Easing of border controls could lead to increase in crime, expert warns
Any easing of border controls to help boost the economy post-Brexit could make the UK an even more attractive destination for illicit goods and drugs, an expert has warned.
Dr Anna Sergi, a criminologist from the University of Essex, carried out an in-depth study into crime and corruption at ports in the UK and around the world and looked at what was being done to prevent it.
She found ports are already hotspots for crime – acting as key entry points for drugs and illegal goods – and warns the Government proposal for freeports, where normal tax and custom rules do not apply, could lead to a increase in crime.
“The current UK proposal for freeports is not addressing a number of issues that relate to organised crime in ports.
“Indeed, freeports yield a number of criminal opportunities for illicit drug trade, counterfeit trade, money laundering, tax evasion and evasion of custom duties. In particular, the already existing risk profiles of a port are augmented by the existence of free trade zones,” she said.
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Dr Sergi’s 174-page report profiled Liverpool Port as her UK case study, but she said Felixstowe – the UK’s biggest container port – will be the most affected in terms of volume of cargo coming in from Europe, potentially leading to less physical checks on containers post-Brexit.
She said: “The current situation of intelligence sharing between Border Force and NCA (National Crime Agency) in the port and local police forces outside the port is not functioning across the whole country.
“With Brexit, Felixstowe particularly will be the most affected port in terms of volume of cargo coming from Europe which will likely be subjected to more scrutiny post-Brexit.
“This means that criminal groups usually moving things via sea through Europe will have to adapt to this condition by changing routes and using maybe other ways of transport, by road for example, and authorities will be slow in catching up.
“The increased volume of control in Felixstowe or Harwich might also mean more superficial control, already now we check less than 5% of containers daily, after Brexit with more bureaucracy we could end up physically checking even less.”
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Dr Sergi found drugs to be a major issue at all the ports she visited, and, unsurprisingly, that is where most of the law enforcement is placed.
“If cocaine production increases at the rate that it has increased in the past years (quadrupled in Colombia in the past four years) and the demand for cocaine in the UK is also increasing, cocaine trade to the UK will certainly not stop. The likelihood that the UK’s borders will be an even more attractive destination for illicit goods, such as cocaine, especially after Brexit, is a realistic concern,” she said.
Dr Sergi believes the lack of data about the true levels of crime associated with ports, together with complex relationships – a multitude of authorities have different jurisdictions over various aspects of port life – allow crime to flourish.
She suggests security networks should be established around ports with all the different authorities working together.
A Home Office spokesman said the UK is “well-equipped” to combat cross-border crime.
“Illegal drugs devastate lives and communities. Working with our partners at the NCA we will continue to do all we can to arrest and prosecute those involved in drug smuggling,” the spokesman said.
“Border Force officers continue to play a key role in tackling smuggling, detecting illegal immigration, disrupting serious and organised crime and helping to prevent the threat of terrorism, as well as protecting the UK’s revenue and contributing to the nation’s prosperity and growth. They are well equipped to combat immigration crime and detect banned and restricted goods that smugglers attempt to bring into the country.”
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