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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

UK warned not to use security co-operation as a ‘bargaining chip’ in Brexit talks

The former heads of MI6 and GCHQ said the UK must agree a data-sharing deal with the bloc or risk damaging its national counter terror efforts

Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, has warned Britain must not use its security surplus as a "bargaining chip" in the Brexit negotiations. UK Parliament via Reuters
Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, has warned Britain must not use its security surplus as a "bargaining chip" in the Brexit negotiations. UK Parliament via Reuters

Two former British spy chiefs have warned the UK government not to use security co-operation as a “bargaining chip” to secure a better deal in the Brexit negotiations.

Sir John Sawers, a former head of MI6, and Robert Hannigan, a former GCHQ chief, said Britain and the EU must agree a data-sharing deal to avoid security risks.

Sir John, who led the secret service between 2009 and 2014, said working closely with European partners in their national counter terror efforts would benefit the UK.

“Their security benefits our security,” Sir John told the BBC. “The more secure France is, the fewer dangerous people are likely to cross from Calais to Dover."

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Negotiating a deal in which both sides continued to have access to data is crucial, Sir John said, and Britain may have to continue following EU rules on data sharing in order for that to happen.

He added that the Brexit negotiation was not a “zero-sum game” and that a willingness on both sides to work together on security would help maintain a “climate of co-operation” during the talks.

Britain currently gives more intelligence to its European allies than it receives, in particular on terror networks and cyber warfare.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told the EU last year that if the bloc was unable to agree a post-Brexit trade deal, this would impact upon Britain’s resolve to cooperate with Europe on fighting crime and terror.

However, using the “security surplus”- as some UK ministers have termed it - as a point of leverage would not be ethical, Mr Hannigan said.

The ex-GCHQ head said it would be “absurd” to “think of withholding material that might stop a terrorist attack in exchange for fish quotas or something”.

"If either side try to use it as a bargaining chip or a point of leverage it's likely to be negative on both sides," Sir John added.

Mrs May has since said Britain has an "unwavering commitment" to the security of the EU.