Row erupts after claims Brussels attacks demonstrate need for Brexit

A bitter row has flared over claims that the terrorist attacks in Brussels on Tuesday show that Britain is "better off" quitting the EU.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

25 Mar 2016

Some have been quick to suggest that the attacks which killed 31 people and left hundreds of others injured increases the probability of a Leave vote in the UK's June referendum on EU membership.

But veteran UK Socialist MEP Richard Corbett said he was "appalled" at perceived attempts by "some anti-European politicians" to use the atrocities to "push their political agendas."

The clash between the two sides comes after it emerged on Thursday that a series of serious intelligence blunders occurred in the run-up to the attacks in Brussels.


This includes criticism by Turkey's president Recep Erdogan who accused Belgium of failing to track Ibrahim El Bakraoui, a convicted Belgian armed robber whom it deported last year and who blew himself up at the airport on Tuesday an hour before his brother Khalid, a fellow convict, killed at least 20 people at Maelbeek metro station in the city centre.

It also emerged that the third bomber, Najim Laachraoui, is a veteran Belgian Islamist fighter in Syria who is also suspected of preparing explosive belts for the Paris attacks in November.

On Wednesday, there were reports that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) had sent 400 fighters from Syria to Europe, where it is argued they can move freely across the Continent with the aim of carrying out terror attacks.

Such apparent security lapses and this week's atrocity has helped intensify the row over the security of Europe's borders, with a UK security chief saying that leaving the EU would improve Britain's security.

Sir Richard Dearlovem, a former head of Britain's MI6 said that UK borders could be strengthened in the event of a Brexit and extremists could be more easily deported, moves which he said were "security gains" with little apparent downside. 

Elsewhere, in a statement released immediately after the explosions, UKIP MEP Mike Hookem, the party's defence spokesman, said the incident "shows that Schengen free movement and lax border controls are a threat to our security."

Arron Banks, of the Leave.Eu campaign, agreed, saying, "When will it be time to take our heads out of the sand? After the referendum, when it's too late to change direction, and we see blood on British streets again?"

"With the EU already poised to extend visa-free travel to an increasingly aggressive and radicalised Turkey and a war-torn Ukraine, it's clear that lessons are not being learned."

"Brussels, the so-called capital of the EU, has taken the grand experiment in state-sponsored multiculturalism and tested it to destruction. The ghettos and extremism are proof this doesn't work."

Their interventions directly contradict claims by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and interior minister Theresa May that EU membership makes Britain safer.

Cameron condemned the UKIP statement while May said, "I think this is an issue people should look at more broadly but on the security front there are good reasons for us to be members of the EU."

Corbett, meanwhile, also castigated Hookem for issuing a "bile-filled press release blaming the EU, in particular the Schengen passport-free travel zone across most of continental Europe, for the terrorists' actions."

He added, "I was appalled, as were many others. Hookem was so keen to argue that our security was compromised by the Schengen agreement that he failed to mention we are not in fact part of it: the UK has its own border controls separate from mainland Europe. Nor did he wait to check where the attackers had come from: they were in fact 'home-grown' from Brussels, just as the London bombers were from Britain. Cross border movement was not a factor."

Further comment on the possible political ramifications of the attacks came from Raoul Ruparel, of the UK-based think tank, Open Europe, which campaigns for reform of the EU, who said the impact was "unclear and could cut both ways."

Raoul argued that on the one hand many voters will want to put as much distance between the EU and UK as possible. 

However, the Remain side, he says, could credibly argue that these are issues which need to be dealt with across borders and that leaving does not necessarily provide the UK with further tools to tackle these challenges given it is already outside the passport-free Schengen zone and has control of its borders.

A number of bookmakers slashed their odds on a Leave vote after the horrific blasts.

On Thursday, EU justice ministers gathered in Brussels for an emergency meeting to discuss the aftermath of the attacks.

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