A failure to reach agreement with the European Union on policing and security matters post-Brexit would be “suboptimal”, a member of Theresa May’s Government has conceded.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell insisted ministers are “optimistic” a deal can be done on the issue before the UK formally quits the EU.
But he said contingency planning will be carried out to “set out what is envisaged would happen if there were not to be these existing arrangements”.
He was questioned on the issue the day after the UK obtained a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) for the extradition of two men alleged to have been behind the Novichok attack in Salisbury in March.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were left critically ill after being exposed to the military grade nerve agent, with UK authorities having now identified two members of the GRU – Russia’s military intelligence service – as being responsible.
Prosecutors deem it futile to apply to Russia for the extradition of the two men, but a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained and authorities are also seeking the assistance of Interpol.
MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee questioned Mr Mundell on what would happen if the UK could no longer participate in the EAW scheme after Brexit.
The Tory MP told them: “There will be contingency planning and most likely what is called a technical notice which will set out what is envisaged would happen if there were not to be these existing arrangements.”
He said the UK is “seeking to reach agreement in relation to the arrest warrants”, and added: “We don’t believe that there isn’t any reason why that isn’t achievable.”
About 10,000 individuals wanted by European member states were returned to them by the UK last year, Mr Mundell said, adding that continuing the scheme had “huge benefits” for other countries across Europe.
He continued: “The initial feedback is a positive one, that the EU states see the benefit in this area, particularly in security matters, in policing and justice issues, of having ongoing co-operation. Therefore there is a positive environment in which to have that negotiation.”
Mr Mundell also made clear the UK Government is “in the process of producing a series of technical notices, which set out what would happen in the eventualities essentially of no-deal”, saying such matters would be included.
He told the committee: “I’m not going to suggest that not reaching an agreement in relation to this would be anything other than suboptimal. It would be.”
But Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur said that “seems a rather significant understatement”.