Much of the speculation on Britain’s future after Brexit has focused on the economy and jobs. However, equally as important is how Brexit will affect UK border security, policing, the level of crime and illegal immigration.
Jason Sierra, director of Seven Technologies Group, and specialist in surveillance and security solutions for the military, border control and police, shares his predictions for how Brexit may affect national security.
Whether you are in favour of Brexit or not, we at Seven Technologies Group believe it is in the best interests of the British public to start more discussions on how Brexit could affect the security and safety of everyone currently living in Britain.
Illegal immigration, human smuggling and shared intelligence.
According to the 2019 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery, commissioned by the UK Government, Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive, police in England and Wales reported 5,059 modern slavery crimes during March 2018 to March 2019, which was a 49% increase on the previous year.
Additionally, Police in Scotland recorded 159 crimes of human trafficking and the Police Service of Northern Ireland recorded 38 modern slavery offences. The exact figures of the number of victims who were illegal immigrants is unknown due to the hidden nature of human trafficking, and the report further states that the true number of victims and crimes of this nature is likely to be higher than the number discovered. It is widely believed that the fate of the majority of people smuggled into Britain become victims of modern slavery, as their illegal status is an easy target for blackmail and also makes people reluctant to seek help from UK police.
We were horrified to hear of the case of the recent migrant deaths. The chair of the Commons Select Committee on home affairs, the Labour MP Yvette Cooper and the Conservative chair of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, Dominic Grieve, have expressed their concerns that leaving the EU may impact the UK’s involvement with Europol and the unit, the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, involved in this case.
Cooper is reported to have said: “The government itself has said this would mean a security downgrade and even in the best possible scenario there would be a substantial capability gap due to our loss of access to data and data-sharing systems and ability to lead operations as we currently do, including on human trafficking.”
It is currently unknown exactly how the relationship between British police and Europol will be affected by Brexit, only time will tell, but the outcome looks bleak. Grieve has predicted: “The dreadful tragedy highlights the need for international cooperation on people trafficking. Leaving the EU will make that much more difficult.” It was reported by The Independent on the 14th of November 2018 that: “The UK has given up on remaining a member of Europol after Brexit and fears a “major drop” in co-operation in fighting cross-border crime.”
How might this affect policing and the level of crime in the UK?
Illegal immigrants are often forced into modern slavery, which enables criminals and organised gangs in the UK to use these vulnerable people to execute drug runs and do forced labour. The prevalence of organised crime and modern slavery relating to illegal immigration puts extra strain on already stretched police forces and, furthermore, blackmail used by crime gangs often prevents these people seeking help from UK police. Without whistle-blowers, identifying and investigating into suspected organised crime can be a major operation. Additionally, there is always a risk that innocent people will be caught up in organised crime activities. Crime involving illegal drugs, for example, harmfully impacts many people beyond the drug user.
A change in our current relationship with Europol may also mean that the UK loses the European Arrest Warrant; this could lead to a slower extradition of foreign criminals.
What will UK police forces need to investigate human trafficking, bring criminals to justice and ensure the safety of all citizens in the UK if our relationship with Europol weakens after Brexit?
Gathering intelligence is a vital part of investigating human trafficking. Identifying perpetrators, victims, locations and activities builds the complete picture for UK police forces to be able to make a strong case and to bring criminals to justice. But some modern slavery networks are huge and not only operate across multiple cities in the UK, but also across borders.
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Covert surveillance is one of the techniques employed to gather the intelligence needed to dismantle modern slavery networks and safeguard victims. However, with increased strain on police forces and an impending loss of access to shared intelligence after Brexit, it’s likely that UK police will turn to developing technologies, such as AI, to aid investigations. In recent months, the UK government has pledged £5m of further funding to develop the National Data Analytics Solution (NDAS); the system uses AI software to identify patterns in crime data, from locations to the common traits of perpetrators, to save police time and resources.
But with Brexit so close on the horizon, it’s impossible to predict whether systems such as NDAS will be able to cope with the strain of, at the least, a difficult short-term adjustment period, or if it will be a case of too little, too late.