EU referendum: Rules giving 'free pass' to terror suspects

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Armed police officerImage source, PA

Being in the EU makes it harder for the UK to stop serious criminals and those with suspected terror links entering the country, a UK minister is to say.

Dominic Raab, who backs EU exit, will say EU nationals whose activities are of concern but about whom there is no clear intelligence have a "free pass" into the UK due to free movement rules.

Debate on security within the EU has intensified since the Brussels attacks.

Pro-EU campaigners say the UK will lose access to key information by leaving.

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted co-operation among 28 states makes the UK safer while former security service officials have expressed contrasting views about the importance of EU membership with regard to intelligence sharing arrangements with the US and other allies.

Mr Raab's intervention, in a speech in London, marks a continued focus by Leave campaigners on the issue of security and what they argue are the risks of EU membership

On Tuesday, those calling for an Out vote in the 23 June referendum released a list of 50 foreign criminals they say have been allowed into the UK because of freedom of movement rules giving EU nationals visa-free entry.

Mr Raab, who is a junior minister at the Ministry of Justice, will argue that the sheer number of people who can legally come to the UK from the EU make it "exponentially harder" for those presenting a "credible and current danger" to be monitored and stopped.

'No control'

Although the UK is not a member of the Schengen borderless travel zone and carries out passport checks, Mr Raab will say the current system reduces the capacity for effective surveillance and leaves the UK effectively "importing risk".

"We cannot refuse entry to EU citizens producing an EU passport, even though we have no control over the checks made by the country of issue, which we can charitably say are of mixed reliability," he will say.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
David Cameron has been urged to channel the "spirit" of November's football friendly between England and France

"Crucially, for UK intelligence agencies, we cannot bar individuals on whom we have sketchy intelligence but reason to believe may be linked to terrorist related or other serious criminal activity. Or who may have done something which gives rise to questions, such as visiting Syria, without a clear or credible reason.

"In most countries outside the EU, you can bet that individuals flagged in this way would not waltz through passport control without these doubts or question marks being answered or assuaged...

"EU rules set the bar for taking meaningful action impossibly high, which means we effectively have to give a free pass into Britain to those coming from the EU."

'Deport criminals'

UKIP leader Nigel Farage caused controversy in the immediate aftermath of the Brussels attacks by claiming the city had become the "jihadi capital of Europe" and EU border rules led to "the free movement of terrorists, of criminal gangs and of Kalashnikovs".

Mr Raab will stop short of saying this, arguing it is "too early" to tell to what extent Schengen rules helped those behind the attacks, but he will insist "regaining control over our borders would be a valuable defensive tool in protecting Britain from future terrorist attacks".

Britain Stronger in Europe, the cross-party group campaigning to stay in the EU, said six former home secretaries backed continued EU membership as did the "weight of opinion in the UK and within the international intelligence community".

"Using the European Arrest Warrant, we can deport suspected criminals who do get in, and bring those who would do us harm back to the country to face justice," said its director Will Straw.

"And by sharing intelligence and pooling resources with our nearest neighbours we can take the fight to terrorists, stopping them before they even reach our shores."

'Spirit of Wembley'

Meanwhile Mr Cameron, who will return to the EU campaign trail next week after the Easter recess, has been warned that he will only win the referendum by putting forward a "positive and inclusive" vision of the benefits of the EU membership.

A group of peers has said the PM must focus on articulating the shared values that different European countries have in common.

The House of Lords EU committee said relying on "narrow national economic self-interest, alongside fear of the alternatives" would not be enough to ensure an In vote in three months time.

"It needs to try and capture the spirit we saw in Wembley last year when England football fans sang the Marseillaise after the attacks in Paris," said Lord Boswell, the former Tory MP who chairs the committee.