Brexit a ‘distraction’ to policing in Northern Ireland, says chief constable

Brexit is an expanding “distraction” to policing in Northern Ireland, the chief constable has warned.

George Hamilton said his diary had been turned around this week by five hours of meetings on the challenges posed by the EU divorce in areas including counter-terrorism.

As a result he had to cut short talks with his Irish counterpart, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, dealing with exit issues among others.

A special team has been established to plan for a hard Irish border as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) addresses the complexities of policing the 310-mile frontier without certainty about the future.

Mr Hamilton said: “Managing ambiguity and uncertainty is a key requirement for people in senior leadership.

“Our planning around it is good, we are in the best place that we can be, and I think our work with partners, other law enforcement agencies, other countries is in a really good place.”

He said there tended to be more specialists and fewer generalists and Brexit planning required quite a bit of energy across the organisation.

“It is an opportunity cost, it is perhaps a distraction, but actually it is just the reality, it is where we are.

“There has been a referendum, there has been a result, the politicians are charged with working out how they are going to do EU exit and we need to stand ready against a number of scenarios and working assumptions to ensure that policing can continue to function.”

They are planning for no deal and a deal.

“Whatever happens, deal or no deal, there will be implications and consequences for policing.

“We don’t want to get too focused on any one scenario, the trick for us will be to remain agile and dynamic and try to pre-empt as much of the challenge as possible and get a workaround if possible.

“We would be irresponsible not to plan along sensible assumptions.”

The challenges created by Brexit reach into criminal justice reform and service delivery, he said.

Mr Hamilton told the Policing Board scrutiny body in Belfast: “We need to be responsible around making sure that we are equipped to handle the consequences and implications of that.”

Extra money from the Treasury has already financed a project team of three or four posts and a more hefty financial boost was announced recently.

The main issues identified in a paper drawn up by the PSNI last year on Brexit include how tighter immigration controls can be created while maintaining the common travel area, ensuring criminals and terrorists do not exploit the border, and avoiding a hard border.

All sides aim to avoid physical infrastructure at the border but Brexit could mean increased compliance checking and enforcement activity.