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Top ex-spooks enter Brexit row; Trump wants UK in EU

world Updated: May 08, 2016 20:19 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times

British Prime Minister David Cameron gestures as he addresses the media after a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium on February 19, 2016. (Reuters)

As the focus shifts to the June 23 referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union, former heads of intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 warned on Sunday that country will be less safe outside the grouping, a claim quickly disputed by Brexit supporters.

In a joint article in The Sunday Times, former spy chiefs John Sawers of MI6 and Jonathan Evans of MI5 wrote that leaving the EU could undermine “our ability to protect ourselves” from terrorists, and lead to “instability on the continent,” compounding the current “economic difficulties, the migration crisis and a resurgent Russia.”

According to them, a vote to leave the EU could damage intelligence sharing because the EU would restrict surveillance powers if the UK were not in the union.

But Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who is among six ministers in the Cameron government in the Brexit camp, said Sawers was “flat wrong”., and recalled on Sunday television that other former intelligence chiefs did not think that Brexit would harm Britain.

Sawers told BBC: “The reason we would be less safe (in a Brexit vote) is that we would be unable to take part in the decisions that frame the sharing of data, which is a crucial part of counter-terrorism and counter-cyber work that we do these days, and we would lose the abilities of things like the European Arrest Warrant.”

He rejected claims that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was getting in the way of security, adding: “I think judges tend to err on the side of human rights rather than erring on the side of security. That’s beginning to change as judges understand the scale of the security threat that Europe faces.”

But Gove said the ECJ had interfered in the UK’s capacity to share data and intelligence with the US and stopped it deporting people “whose presence here is not conducive to the public good”.

US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s offering that Britain should remain in the EU was largely ignored amid last week’s local election results, but there were signs that he was being taken increasingly seriously here, after being called “stupid and divisive” earlier.

Prime Minister David Cameron now believes that Trump deserves respect for having gone through the testing process of seeking the Republican nomination for the presidential poll. Trump is the latest US leader to advise Britons on how to vote in the EU referendum.