Sunday, 27 March 2016

Will Brexit make us safer?

I don't know about you but I feel the forces of change are gathering. I think the despotic regimes of the middle east are dying. I think we are about to see change that will shock the world and disturb our parochial little debates about Europe. Just look at the scale of protests in Yemen.

Come to think of it, both sides of this whole Brexit debate couldn't be more inward-looking if they tried. The defence pages I read are less concerned with Russia than what happens in Yemen and between China and India. We Europeans are seriously overestimating our importance to the world. A hubris embodied by the EU. We are taking our eyes off the ball.

Between a global slowdown in trade, an oil crisis and a Chinese economy in trouble, I think we are going to see major shifts in the global order that we have known in our lifetimes. As to what that looks like, my guess is as good as yours. The only safe bet is that trouble is coming our way.

We are going to see more terrorism in Europe. We are going to see more refugees and we are going to see more political unease on the continent. Never in my life have I seen Europe so ill at ease with itself.

When it comes to the crunch, when the EU fails to take swift and meaningful action we will see a return to unilateralism and national self-interest. It's already happening. I don't see the EU moving to stop it all disintegrating and will gloss over it as usual. Little by little we will see the institutional paralysis exposed and we will see the hypocrisy of the EU as it tramples on its own values for short term fixes.

What we can say is that the EU will do too little, too late. If ever we needed the EU to be proactive, agile and useful it is now. In that we should not hold our breath. What we can expect is a dysfunctional Europol doing what it can as best it can, but still failing under the weight of the task - which to some extent is forgiveable. Everybody wants effective security, few are willing to pay for it. Similarly nobody wants a concentration of stranded refugees, but nobody is willing to house them.

This is going to present more of a problem for mainland Europe than it does Britain. Ultimately we have the English Channel as a defence. But that does not mean it is in our interests to disengage from European affairs. If we leave the EU there is zero reason to believe we will discontinue our security cooperation and participation in Europol, nor will we see and end to our aid contribution.

Some may prefer that we would but no UK government for the foreseeable future will be in any rush to terminate our existing arrangements any more than the EU would wish to lose access to everything we have to offer - which is substantial where security and intelligence is concerned.

Suffice to say I can see no reason why Brexit makes any real difference to European security. Those who say otherwise will have to state why it is they think ending such cooperation is on the cards. It won't be at the behest of the UK government.

If they are saying that the EU will use such cooperation to leverage a Brexit deal then this really is an arrangement we want no part of. Norway has cooperation agreements with Europol that amount to near full participation and there is no credible reason to believe we would not secure similar. So as much as I am saying Brexit does not make us less safe, I don't think it makes us any safer either. Procedurally we will see little difference either way.

In any case, the challenges of domestic terrorism are distinct and thus our solutions must be home grown. Such security policy is always best integrated with wider social policy and must never be the province of a supranational entity like the EU. Brexit at least ensures it stays that way.

I can't imagine anything worse than a system devised by Brussels to tackle the acute economic and social problems of West Yorkshire with a view to tackling terrorism wholly unrelated to that suffered by Paris. Prevention starts at the community level.

The question is not whether Brexit will make us safer but whether the EU and its various security instruments is going to keep us safe and whether it can keep the peace in the future when faced with entirely new challenges. I very much doubt it.

Without timely and effective responses to unfolding events, if nation states do not act according to their own immediate needs then on past form nothing at all will be done. When the problems come thick and fast we will see just how empty the rhetoric of European unity really is. It has not done enough to help Greece with the influx of refugees and has done precisely nothing for Ukraine.

In the longer term the EU would like nothing more than to have its own CIA with sweeping powers as the answer to its problems. The answer is always "more Europe". Thankfully, I doubt even our bovine MEPs would let that one past. Such a thing would amount to the death of meaningful civil liberties. But what we won't see is any meaningful reform either. In place of reformed EU security institutions we will simply muddle on with what we have.

In the end I think the change coming is change that will sweep old institutions off the board. The inherent weaknesses of having centralised institutions acting as a hub will demonstrate the need for more multi-lateral peer to peer cooperation acting outside the neat frameworks of treaty organisations. Procedure will give way to pragmatism and urgency.

My own view is that it is better to be ahead of the curve than to be a passenger of events. Security is not something we can or should share responsibility for. Only British security services will put Britain first. We should delegate to nobody in that regard. RAF Waddington does more to keep us safe than a legion of europlod.

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