A dispute over sharing DNA data with Brussels is keeping the UK locked out of a key EU-wide crime fighting effort, almost three years after Prime Minister Theresa May announced it would join.
The failure to secure participation in the Prüm Convention - which the government opted to join in November 2015 - comes despite the prime minister warning lives are being “put at risk” without it.
Ministers vowed to start the fast track exchange of vital fingerprint, DNA and vehicle registration data by 2017, but talks with the EU are still deadlocked.
Now EU sources say talks have been held up by the UK's refusal to exchange the DNA profiles it holds on people arrested but not convicted of any offence.
In 2011, under pressure from civil liberties campaigners, the Coalition Government agreed to stop police retaining the profiles of most suspects. But they are still kept - for three years, with a possible further two-year extension with court approval - if an adult is arrested for a serious offence.
An EU official told The Independent that the stance failed the “underlying principle of Prüm” that “all parties will share the information they have available”.
“The UK intends to exclude suspects' files from Prüm data exchange, when other member states who hold this data share it,” the source said.
Critics said the long delay cast doubt on May's hopes of signing a comprehensive security deal in time for Brexit, given that would be a far more complex task.
Labour has called the situation “deeply disturbing”, while anti-Brexit campaigners said it made a nonsense of her claim that an over-arching security deal can be struck quickly.
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary. “There could be serious implications if practical security arrangements are not made before the UK's withdrawal from the EU.”
Layla Moran, a supporter of the Best for Britain group, which campaigns to stop Brexit, said: “If the Government cannot even deliver on a simple thing like Prüm, which is in our interest, how can the prime minister deliver a security deal?”
Delay in talks
May has proposed a “full cooperation” security agreement which must be achieved by the planned end of the transition period, in December 2020 - but meaningful talks have yet to begin.
They already face the huge obstacle of her refusal to allow full oversight by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) - without which the EU has insisted it will not open up its policing and security databases.
Under the Prüm system, responses are promised within 10 seconds for a number plate check, within 15 minutes for a DNA check, and 24 hours for a fingerprint match.
The Home Office refused to discuss why the UK was still excluded but said there was a “standardised evaluation process for countries joining Prüm to comply with, which we are currently going through”.
The Government’s proposals for a post-Brexit deal with the EU include a strong emphasis on data sharing in areas such as law enforcement and customs, but all require agreement from Brussels and the dispute around the details of the Prüm Convention highlight the difficulties involved.
Image by Mark Warner, CC BY 2.0 through flickr