Anna Sergi is Lecturer in Criminology and Deputy Director of the Centre for Criminology at the University of Essex, UK. She is an International Visiting Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Australia and Chair of the Early Career Researchers Network of the British Society of Criminology.
Brexit is fast approaching and the language of security – with words like risk, threat and harm floating around in political discourses on justice and border control – helps confusing an already confused scenario of what exactly is Great Britain without the EU going to look like. Particularly, the language of security is made to echo immediacy and a sense of urgency in solving a problem that is going to affect all of us and with potentially alarming consequences. In the midst of political confusion in what Brexit will mean for the UK’s shores– especially in terms of agreements for cooperation and border control – the old adagio that sees migration as quintessential contribution to insecurity can easily resurface. In other words, the idea that – by closing our borders – we will keep out potential terrorists and transnational drug traffickers, is tempting and apparently intuitive. And yet it is a superficial and incorrect concept, as it is based on mistaken premises.
The assumptions on the links between terrorism – international terrorism – and migration from Islamic countries has been proven wrong by recent events: terror attacks in Paris and London in the past years have confirmed that perpetrators, even when they are of Islamic faiths, are usually born and bred in the country and radicalised at a later stage. Thus, even in the public domain, the fear and the following stigmatisation of Muslim migrants – current and future – seem today easier to dispute. This, however, is also the result of the visibility of terrorism, when events like the London Bridge attack of 3rd of June 2017 – which counted 8 deaths in total – dominated the news for weeks, offering the public all the details about the offenders’ past and actions. Such visibility, instead, doesn’t complement the news on much more frequent criminal activities, of serious, often transnational, and organised crime, such as drug or human trafficking, counterfeiting and/or smuggling. Organised criminal groups, however, not only benefit from this lack of visibility – as they arguably appreciate being under the radar – and will be benefitting from Brexit the most.
Indeed, myths can be debunked when it comes to organised crime and the impending exit of the UK from the European Union. The first myth relates to cross-border crime, and, as seen before, relies on the argument that with stricter border control and isolation we can disrupt trafficking and smuggling activities. This could be partially true if we were in a situation where trafficking and smuggling only happened because of the porosity of borders. This however is not true, as organised crime activities are heavily dependent, amongst other things, on market rules of offer and demand. Therefore the border – and the overcoming of border controls – is factored in the business risk. This is why isolation and increased border controls only make the business risk grow – by making it more difficult to cross the border unchecked – and the cost of an increased business risk are not born by the traffickers/smugglers, but by the clients or the victims. In other words, in a cocaine trafficking scenario, cocaine will end up costing more on the streets, because traffickers have to match the increased risk of shipping it into an isolated country, where, however, demand is not likely to decline. Learning from the experience in other countries – namely Australia for example – an option to avoid the inflation of drug costs on the street will be shipping lower quality drugs as well or developing drugs locally produced. In all accounts, however, the increased business risk paired with the usual demands leads to the possibility to increase profits: if cocaine is going to be more expensive in the UK, but demand is not falling, then the UK will become an attractive place to do business. In this sense, Brexit will not only not decrease the availability of (transnationally-shipped) drug, but will also increase profits for organised crime groups. Great Britain needs to be able to work with partners towards international cooperation in policing – which Brexit also threatens – in order to understand how criminal networks work across global routes and how best to intervene to disrupt them.
There is another myth as well which relies on the nature of contemporary organised crime, as a threat to national security in the form of transnational networks and not so much as a local issue. While it is obvious that some (organised) crimes are transnational, the nature of organised crime in Great Britain is certainly not just transnational, as, arguably, it has always been very local instead. Organised crime networks in different parts of the UK can be both “heavy” organisations, structured and “organised”, but also “lighter” organisations, based on opportunistic network ties, occasional cooperation and easier involvement for willing participants. If we consider organised crime as a socio-behavioural model of doing crime, rooted in networks and (sub)cultural values, it follows that together with fighting networks that operate cross border, policies must consider how organised crime activities and actors are extremely linked to local environments, changes and structures and social, economic and cultural levels. This line of thought re-establishes organised crime as a very British problem, that isolation and border control are not likely to affect in the way certain political factions would like, i.e. by reducing it.
With concerns linked to the City of London becoming the ‘laundry of choice’ of different criminal groups, both local and foreign, political parties have repeatedly called for a review of regulations. With the advent of Brexit, and with the possible changes in transparency regulations now set out by the EU, this concern becomes even more real. When it comes to understanding and policing organised crime, together with many other threats the UK considers national security concerns, we must therefore conclude that Brexit would only make for a weaker and more isolated Britain. That translates in more opportunities for profit and investments for transnational criminal networks – and will be a nightmare for national law enforcement agencies.
Anna Sergi, Lecturer in Criminology and Deputy Director of the Centre for Criminology, University of Essex – firstname.lastname@example.org – @annasergi
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