The British government has decided not to reveal what its security services have told them about the security risks of the post-Brexit Irish border. Having declined to release the relevant documents under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request (see below), then clearly there can be no ‘National Security’ issues with publicly announcing a summary of what they have been briefed.
Political embarrassment or a belief that disclosing a summary of such information might impact on Britain’s negotiating position with the EU would not – at least on this side of the Irish sea – be seen as sufficient justification for not informing the debate on an issue that is crucial to Ireland (North and South).
The following FOI request was made
“Under FOI legislation please provide me briefing documents or reports provided to the Minister or senior officials on the security risk at the Irish border in the context of the EU referendum in the last 12 months.”
See the official reasons given below – and if can you read more than 3 paragraphs without ordering a bottle of whiskey, a revolver and a darkened room – you will be doing well…
“I can confirm that the department holds information relating to your request. However, after careful consideration we have decided that the information is exempt from disclosure under sections 21(1), 35(1)(a), 27(1) and 24(1) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The reasons for our decisions are set out below.
Some of the information held by the department is exempt from disclosure because it is already accessible by other means (section 21(1) of the Act). This is an absolute exemption which means there is no requirement to carry out a public interest test. You may access this information as follows:
The written evidence paper submitted by the NIO to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on 2 November 2016, which informed their inquiry into ‘The Future of the Land Border with the Republic of Ireland.’ You can access this by visiting:
ess/committees/committees-a-z/ commons-select/northern- irela nd-affairs-committee/inquiries /
The House of Lords European Union Committee report on Brexit: UK – Irish relations, which you can read in full by visiting:
Oral evidence provided to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to inform their inquiry to their Northern Ireland and the EU Referendum inquiry, which can be accessed by visiting:
tenevidence/committeeevidence. svc/evidencedocument/norther n -ireland-affairs-committee/nor thern-ireland-and-the-eu-refer endum/oral/31092.html
Oral evidence provided to the House of Lords EU Select Committee to inform their Brexit: UK – Irish Relations inquiry, which can be accessed by visiting:
tenevidence/committeeevidence. svc/evidencedocument/europe an -union-committee/brexit-ukiris h-relations/oral/41203.html
Some of the information held by the department relates to the formulation or development of government policy (section 35 (1) (a) of the Act).
Section 35 (1) (a) is a qualified exemption and as such we have considered whether the balance would lie in favour of the public interest for us to provide you with the information. I have outlined our public interest considerations below:
There is a strong public interest in transparency and accountability to promote public understanding in relation to the work of government in respect of EU Exit and border security. We realise that the public have an expectation that those who work in the public sector and those in Government should be accountable for decisions made in their name and at the taxpayers’ expense. There is also a public interest in seeing that ministers are provided with well informed and balanced advice to make effective decisions, and that the department makes best use of public resources.
Threats posed by international and domestic terrorism and from serious and organised criminals means that there is a high public interest in understanding what border security policies the government is planning to implement following the UK’s exit from the EU in order to protect the public.
However, effective policy development requires time and space to allow a proper consideration of all options, objectively, and away from external speculation. This approach helps to ensure that appropriate decisions can be made and serves to uphold the integrity of the policy making process. The government’s policy in relation to EU Exit is still in development and subject to careful consideration.
Disclosing policy options that are being considered in relation to security before they are agreed could undermine decision – making as the Government prepares for EU Exit. For example, this could result in a false or misleading impression being formed over what issues have been assessed to be most important or given most focus by the UK Government during the current development stage, which could ultimately make it more difficult for the Government to implement the most effective policies in the public interest.
As a result we consider the balance of public interest lies with withholding the information under section 35 (1) (a) of the Act.
Some of the information held is exempt under section 27 (1), meaning that disclosure of this would or would be likely to prejudice:
● relations between the United Kingdom and any other state
● relations between the United Kingdom and any other international organisation or international court
● the interests of the United Kingdom abroad
● the promotion or protection by the United Kingdom of its interests abroad.
Section 27 (1) is a qualified exemption and as such we have considered whether the balance would lie in favour of the public interest for us to provide you with the information. I have outlined our public interest considerations below:
There is a strong public interest in transparency and accountability to promote public understanding in relation to the work of between this government and that of other countries in respect of issues related to EU Exit and border security. We recognise that the release of this information would enable the public to become more informed on these matters. There is also public interest in ensuring that the UK’s interests’ are protected abroad, and that these and subsequent relations with other countries are not prejudiced.
Negotiations regarding the UK’s exit from the EU have not yet taken place. There is high public interest therefore in understanding what border security issues are considered to be important by the Government and may be raised in forthcoming discussions with the EU.
However, disclosure of any information informing Ministers of the central issues related to this might prejudice the outcome of those negotiations and subsequently might result in damage to the relations between the UK and the rest of the EU.
As a result we consider the public interest balance lies in withholding the information under section 27 (1) of the Act.
In addition, under s23(5) we neither confirm nor deny whether any further information is held. Section 23 is an absolute exemption and therefore does not require a public interest test to be carried out.
Some of the information held is exempt under section 24(1) of the FOIA. This allows the department to withhold information if releasing that information would make the UK or its citizens more vulnerable to a national security threat.
