We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

The real threat facing Britain is our own isolationism

November 23, 2015 11:31 AM
By Hugh Orde in The Guardian

European flagsThe Leave campaign says Paris highlights how Britain would be safer on its own. But cooperation with our EU partners is the best repellent against terrorism

In recent days the campaign for Britain to leave the EU has misused the horrific events in Paris to try to support their failing cause. Their argument is that by standing alone from Europe and pulling up the drawbridge, Britain can secure its borders and better repel the threats we face.

They are right that the Parisian tragedies must make us reassess and redouble our efforts to tackle terror - at home and abroad - but their prescription is fundamentally wrong. If followed, the Leave campaigns would endanger our country and communities, not protect them.

The threats we face today are global in nature - whether it is Isis, cyber-crime, a more assertive Russia or even climate change - and international collaboration is the surest route to influence and impact.

Much has rightly been said of our need for solidarity with our European partners. But this is more than an emotional argument - solidarity extends to how we practically help one another tackle threats to our communities.

Within the EU we have structural relationships and arrangements that add huge value to our effort to fight terrorism, and these would be lost if we walked away. We have the best of both worlds; the security and stability gained from being part of Europe but the flexibility to opt out of arrangements that aren't in our national interest.

Consider, for example, the European arrest warrant, which allows suspects to be easily deported. Hundreds who committed crimes in Britain and then fled to Europe have been returned to face British justice. One of them was Hussein Osman, a terrorist involved in London's 21/7 attack, who was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment.

Indeed, since the Paris attacks, four men have been arrested by the north-east counter terrorism unit in England using the EAW, and in Hungary two UK citizens with prior convictions for terrorism offences have been detained under the EAW.

This cooperation is based on information-sharing that ensures criminals can be tracked, in particular through arrangements such as the Schengen information system II and Europol, which leads on cross-border investigations.


The leave campaigns argue that the EU's passport-free zone threatens our safety. They omit that because of the flexible nature of our relationship with Europe, the UK isn't part of Schengen and no-one can come here from Europe without being checked.

They also forget that the EU's Dublin regulations enable us to send migrants back to the European country in which they were first processed. They ignore the fact that if we left the EU our cooperation with the French immigration authorities may end and our border would shift from Calais to Dover, bringing threats closer to home.

Leaving, therefore, would not quell the murderous intent of jihadi towards the British way of life, but it could make it harder for us to prevent them arriving and then deporting suspects when here.

The EU also undertakes important civil and military action. It is currently helping to strengthen Libya's borders, build security services in Ukraine, tackle Somali-based piracy, strengthen civilian police forces in Afghanistan and destroy boats used by migrant smugglers in the Mediterranean.

EU membership is one vital component of our global security architecture. Britain is the world's fifth top military power and sixth largest economy, and we are the only country in the world that is simultaneously a member of the UN security council, G20, G7, Nato, the Commonwealth and the EU. We remain independent and internationalist while being in the EU.

The real threat today is an isolationism that indulges narrow nationalism. This can disempower our country when it is at risk and split communities when counter-radicalisation is our priority. Leave campaigners claim to represent British values, but in truth they do not have our nation's best interest at heart.

It is a post-imperial fantasy to claim that at a time of unprecedented global threats, Britain should cut itself off from our nearest neighbours and partners. I believe that we have strength in numbers and that Britain is safer and more secure in Europe than we would be out on our own.

Sir Hugh Orde was the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers and chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.