The EU could put its citizens at risk if it allows ideology or rigid institutions to blind its leaders to the need to cooperate against terror threats, Theresa May will say on Saturday, proposing a new UK-EU treaty on intelligence and security.
The prime minister risks a rift with Europe in a speech in which she will say the UK wants to stay closely aligned with Europe on security policy, but that “rigid institutional restrictions” or “deep-seated ideology” could leave gaps that terrorists and organised criminals may seek to exploit.
“Those who threaten our security would like nothing more than to see us fractured,” the prime minister will tell world leaders at the Munich security conference.
“They would like nothing more than to see us put debates about mechanisms and means ahead of doing what is most practical and effective in keeping our people safe. So let our message ring out loud and clear today: we will not let that happen. We will keep our people safe, now and in the years to come.”
Ahead of Saturday’s speech, May appeared at a joint press conference with Angela Merkel in Berlin at which the two leaders spoke in conciliatory terms about the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, with Merkel saying that she was “curious” but “not frustrated” with the British government’s slow progress in outlining its plan.
May’s critics will argue one key problem is her rigid adherence to a red line in the Brexit negotiations of leaving the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, which has made continued cooperation more difficult.
Jeremy Corbyn said: “If the prime minister wants to be taken seriously on keeping people safe, she should stop making veiled threats to our European neighbours and concentrate on safeguarding common European security and Britain’s continued membership of Europol. And that means not letting her own rigid restrictions on any role for the ECJ stand in the way.”
May, who will speak directly before European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, is widely expected to say the UK would like to remain a member of Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, and the European arrest warrant, but both are currently policed by the European court of justice.
At the Munich conference, May will say she believes there are “damaging real world consequences” if the EU’s priority in the negotiation is not to break the precedent of signing new cooperation agreements with non-member states.
The prime minister will propose a new UK-EU security treaty that Downing Street said would underpin the relationship on security and data sharing, which should be dynamic enough to adapt to new threats.
There would need to be “real political will on both sides” for such a treaty to be developed, May said. No similar agreement exists between the EU and a third country that covers anything near the scale of the cooperation in the UK’s existing relationship as a member state.
May will argue there is no legal or operational reason why such an agreement could not be reached in the area of internal security.
“However, if the priority in the negotiations becomes avoiding any kind of new cooperation with a country outside the EU, then this political doctrine and ideology will have damaging real world consequences for the security of all our people, in the UK and the EU … as leaders, we cannot let that happen,” she will say.
In Berlin, Merkel said that the two sides had strong reasons to work together.
“I want to say that I am not frustrated, I am curious how Great Britain imagines our relationship to be,” she said, describing the talks as “a very candid exchange”.
“Of course we have our vested interests, for example as regards to economic commitments we would like to preserve our partnership. Both sides are in a process of learning, finding out where there is common ground.”
May responded: “It isn’t just a one-way street. I want a partnership with the European Union that is good for the main members of the European Union and Great Britain”.
EU officials and diplomats representing member states in Brussels have long regarded it as irrational of May to have made leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ a red line in the talks about the future, and diplomats warned against the prime minister’s hectoring tone. “The demand is what we expected but the lack of self-awareness is extraordinary”, one said.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, suggested the EU was willing to be flexible. “It would be a tragedy if red lines drawn up in haste compromised our existing cooperation,” he said.
May’s speech will highlight the success of the security partnership with Europe, including Operation Triage, where police in the UK worked extensively with Europol and the Czech Republic to apprehend a trafficking gang, as well as the fast-track extradition of terror suspects and crime bosses.
She will also underline the UK’s data and intelligence contribution to Europol, and the sharing of real-time data on wanted criminals or suspected terrorists.
Labour has already called on the prime minister to drop her red line on the ECJ to smooth future partnerships with the EU. Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has called the pledge, made in the prime minister’s Lancaster House speech, “ideological and deeply unhelpful”.
Brexit supporters have long argued against any continued jurisdiction of the European court of justice, arguing that it would mean Britain had surrendered its sovereignty by accepting the rulings of a higher court.
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