The terrorist attacks on Brussels that killed 30 people Tuesday and left hundreds dead sparked a furious debate about whether a British exit from the European Union would leave the country more or less vulnerable to similar attacks.
Politicians, policy scholars, and former intelligence officials have weighed in to share their views, and the debate is set to intensify in the run-up to the UK’s June 23 referendum on EU membership. (RELATED: What is Brexit? Everything You Need To Know About Britain’s EU Referendum)
Dalibor Rohac, Research Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute
“It is simply wrong to assert, that EU membership is making the UK more vulnerable to terrorism,” says Dalibor Rohac.
“The UK is not part of the Schengen area and has full control over who enters the country. At the same time, it has access to the Schengen Information System, an EU-wide database missing and wanted people, and to Europol’s resources. The UK can also have suspects extradited rapidly through the European Arrest Warrant. Overall, those strike me as important and unambiguous benefits, which would in all likelihood be gone should the UK decide to leave.”
Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of the UK’s secret intelligence service MI6
Writing in Prospect magazine, Sir Richard Dearlove the former head of MI6 gave a boost to pro-Brexit supporters, arguing the UK would not be less secure if the electorate decided to leave the EU.
“Whether one is an enthusiastic European or not, the truth about Brexit from a national security perspective is that the cost to Britain would be low. Brexit would bring two potentially important security gains: the ability to dump the European Convention on Human Rights — remember the difficulty of extraditing the extremist Abu Hamza of the Finsbury Park Mosque — and, more importantly, greater control over immigration from the European Union,” Dearlove wrote.
“Would Brexit damage our defence and intelligence relationship with the United States, which outweighs anything European by many factors of 10? I conclude confidently that no, it would not. The replacement of Trident, the access to overhead satellite monitoring capabilities, the defence exchanges that are hidden from public view, the UK-US co-operation over signals intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency/Secret Intelligence Service/Federal Bureau of Investigation/MI5 liaison and much more would continue as before.”
Michael Fallon, UK Secretary of State for Defense
Debating on the BBC program Newsnight, Michael Fallon argued the UK benefitted from its membership of the EU and remaining a member was not a risk to security.“We’re not jeopardising the security of our citizens, that’s a ridiculous argument,” said Fallon. “We’re trying our best to keep our own citizens secure but where there is intelligence that we can share across Europe, where we can tap into important information about the movement of terrorists, surely it makes sense to do so.“This is not the time for us to be leaving an international partnership like the EU, to be walking out. On the contrary, we should be sharing more and more information with each other.” Fallon emphasized that the UK is not a part of the EU’s open-borders Schengen agreement.
“We keep control of our borders but we benefit because we share the intelligence, the flight information and the co-operation that there is between security forces across Europe.”
Robin Simcox, terrorism and national security expert at the Heritage Foundation
“I thought he made a very convincing case, it is absolutely the case that key intelligence sharing relationships are the via the five eyes of which the Untied states is a key member,” Simcox told the Daily Caller News Foundation, commenting on Dearlove’s Prospect article. The five eyes is an intelligence alliance made up of the UK, US, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.”I’ve never been convinced by the scaremongering stories that a British exit from the EU would be cataclysmic for security. What kind of allies would they be if because Britain left the EU one of our European allies then stopped giving us information that may avert a mass casualty attack on British soil. That’s the logical end conclusion of their argument. I just don’t buy it.”
Simcox argued there would be no major change in the security relationship between the EU and the UK if the British people voted for Brexit. He attributes the prevention of major terrorist attacks in the UK to the police, the government communication headquarters and Britain’s natural advantage of being an island making it more difficult for ISIS operatives to bring weapons into the UK.
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