As the UK comes to terms with the enormity of its Brexit decision there is much debate on just how it will affect the lives of people in the UK, the European Union and beyond. There is little doubt that there will be many economic and political implications, all of which are being played out in the media, but perhaps the biggest single threat that is largely being ignored is the risk to the safety of the citizens of the UK and Europe from serious crime and terrorism.
This week marks the first anniversary of the terror attack in the Tunisian beach resort of Sousse when Islamic State gunman Seiffeddine Rezgui opened fire on holidaymakers killing 38 people, including 30 British tourists. The fact that the anniversary of this horrific event falls almost to the day that Britain has decided to leave the EU is particularly poignant, as there can be no stronger example of the need for the UK to remain at the forefront of tackling gun crime and terrorism on an international front.
Lest we forget, it is not only Tunis that has exemplified the carnage that can be caused by the use of firearms in the hands of the wrong people. In 2015 alone the atrocities that were littered across the calendar; Charlie Hebdo, Garissa, Tunis, Copenhagen and Paris show that more terrorist attacks are now being carried out with assault rifles than with any other device.
In response to these terrible incidents, there has been a renewed impetus for all countries to develop better strategies to prevent further gun attacks taking place, and to work together in order to do so. In November of last year, the European Commission announced an action plan to tackle the illegal trafficking and use of firearms both in Europe and beyond. A key element of this plan is to further develop the ability for all nations to work together, to share intelligence and to take joint action when necessary.
The United Kingdom has for many years been a significant player in contributing to international activity to tackle the criminal use and supply of firearms. It is fair to say that since the introduction of the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS) in 2008 the UK has one of the most effective, comprehensive and integrated capabilities anywhere in the world to tackle the threat posed by illegal firearms. This is one of the reasons that the UK has not yet suffered a mass gun attack of the nature experienced elsewhere, despite several plots to carry out such an attack being developed they have all been foiled by the excellent law enforcement activity that has depended on the sharing of intelligence with other countries.
As well as protecting the citizens of the UK, we should not underestimate the enormously positive impact the law enforcement agencies, security services and independent experts of the UK have on helping the other countries of Europe to reduce the threat posed by illegal firearms. If anything were to happen as a result of Brexit to reduce the joint working that currently exists between the UK and Europe in this field it would clearly be extremely detrimental to the safety and security of all citizens of the EU and the UK.
One of the greatest threats to the security of Europe that has been identified by the European Commission is the potential movement of post-conflict weapons from the Western Balkans into Europe for the purposes of crime and terrorism. This threat extends to the UK just as much as any other European country. Much work has been carried out recently to reduce this threat by helping countries in this region to tackle the threat within their own borders, to establish Firearms Focal Points (FFP’s) in each country and to share ballistic intelligence regionally and within the EU. This activity has been supported through the good agencies of the United Nations, Europol and Interpol. The UK has been heavily involved in these activities and it is important that the current momentum is not in any way lost or diminished.
Some things transcend politics; gun crime, arms trafficking and terrorism are three such things. The good work in this field must go on, and it has never been more important to put the need for collaborative working and international cooperation right at the top of the agenda of issues that cannot be allowed to be negatively affected by Brexit.
Whatever the current political differences in Europe right now, it is clear that fighting crime and terrorism requires cooperation, not division. It is, therefore, incumbent on all of those involved in the ongoing political process to keep their eye on the ball during the current period of uncertainty and to ensure that this critical issue remains at the forefront of negotiations and activity, both now and in the future.
Image – Francois Lenoir/Reuters