the other week:

"In the security landscape of Europe, where we have a heightened threat of terrorism, people smuggling and cybercrime. There is a sense that this is not a zero-sum game... we do not see this as a negotiation by which the spoils are divided between two parties. This is very much about the collective security interests of Europe... security and securing Britain's best interests on police co-operation, for example, and fighting terrorism is, should and will be a top priority in the negotiations."

Indeed the Prime Minister herself recognises the risks to us. She says in her Article 50 letter: "In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened".

Yet she won't rule out walking away without a security deal and still stands by her view set out in the Lancaster House speech that no deal is better than a bad deal.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: "We are one of the largest contributors tor Europol... So if we left then we would take our information with us."

Why on earth would we threaten this? Why would we pick an unnecessary fight at the start of the negotiations on an issue where public safety is at stake and where there should be strong agreement? It beggars belief - and will come back to haunt us if Ministers don't clarify their position soon.

My message to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary is this: don't play games on national security. It's far too serious for that. Keep the security cooperation debate and deal separate. Make clear you won't ever use life saving security information as a bargaining chip, you won't ever withhold security cooperation for the sake of a trade deal and you won't ever undermine our national security in the way the Government suggested on Wednesday.

And be clear on this; getting no deal on security would be disastrous for all of us, and the Prime Minister should not even threaten to walk away from the table without a security deal.

Yvette Cooper is the Labour MP for Normanton, Castleford and Pontefrant, and chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee

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