It is Project Fear alright. No sooner did the dust settle on the appalling terrorist atrocities in Brussels than the Remain camp was out in force, insisting that only by huddling within the confines of the EU could Britain protect itself from harm.
David Cameron has already repeatedly made the case that EU membership enhances our security. No doubt he would have done so again at the weekend had he not taken himself off to Lanzarote for a spot of chillaxing with Sam and, as he put it, giving himself “time to think”.
There is plenty to think about, not least the flimsy arguments put forward by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in The Sunday Times and the airy assertions of former Iraq and Afghanistan commander David Petraeus.
Hammond waxed lyrical about the brilliance of UK security services (no argument there) then went on to laud the way we “share” intelligence with our European partners. This is a weasel argument. First, no one is suggesting that if we left the EU we would stop sharing intelligence with our allies – or they with us given said brilliance of our operations, matched only by the USA. It seems to have escaped Mr Hammond’s notice that our prime intelligence partners, the people we work most closely with, the so-called “five eyes” of the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, are not members of the EU and presumably have no intention of joining.
Nor have we formed a political union with these four allies and attempted to set up supranational institutions to defend ourselves against the jihadi threat.
Of course, we do share intelligence with our EU partners, notably the most serious ones such as France and Germany. But we did this long before we joined the EU and there is no reason to assume that Brexit would end these arrangements. As for other EU states, the dodgier and more incompetent ones, one can be sure that GCHQ and MI6 are rather sparing with their information. Belgium, now the Western hotbed of jihadi infiltration, which has proved itself singularly useless in combatting the murderous intent of so-called Islamic State and its brutal killers, is probably not high on the MI6 Christmas card list.
Then there is the “third country” rule, which means that if the CIA passes us intelligence, it cannot be passed onto another country’s intelligence services without the expressed consent of the first country. This is a perfectly sensible rule, given the leakiness and corruption of many EU states. So the Foreign Secretary’s breezy talk of “sharing” intelligence is heavily qualified – a fact that he omitted to mention in his peon of praise to the lumbering European dinosaur, which after Merkel’s moment of madness, is now awash with potential bombers and gunmen.
He also went on to make the even more ludicrous claim that EU states might refuse to pass on intelligence to us if we quit the Union. So German intelligence is not going to tell us about a suspected suicide bomber flying to London with murderous intent? If that were true, which it is not, who would want to be in any kind of relationship with Germany?
It has already been established that one of the terrorists in the Paris attacks of last November moved from Syria to Brussels across five unmanned borders, then to Paris with others with criminal convictions and links to terrorism and then back to Brussels. And this is meant to make us feel safer? Inspector Clouseau at his most hapless springs to mind.
Petraeus in The Sunday Telegraph falls in to similar trap. While he lauds the intelligence and military cooperation between the USA and Britain, he betrays the seeming inability of many Americans to understand that our relationship with the EU is quite different from the one we have with Washington. The first rests on freely given intergovernmental cooperation between allies; the second requires us to hand over vital levers of self-government to a foreign power.
So no more of the argument that quitting the EU would hamper our intelligence gathering activities. Outside the EU, we can share information just as we can engage in free trade with Europe and the wider world.
Hammond then went on to say it was “nonsense” to say we need to reclaim our borders – “we are fully in control of them now”. He argued that since we are outside the border-free Schengen zone we can apply passport checks at points of entry to the UK. This is true enough but given the scale of the Isis penetration of Europe, especially Belgium and France, and the likelihood of its killers obtaining false papers, it is not particularly reassuring.
Looking at a map of the world – it can be found on Wikipedia – it is noticeable how the UK applies visa requirements. Visitors from generally friendly and stable countries – North America, most of South America, Australia New Zealand and, of course, the 27 other EU states – do not require tourist visas. But visas are required for most of the rest of the world – Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, and Asia. The Foreign Secretary might be better advised to consider bringing in visa requirements for at least some of our EU partners – something we could do post Brexit. That should give would-be killers planning a trip to the UK pause for thought.
We also have to face the fact that the million plus migrants who have poured into Europe in the last year – with many more to follow – will almost certainly eventually acquire European passports and be free to come to Britain at will. Then we have the 77 million Turks due to be granted visa-free access to the 26 Schengen countries this summer.
Of course, there have been plenty of voices on the Brexit side of the coin, arguing that terrorists seeking to hit the UK have much to fear from our reclaiming full control of our borders, applying the most stringent checks on immigrants and blocking or booting out undesirables. Not so now. The ineffable European Court of Justice has just ruled that the daughter-in-law of the terrorist Abu Hamza cannot be deported from Britain even though she is not an EU citizen.
Those who have taken the opposite view to Hammond and Petraeus include Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, and General Michael Haydon, the former chief of the CIA, who has said that the EU “is not a natural contributor to national security”.
Defence minister Penny Mordaunt contradicted Michael Fallon her boss, also in The Sunday Times, pointing out that we could buy a new warship a week for the money we give to Brussels.
Cameron should think about this in Lanzarote. One by one his case for remaining in the EU is collapsing. His renegotiation, once vaunted as heralding a fundamentally reformed EU, has been binned, not least by him. The intensification of the migrant crisis and the sinister growth of the Isis terror threat torpedo increasingly facile claims that the country that saw off Hitler almost singlehandedly now needs the support of the likes of Bulgaria and Romania to guard its people. That just leaves the economy. And there, the more we draw back from the EU as, for instance, by spurning the euro, the better we do.