GCHQ played a vital role in stopping terror attacks in at least four other European countries in the last year, the head of the intelligence agency has said.
Speaking after meetings at NATO’s Brussels headquarters, Jeremy Fleming cited GCHQ’s involvement in disrupting terrorist activity on the continent in a bid to highlight the importance of UK-EU security links.
The comments will be viewed in some quarters as a pointed intervention in the Brexit debate, coming hot on the heels of remarks by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier about the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
He said Britain will be forced to leave the EAW, which allows EU member states to issue warrants for criminals across the continent without bureaucratic extradition negotiations between countries.
Mr Fleming said Britain would continue to work with the EU post-Brexit, adopting a familiar refrain that Britain is “leaving the EU but not Europe”.
“This visit comes at a pivotal time of course as the UK leaves the EU and as we agree a treaty on security to ensure that the UK and EU member states continue to work together to keep us all secure in the future,” he said.
“We’re leaving the EU but not Europe.
“And after Brexit the UK will continue to work with the EU and the EU member states.
In the last year we’ve played a critical role in the disruption of terrorist operations in at least four European countries
“We have excellent relationships with intelligence and security agencies right across the continent.
“For example, in the last year we’ve played a critical role in the disruption of terrorist operations in at least four European countries.
“Those relationships, and our ability to work together, save lives.
“That will continue after Brexit, for the benefit of the UK and for Europe.”
Mr Fleming said that no country was able to defend itself against the different threats – Islamic State, cyber attacks and “aggressive foreign powers” – alone.
It requires a “pooling of resource, expertise and critically data so that we can investigate and disrupt our adversaries”.
Home secretary Sajid Javid has warned Brussels against any “unnecessary reduction” in co-operation.
Prime Minister Theresa May called in February for a new security treaty with the EU to outline its relationship with Britain post-Brexit.
She said both sides had to do “whatever is most practical and pragmatic” to protect citizens, and warned against “deep-seated ideology” from Brussels.