Brexit Leaves Behind EU Counterterrorism Security

On January 31, 2020 at 2300 GMT, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union. This has now commenced a transition period set to end on December 31, 2020, during which the United Kingdom will remain subject to EU law, but will not be a part of EU political bodies and institutions. This exit from the EU has been four years in the making since the initial United Kingdom European Union membership referendum was voted on in June of 2016 with a result of 51.9% opting to leave.[1] Now that the UK has formally departed from the EU, speculations have been made as to the effects this decision will have on the country.

As one of the biggest political and economic shifts in modern Europe, the effects of Brexit will be reflected through the relationship the UK chooses to maintain between itself and the EU. The political/economic relationship between the EU and UK will unquestionably change now that Brexit is in full effect, meaning past agreements and ties will become much more complex and unpredictable. Security minister Ben Wallace asserted in 2018 that a no-deal Brexit would put both the EU and UK at greater risk from crime and terrorism, as a great deal of uncertainty would surround post-Brexit security arrangements. In support of this opinion, Home Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs there was no assurance that data-sharing agreements and other cross-border crime-fighting tools would remain at their disposal following Brexit.[2]

Currently, the UK has made a withdrawal agreement with the EU, which provides the transition period previously mentioned. However, a deal must be made by the end of December 2020 when this period is officially over, otherwise the UK would default to a no-deal Brexit. As of right now, the EU is looking to make a trade deal with the UK, but both parties have made up conflicting goals for post-Brexit. Boris Johnson threatens to walk away with no deal rather than sign up to EU rules, making a no-deal Brexit likely at this point in negotiations.

Economics, politics, social policies, and immigration laws are a few considerable aspects of life that many have begun associating with uncertainty at this point in the year due to Brexit. However, counterterrorism efforts are also at the center of great interest for many in the UK and around the world, especially with the continued attacks in the country being carried out by recently released prisoners suspected or guilty of terrorist-related crimes. Just this past week, a man named Sudesh Amman, 20, stabbed two people in the south London neighborhood of Streatham, all while having a fake bomb strapped to his chest.[3] According to USA Today, “Amman had been released from prison days earlier after serving about half of a three-year sentence for promoting terrorism.”[4] The Islamic State ultimately claimed responsibility Monday for the attack. Sudesh Amman’s mother, Haleema Faraz Khan, reported to news outlets that "[Amman] became more religious inside prison, that's where I think he became radicalized," she said.[5] It seems that within the UK, there are continued issues with keeping terrorists in jail due to early releases in addition to extremist ideology spreading while prisoners are incarcerated.

Brexit demonstrations show opposition to the referendum.[6]

Terrorism is definitely a continued security concern that the UK faces going into 2020. Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that stricter laws will be implemented for inmates convicted of terror-related crimes and their date of release, it is even more unclear as to when these laws would actually be instituted in the midst of Brexit. Justice Minister Robert Buckland said Monday that due to several recent terror attacks, the UK “will therefore introduce emergency legislation to ensure an end to terrorist offenders getting released automatically having served half of their sentence with no check or review.”[7] However, there still is no exact law or date set to decide what will be implemented to stop the early release of prisoners and when. Additionally, the spread of extremist content in UK prisons has not been directly discussed as an additional security threat.

The UK cooperates extensively with the police and counterterrorism agencies of all other EU member states. Much of this cooperation is done through EUROPOL and INTERPOL. While the UK’s membership in INTERPOL will not be interrupted, its membership in EUROPOL will end after the transition period. However, the EU has agreed to discuss the UK’s future membership in EUROPOL. While cooperation can still be achieved voluntarily between the UK and EU states, similar to how the EU cooperates with Norway and the US, there now involves a lot of red tape when attempting to efficiently police or carry out counterterrorism operations. For example, British police officers will now be required to obtain an arrest warrant before they are legally allowed to arrest criminals wanted by EU countries.[8] While cooperation will still occur due to the long-lasting relationships cultivated during the UK’s years in the EU, it will not be as efficient as it would be with the past regulations and framework still in place.

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) has been monitoring the ever-changing Brexit situation since its initial conception. Analysts maintain a close watch of the direction that the UK and EU are taking in regards to further developments, even as new agreements and deals are made on a daily basis. CTG has also been intently analyzing Brexit by writing in-depth reports on the past, present, and possible future of this withdrawal. Not only does this process mark a modern-day historical turning point, but also a possible turning point in terrorism and counterterrorism efforts within Europe.


[1] UK formally leaves the European Union and begins Brexit transition period, CNBC, Jan. 31, 2020.

[2] No-deal Brexit 'could leave UK at risk from terrorism, The Guardian, Nov. 29, 2018.

[3] Islamic State claims London terror rampage that wounded 3, left attacker dead, USA Today, Feb. 3, 2020.

[4] UK formally leaves the European Union and begins Brexit transition period, CNBC, Jan. 31, 2020

[5] Ibid.

[6] Photo by Franz Wender, Unsplash, October 29, 2019.

[7] UK to introduce emergency law to prevent early release of convicted terrorists, Reuters, Feb. 3, 2020.

[8] Brexit: Police to lose powers to arrest criminals wanted by EU countries without arrest warrant after no-deal, Independent, Sep 2019,

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