VALLETTA (Reuters) - No party in negotiations on Britain’s exit from the European Union wants security issues used as a bargaining chip, EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Friday, after Britain warned of weaker cooperation if no deal is struck.
Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the formal Brexit process on Wednesday with a letter to Tusk that said “our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened” if Britain leaves the EU without a new deal.
That wording - one week after an attack outside the British Parliament - raised alarm within the European intelligence community, which is keen to preserve as much information sharing and cooperation as possible in any future relationship.
Tusk, however, said he was sure the comments, which caught headlines, had been misinterpreted.
“It must be a misunderstanding,” Tusk told journalists in Malta, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
“Our partners are wise and decent that is why I am absolutely sure that no one is interested in using security cooperation as a bargaining chip.”
Five people were killed and about 40 injured in London on March 22 after a car ploughed into pedestrians and a suspected Islamist-inspired attacker stabbed a policeman close to Britain’s parliament.
The attacker was British-born and Britain is not part of the EU’s open-border Schengen zone but London still shares fears - and information - with its EU peers about radicals who return home after training or fighting with jihadists in the Middle East, North Africa or Afghanistan.
Security experts say the information sharing is a two-way street, warning of dangers for Britain if it is left out of the EU’s police agency Europol and an accord covering the European Arrest Warrant, which requires all EU governments to arrest a suspect wanted in another EU country.
“Especially after the terrorist attack in London - the latest events - it must be clear that terrorism is our common problem and security is our common problem,” Tusk said.
Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Julia Glover