British police forces may find it more difficult to track down and prosecute human traffickers if the UK decides to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum, a Home Office minister has claimed.
Speaking at a Conservative conference fringe meeting organised by pro-Europe groups, Karen Bradley said British police could lose the cooperation of European counterparts they currently receive through the EU's law enforcement agency, Europol.
Member states also benefit from having access to the ECRIS system, which allows countries to exchange information about – and the fingerprints of – criminals.
Bradley, the minister for preventing abuse and exploitation, told the meeting organised by the Conservative Europe Group: "We can't know for sure how member states would cooperate with Britain, if the UK decided to leave."
Stressing that the situation is hypothetical before the referendum vote takes place, she said: "My feeling is, based on meeting with counterparts from Spain, from Germany, from France, from Italy, it would be harder for us to get that cooperation [that we currently receive].
"It would be harder for us to practically use the facilities like Europol, like ECRIS, without being a member."
She added: "That doesn't mean that these things can't be negotiated."
Bradley, who was minister for modern slavery and organised crime, said that Britain needs to be able to cooperate with other countries to tackle criminal organisations operating across European borders.
"Organised crime, as you can imagine, means that it generally speaking is big, does not recognise national borders and boundaries, and we cannot tackle and have any hope of tackling much of the organised crime that affects us here in Britain without cooperating with other democracies," Bradley said.
She added that while Britain works with non-European countries, gangs were particularly active in Europe, especially those involved in modern slavery and trafficking people across borders.
Giving the example of Hungarian traffickers, she said: "They have a Hungarian base, they have a UK base and they have a base through all the countries that the girls are transiting through.
"We have to work together in order that we can find those perpetrators and protect the victims and stamp out modern slavery."
Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Siraj Datoo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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