BBC Radio 4
World at One
Sarah Montague speaks to the former Director General of MI5, Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, via telephone, about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit. (begins time stamp ~ 10:56)
Sarah: Well, there’s another warning of the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal from the former head of MI5, Baroness Manningham-Buller. She warns the UK will be less safe. She’s also the Chair of the Wellcome Trust which funds medical research and she says science is already being damaged by Brexit. I spoke to her about it this morning.
I’m concerned, we’re concerned, because we fund a great deal of science in this country and that science is essential for medical discoveries dealing with environmental, sociological and economic problems and it delivers great benefit to the British economy and it’s fundamental to the government’s industrial strategy. Science is a collaborative exercise – it benefits from views and opinions of people from all over the world. And if you go into a laboratory in any British university you will find Brits but you’ll also find people from all over the world, including and in particular, the European Union. Now, they bring their own expertise, their own perspectives, their own excellence. Already some are leaving and some are not coming. And if this happens on a broader scale and if they feel, in particular unwelcome here, whatever new immigration laws exist – and, of course, the thirty-thousand cap is far too high – whatever the new immigration law says, young scientists are not coming because they feel unwelcome and that, in time, will damage science done in this country. I’m not going to talk about..
Sarah: …Are you talking about significant numbers? Because a lot of people say; Well look, we can afford to lose a few people. Surely this isn’t already having an effect?
Baroness: Yes, it is. I mean if you take something called the Sanger Institute up at Cambridge which is a genomics institute, and probably the top one in the world at the moment, there’s a drop of fifty percent of people who wanted to come there and do their PhDs and study. That means those excellent students, those excellent young academics, will go elsewhere.
Sarah: So your suggestion is: This isn’t necessarily the prospect of no-deal -this is just Brexit.
Baroness: This is Brexit but no-deal Brexit means we’re cut off, frankly, and that is damaging. Because there isn’t such a thing as ‘British science’. There’s science done in the UK and that science can be done elsewhere and it will be if we don’t look out.
Sarah: I want to turn to questions of security not least given all the discussions we’re having about the border between the Republic and The North of Ireland. We had the Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, the Irish Prime Minister, saying, when he was asked what a hard border would look like, he said: It would involve customs posts, it would involve people in uniform and it may involve the need, for example, for cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence or army presence to back it up. Are you worried about what could happen in Ireland because of Brexit?
Baroness: I’m desperately worried. Much of my career was spent working on the Provisional IRA and the Loyalist terrorist groups in Northern Ireland and I was so astonished and delighted by the progress that’s been made politically and some of it very unexpected – Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley working together. And I can remember when the border was like that – when it was thoroughly unpleasant to go through the border. And now, if we go back to that, it cuts off the increasing links between Northern Ireland and the Republic which are an important part of the message of the peace process – the North-South links. They will be very much more difficult and it will alter dramatically the whole sentiment and politics of Northern Ireland.
Sarah: There have been troubles in Northern Ireland recently – there’s been flare-ups and a suggestion that it’s from the New IRA. Do you think there’s a risk that that trouble could actually spill-back into the rest of the United Kingdom?
Baroness: I don’t know the answer to your question but I think actually it’s worth remembering that throughout the time there’s been those who don’t agree with the peace process who are continuing to mount attacks, generally small-scale, but I don’t think it’s over in Northern Ireland. The danger is whether it gets much worse again.
Sarah: Right, which may explain why we learnt just recently that MI5, your old organisation, has more than seven hundred spies in Belfast.
Baroness: I don’t know. They haven’t told me how many people they have.
Sarah: Are you surprised, though, by that?
Baroness: No, because I know that there’s a continuing problem and has been all along.
Sarah: A problem that is in danger of getting worse because of the political noise?
Baroness: I don’t know. I suspect so.
Sarah: You will know that, more broadly, whether it’s as a result of the border in Ireland or because of concerns elsewhere, there are people suggesting that we are more vulnerable to terrorism. I mean, it was something actually the Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, pointed to: Neil Basu, the Anti-Terror Chief’s comments that no-deal makes us more vulnerable to terrorism. Now she suggests that’s an argument for supporting her amendment.
Baroness: Well, I think what Neil Basu said, who I have a great deal of respect for, and indeed, what also Cressida Dick said, are both really needed to be listened to. One of the things we’ve learnt, if you like, from Northern Ireland is that you have to integrate intelligence and security work as closely as possible with police work, because the two go together. So we, as I, as a former member of MI5, I’m very concerned about the loss of things like the European arrest warrant, the loss of access to Europol data and so on. And the sort of things that would certainly make us less safe and put our people in more danger that Neil Basu and Cressida Dick have talked about. You’ll can probably remember when British criminals trotted off to the Costa del Sol and waved merrily at attempts to extradite them. With the European arrest warrant we can get back people very quickly – with the bomber who tried to bomb Warren Street tube station on the 21st of July 2007. He escaped to Italy and was returned by the Italians in a matter of weeks. Now without that mechanism we have some really serious problems.
Sarah: So if it is so important to avoid no-deal, would you sympathise with those who would support the amendment for effectively MPs to take control of parliamentary business to stop no-deal?
Sarah: You’re sympathetic to that?
Baroness: More than sympathetic.
Sarah: Even though it goes against centuries of our constitution?
Baroness: Well, does it?
Sarah: Doesn’t it?
Baroness: It seems to me that there’s an irony here. The Brexiteers, and I’m not one of them, argue that it’s about taking back parliamentary sovereignty. If it’s about Parliament taking back parliamentary sovereignty Parliament must be sovereign. And I think that no-deal and the uncertainties of no-deal, and I’ve mentioned this in science, I’ve mentioned it in security but it’s in a range of other things as well, I think that is to be avoided at all costs.
Sarah: And given the position that our Prime Minister find herself in – do you have some sympathy for her?
Baroness: Some. I, when you put it – she had a hard hand to play and it’s hard from the outside to know whether she’s played it well but I think to start with so many red lines as she had was probably a mistake.
Sarah: And when the former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove, says that the deal she’s come up with places national security into foreign hands, do you…
Baroness: …I don’t see that. I’ve looked carefully at the documentation and I can’t see that it says that at all. It’s not in foreign hands now and removing ourselves from the European Union won’t change that.
Sarah: You spent your career considering our national security.
Sarah: When you consider the situation we find ourselves in now what’s your view on how safe or otherwise we are?
Baroness: I think if we leave without a deal we’re going to be less safe.
Sarah: Than when?
Baroness: Than we are remaining part of the European Union. We have a very serious problem, a terrorist problem, in this country. We have very serious other issues – security issues, the rise of Russia, again, it’s interference in our elections. I’m pretty queasy that Putin is so in favour of Brexit; I think that should give us all pause. There’s a range of other security issues which are dealt with better in – we all face the same ones – dealt with better in a European context than not. That’s my view.
Sarah: The former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller. Thank you very much. (ends time stamp ~ 20:19)