For a while, I – like, I suspect, others – was conflicted on how to vote in the European referendum. For me it was a heart and mind decision, and of course they were not entirely in agreement.
I could see that there were risks involved in exiting the EU. It was the status quo, and therefore there would be costs associated with the change and disruption to our governance – as we will probably see here over the next few weeks.
There was the potential effect on economic trade. The European Union, including its currency, has not been an economic miracle. In fact, it has enhanced bureaucracy and reduced free enterprise. The European procurement process alone is a disincentive to innovation. In the Metropolitan Police, where I served, the dreaded words “EU procurement in public service” usually means 18 months of little progress. The contradiction is that it takes longer to make a worse decision than in commerce.
The Union is said to have better protected human rights against the infringements of the state. However, the more intrusive the European Union became, the more that protection was needed from a Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers that lacked democratic accountability.
Concerns have been expressed about our future security, but our security is built on a strong military, intelligence and policing infrastructure. However, I argue that maintaining all these does not require the UK to be a member of the EU.
In defence, our military strength depends on our own investments and innovation, together with those of our allies. Our major military bulwark is NATO. It does not rely on Europe but it does rely on America.
In the sphere of intelligence, our intelligence effectiveness is built on our partnership with the “Five Eyes” intelligence community of America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK – yet they are not in Europe.
No country in the world shares all its intelligence and sources with any other country. Europe does not have an intelligence hub where the French tell the UK and Germany tells Holland everything they know about each other — it is not in their national interest to do so. The reports that the US had listened to the German Chancellor’s telephone can have surprised no one. However, we have been very effective at bilateral sharing of information on terrorism. Does anyone seriously suggest that on leaving Europe we would not share information about attacks on Paris or Brussels, should we have it?
On policing, we have been effective at sharing criminal intelligence, wanted lists and extradition warrants through Europol, which is not an enforcement agency. We have also co-ordinated enforcement through Eurojust and MLATs, which have enabled efficient investigations. However, our European experience has not been perfect.
When we voted to leave Europe, we were still not a member of Prüm – the European database of DNA, fingerprints and facial images that is shared across Europe. The European extradition warrant was efficient and consistent across Europe, but it required a sufficiency of evidence to charge in the requesting country before such a warrant could be issued. This meant that, on return to this country, the suspect could not be interviewed and had to be charged immediately. This is a high bar which interrupted some very good investigations.
The benefits of Europol are enjoyed by Norway, which is not a member of the European Union – so why not the UK? There is great mutual benefit to Europe and the UK in not providing a safe haven to criminals from each set of countries. No one wishes to see foreign criminals roaming free in the UK, and I am sure that this will be one of the issues to be resolved in the present negotiations, with new extradition agreements based on the existing model.
I resolved my heart and mind dilemma by realising that what mattered most of all was sovereignty. An unreformed EU from which we were diverging would be a significant threat to our future.
Bernard Hogan-Howe is the former commissioner of the Metropolitian Police. Born in Sheffield, he spoke in the Brexit debate in the House of Lords – this is an edited version.