UK ‘not missing out on crime intelligence’ since Brexit

The UK is not missing out on intelligence about wanted criminals after losing access to a European crime database under Brexit, government officials have insisted.

The Home Office remains confident that frontline officers will continue to be able to arrest those fleeing from justice using alternative arrangements set up at the end of the transition period, reporters were told.

The UK lost access to the European Union’s Schengen Information System II (SIS II) database of alerts about people and stolen items like guns and cars, which it has been using since 2015.

As a result some 40,000 alerts on dangerous criminals and wanted suspects had to be deleted by at the end of the December when the country left the European Union.

British negotiators had sought to maintain access to the system as part of a deal, following concerns raised by police chiefs, but the EU said it was legally impossible to offer access to any country not in the Schengen area, including the UK.

Instead police and other law enforcement bodies are relying on receiving the same information through Interpol red notices.

Home Secretary Priti Patel previously hailed the “comprehensive” security agreement, saying it would make the country safer, with staff in her department asserting the contract in place goes much further than the initial limited offer on the table from the EU.

When the Brexit deal was announced, Brussels said the UK would no longer have “direct, real-time access” to sensitive information.

This came after National Crime Agency boss Steve Rodhouse expressed concerns about the loss of access to SIS II, telling MPs officers would instead be “reliant” on EU member states sharing information through Interpol, and warning there would be a “gap” if they did not.

Previously the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for Brexit, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Martin told peers there were “over four million alerts on the Schengen Information System about people, property and things that my officers need to look at” and it was checked 603 million times last year.

However, the government has since stressed that less than 0.5% of SIS II records relate to persons of interest to law enforcement, with most of them being immigration documents which the UK never had access to before Brexit.

Through Interpol police can access around 90 million documents.

But, unlike SIS II, the system is not automated so entries must be uploaded once officers need to decide whether the information warrants being circulated.

Despite this, officials are content that UK law enforcement bodies will still get access to the data they need, with the number of red notices coming through Interpol said to be broadly the same as that previously received through SIS II – or around 90%.

According to the Government, the security agreement also means the UK will have access to:

– Fast and effective exchange of criminal records, DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data and as well as continued sharing of Passenger Name Record data and access to other crime databases.

– Advance data from July on all goods coming from the EU into Great Britain, something which has not previously been possible under EU rules.

– Streamlined extradition arrangements and agreements on providing legal assistance.

– More control at the border when, from October, only passports will be accepted as a form of identity or approved biometric cards for those with permission to live and work in the UK.

EEA and Swiss national identity cards will be refused – with officials warning these are insecure methods of identity and open to abuse by criminals.