The issue of security has played a major role in the Brexit debate so far, but has gained even more momentum following the recent terror attacks in Brussels that left 31 dead. Those who are campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union suggest that the institution makes Britain safer, whilst the Out campaigners are arguing that Britain will enjoy greater security if on its own. So, who should we trust?
A former CIA director has said the European Union, “in some ways gets in the way” of security services, suggesting that only by leaving the EU can Britain have total control of its borders and eliminate potential threats from terrorists trying to enter the country. His claim was supported by the chairman of the Grassroots Out campaign, Richard Tice. Meanwhile, former security minister Pauline Neville-Jones, supports that Britain would be left more exposed to foreign terrorists if voters choose to leave the EU. “This really is nonsense,” she said, “‘free movement’ actually means the ability of EU citizens to work in Britain, not to enter Britain unchecked. In fact, the UK operates full border controls for all entrants into the UK irrespective of nationality or point of entry.” Neville-Jones goes even further with her argument, proposing that a Britain outside of the European Union would be less safe considering that the country’s intelligence services would be significantly weakened, and Britain would no longer be able to carry out border checks overseas.
David Cameron has condemned Nigel Farage and UKIP for using the recent attacks in Brussels as support for their argument that Britain would be better off outside the European Union. David Cameron has even warned that leaving Europe would be a, “threat to national security”. The claims made by UKIP are further discredited by a letter that was issued by Downing Street earlier this year; in February many senior military figures signed a letter that put forward the argument that the United Kingdom is safer in the European Union. Their argument was that outside of the European Union, Britain will still have to face problems such as, Middle East instability and the rise of the Islamic State. Therefore, being in the European Union would provide security and would enable Britain to face those challenges collectively rather than on its own.
Having given an overview of what major political figures and the Prime Minister have to say about Brexit and its consequent effects on the security of Britain, it is worth looking into some of the main arguments concerning security and the European Union in depth.
Perhaps the biggest and most controversial issue surrounding Britain and its security is in regards to borders. More precisely, campaigners are concerned about the European Union’s rules on freedom of movement and the effect they have on Britain and its borders. Many EU Member States are part of the border-free Schengen Area, where people can travel without internal border controls. This has enabled terrorists and their weaponry to move freely around the European Union and escape more easily. Importantly, however, Britain is not and has never been part of the Schengen Area. This, along with the fact that Britain is an island, makes Britain far more difficult to enter. Therefore, although admittedly there are less controls within the European Union for holders of EU passports, Britain remains one of the most safe member states in terms of who can enter the country. Additionally, in light of the attacks in Paris last year, the European Union has put forward an initiative that aims at improving the sharing of passenger name record data for flights.
Another problem that is central to the issue of Britain and whether it is safe within the European Union is that of intelligence and information sharing. One of the most important counter-terrorism measures is sharing information between different security services. However, so far there is no EU-wide intelligence-sharing agreement. Therefore, even if Britain were to leave the European Union, its intelligence relationships would not be altered since Britain is sharing intelligence outside of the European Union with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Furthermore, Britain benefits from the Schengen Information Service since British officials are informed immediately whenever suspects are crossing borders.
Ultimately, the decision of whether Britain should remain in the European Union is in the hands of the British voters. It is up to them to critically think about the security issues and decide whether Britain is safer in or out of the European Union when the referendum takes place on 23 June.