Section 24(1) is a qualified exemption and as such we have considered whether it would be in the public interest for us to provide you with the information. I have outlined our public interest considerations below:
We realise that if we were to release this information, the public would have greater knowledge of the measures that are in place to protect national security and the vital interests of the state, particularly in regards to those issues relating to the border with Ireland and international and domestic terrorism threats. This must be balanced against the harm that disclosure could cause to the effectiveness of UK defences against terrorism.
We believe that the balance lies in withholding this information in order to protect the operational effectiveness of law enforcement and security activity relating to the border and not to reveal and measures and capabilities in place that protect the public from the SEVERE threat of terrorism.
We have therefore reached the view that, on balance, the public interest is better served by withholding this information under section 24(1) of the FOIA.
You may wish to visit the MI5 Security Service website, which provides more information on the current assessment of the threat level posed by Northern Ireland – related terrorism and that of international terrorism in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
If you are unhappy with the result of your request for information you may request an internal review within two calendar months of the date of this letter. If you request an internal review please do so in writing stating the reasons to the address above.
If following an internal review you were to remain dissatisfied you may make a complaint to the Information Commissioner and ask him to investigate whether the NIO has complied with the terms of the FOIA. You can write to the Information Commissioner at:
Information Commissioner Wycliffe House
Water Lane Wilmslow Cheshire SK9 5AF
So on the day that Britain has triggered its Exit from the EU, it is reasonable for the people of Ireland (North and South) to expect the British to disclose what Britain believes to be the security fallout of this decision for the people of Ireland.
If this information is not disclosed – at least in summary format – then the suspicion must be that the negative security implications for Ireland are being concealed. Why? Perhaps to hide political embarrassment over what looks like, from an Irish perspective, to be a very reckless decision.
yeoooooooo,and were off.be like the grand national.
The one in Ratoath?
Theresa “Legs” May has done you proud,Billy.
no.her language is far to soft,she needs a enoch powell type spokesman to tell the eu the way things are going to work.
Being honest Sammy, I suspect the ‘security’ issue for the brit’s in two years will come from non-nationals using the ability to step from one part of Ulster into another and thereafter travel to Britain without serious issue.
As I pointed before however, there is increased risk of Republican’s who still believe in armed force being financially better off through smuggling and protection. Save that sort of money up for a few month’s you could go to some other country and arrange payment and import of another Marita Ann or Asgard. This would cause enormous difficulties for the brit’s whom don’t want to have to commit their reducing armed forces to Ireland while also pursuing mass murder and intimidation of people whose oil fields they want.
Mark, yes agreed there are 2 potential security elements involved. In both cases this might be solved by moving the border to the Irish sea and giving NI some sort of special status – but that would still leave a potential issue at ports in like Belfast and Larne.
MI5 must surely have briefed the NIO on the dissident threat – which will undoubtedly increase if any sort of ‘hard’ border exisits. This information – from those deployed to know about those things ie MI5 should have been passed on to the good people of Ni and Britain so they knew what they were voting for in the referendum.
Frankly, I cannot believe, pre June twenty third 2016, anybody in Millbank thought Brexit would go anywhere so, briefing the six county office would not have arisen. Things have now changed.
On the Larne/Belfast port’s, there’s one much closer to the Free State, should non-nationals choose to use it.
I suspect the continuance of the common travel area will be subject to security co-operation from na Gardaí, although, G.N.I.B. have never been good at doing their job.
Mark, I cant believe the NIO in the middle of a debate about the merits of Brexit (pre referendum) would not have asked MI5 their opinion – it was always a possibility and that is what governments are supposed to do – plan for the future. Former top policemen in NI were briefing all round them against it – before the referendum and yet the then secretary of state for NI was all in favour of Brexit. It is higlht likley that she had a document(s) sitting on her desk warning her of the dangers.
The Little Corporal says it won’t matter whether non nationals come in via back door or not as they won’t be able to work or claim benefits in the UK. Does he think that ISIS soldiers will be coming to England to lift the dole?
I stopped reading about half way down because my eyes were threatening to fall out of my head. What a load of cobblers. Any chance someone would tell the Brits that there is no country called the Republic of Ireland. It would be nice if they could at least get that much right. The Republic of Ireland is a soccer team.
I raised that before,James, but it is hard to get into people’s heads. And they complain when we don’t validate the 6 county state.
Can we establish two things? 1 There is no such thing, or being, as a “non-national”. Not on this planet anyway. 2 There are rules about using apostrophes. (note, not “rule’s,” not “apostrophe’s”).
Brian, if there is no such thing as ‘non national’s’ try going to America’s, Australia, Russia or elsewhere without prior permission.
Why else do we have a national identity and passport?
Mark, all people have a nationality. To describe them as ‘non-nationals’ (or as you call them ‘non-national’s’) is to deny their humanity,, to make them ‘non-people’.
Brian, now you;re getting annoying. How in the name of the good God is what I wrote dehumanising people?
Stating someone is non-national because they are from somewhere else is clearly what I meant, why, or how, could you think otherwise?
why are people of one race ie Irish referred to as “undocumented” while others (eg Romanians, Nigerians)are ‘non-nationals’. “Non-Irish nationals” would be a more appropriate term. I am not suggesting you set out to de-humanise them. But the term does, in your case unintentionally, in other cases often deliberately.