Police chiefs have expressed confidence in the UK’s security agreement under Brexit, despite losing access to a European criminal database.
Senior figures at the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) told peers a “good deal” was in place after the end of the transition period, which largely mirrored existing arrangements, and at this stage they do not think it has left “gaps” in their ability to fight crime.
Earlier this month Government officials insisted the UK was not missing out on intelligence about wanted criminals after losing access to the European Union’s Schengen Information System II (SIS II) database of alerts about people and stolen items such as 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 at the end of December when the country left the EU.
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 – which, unlike SIS II, is not automated so entries must be uploaded manually once officers decide whether the information warrants being circulated.
Speaking to the Lords EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee, Steve Rodhouse, director general of operations at the NCA, said: “We think (it is) a good deal in terms of being able to maintain the tools and the tactics that we have enjoyed whilst members of the EU.
“It does largely replicate the tools and powers that we’ve had.”
At the time the Brexit deal was announced, Brussels said the UK would no longer have “direct, real-time access” to sensitive information.
Officials have said the arrangements will provide frontline officers with the tools they need to continue catching criminals.
Previously, Mr Rodhouse expressed concerns about the loss of access to SIS II, telling MPs that officers would instead be “reliant” on EU member states sharing information through Interpol, and warning there would be a “gap” if they did not.
Speaking on Tuesday, he said: “From an NCA point of view, we would have wanted to retain capability of the SIS but the EU were clear there was no legal basis for that.”
While there is not thought to be a “significant loss of capability”, there may be “some risks”, he added, saying although there is a “degree of delay” in receiving access to Interpol notices once they are put into the system, the process is “still quite swift”.
He said there was “significant overlap of data” between SIS II and Interpol, so he did not believe there had been a “huge data loss”, adding: “We are confident at the moment that there isn’t a significant gap in timeliness or data.”
There has been a spike in Interpol notices being submitted in recent weeks, from Belgium and Italy in particular, but EU states need to continue to provide information through Interpol in order for the system to be effective, he told peers.
Kent Police assistant chief constable Peter Ayling, representing the NPCC, said while there was a “strong preference” to maintain access to SIS II, there was “much to be positive about” and there were “high levels of confidence that Interpol is being used effectively”.