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Leave Argument: Brexit will not put Britain at greater risk from terrorism


In February 2016, David Cameron said that Brexit could leave the UK at greater risk of terror attacks. According to MI5, terrorism is Britain’s biggest security threat.

Terrorism is a global phenomenon, based on cross-border communication and conflicts overseas. It can also be supported by some domestic citizens. Due to its global nature, the best way to tackle terrorism is to work with our closest neighbours and allies. Pro-EU arguments stress that this cooperation should take the form of EU membership. However, there are other ways to cooperate.


There are three main arguments for EU membership when it comes to combating terrorism: information sharing, the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and collective action abroad.

International collaboration, especially via the exchange of information between national agencies, is crucial. Security forces need to be able to act quickly, information needs to be shared, arrests have to be co-ordinated, and a prosecution strategy devised very early in the process. The UK, via its counter-terrorism policy CONTEST, and the EU, are both trying to develop counter-terrorism policies that cooperate with more foreign security agencies.

Because of the move to a more globalised counter-terrorism strategy, EU governments have stressed the importance of engaging with non-EU countries. For example, the EU has negotiated agreements with the US in areas such as the financing of terrorism, transport and borders, mutual legal assistance and extradition. US authorities are working more closely with Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, and Eurojust, which supports judicial cooperation between member states, in combating organised crime. As the US example shows, EU membership is not essential for cooperation over counter-terrorism.

According to the head of Europol, Rob Wainwright, fighting terrorism in the UK would be more costly and less effective if the UK left the EU. This is because the UK would be leaving well developed information sharing arrangements.

Whilst sharing information across the EU is beneficial, critics have suggested that there are holes in Europol’s information. In 2014 Europol launched the Focal Point Travellers initiative. This tried to store information about people suspected of travelling across borders to engage in terrorism. Due to a lack of enthusiasm by member states, only 2,000 names were collected. This was less than half of the foreign fighters know to individual member states’ security services.

Britain is part of another intelligence network called the Five Eyes. Created in 1946, the Five Eyes is a global surveillance alliance between the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The primary role of the arrangement is to share information. If Britain did leave the EU, it would still be part of an intelligence network that is older than the EU and includes the USA.

EU membership does make it easier for Britain to extradite terror suspects from other EU countries via the European Arrest Warrant. If an EU member state demands it, the EAW makes it compulsory for another member state to extradite one of their citizens to stand trial or serve out a sentence. Introduced in 2004, the EAW helped create a unified EU extradition system that enables a faster and simpler surrender procedure. In 2005 an EAW enabled the UK to gain the extradition of Hussain Osman, who had attempted to carry out a terror attack in London, from Italy.

Because a member state does not have to provide evidence when it demands extradition, the EAW can also lead to miscarriages of justice. Standards of justice in each EU country vary greatly and human rights do not receive the same respect in every country. For example, Croatia has had recent problems with corruption in its police and judiciary. Blind faith in other EU criminal justice systems has led to many cases of injustice. Andrew Symeou, a UK national, spent 11 months in custody in Greece. His trial was adjourned twice due to a lack of interpreters and court strikes.

He was eventually released. Because evidence is not required for extradition, the EAW goes against the British tradition of innocent until proven guilty.

Terrorism can also be tackled by civil and military action abroad. The EU has tried to combat security issues in Libya, tackle Somali-based piracy and build security services in Ukraine. On most of these issues, especially action in Libya and Ukraine, the EU has not performed well. The primary reason is a lack of cooperation between member states. In 2011 the EU was criticised for its fragmented response to the uprisings in Libya. Whilst Germany opposed a no-fly zone, France and the UK took military action. This lack of cohesion comes from the different priorities of member states. Most Eastern European countries are predominantly concerned with Russia, whereas most Mediterranean countries are more concerned with the migrant crisis.

EU membership does not contribute a huge amount to the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy. The US example shows that cooperation between the UK and EU is not solely based on EU membership. Whilst the EAW makes it easier to extradite terror suspects, the human cost is too great. The lack of coherence between member states also causes problems when the EU tries to tackle terrorism abroad. In fact, the terrorist threat in Europe has been somewhat exacerbated by the failure of the EU to deal with the migrant crisis.

The EU’s open borders has also made it more difficult to track potential terrorist threats within the EU. On the 21 February Iain Duncan Smith stated that, due to the migrant crisis and open borders, Britain is more at risk of a terror attack if it stays in the EU. Two of the terrorists involved in the Paris shootings came to Europe with migrants via the Greek island of Leros. Because these migrants did not have EU passports, it is unlikely they could have entered the UK. The biggest threat comes from the other nine who had EU passports. Whether the UK would be more or less at risk of terror attacks with regards to the open border policy if it left the EU is unclear. However for EU countries who are part of the Schengen agreement it poses a significant problem.

Argument by Christian Stensrud