Criminologist warns of increase in cross-border crime post-Brexit

  • Date

    Wed 5 Aug 20

Any Government easing of border controls to help boost the economy post-Brexit could lead to an increase in crime a leading academic has warned

Criminologist and Mafia expert, Dr Anna Sergi, from the University of Essex, has carried out an in-depth study into organised crime and corruption at ports in Europe, Australia, Canada and America, as well as the UK.

She found ports are already hotspots for crime – acting as a key entry point for drugs and illegal goods - and warns things could get worse if freeports, where normal tax and custom rules do not apply, are created.

“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.

For her 174-page report Dr Sergi investigated crime levels at five ports around the world and looked at what was being done to prevent it. She found drugs was a major issue at all of the ports she visited, so unsurprisingly this is where most of the law enforcement effort is placed.

“Drugs are high harm/high gain – they are harmful to individuals and fuel further criminal activity but potentially provide massive profits for drug dealers. We found evidence of dealers importing higher quantities but using smaller vessels in a bid to escape capture.

“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. In response she suggests security networks should be established around ports with all the different authorities working together.

She says this would be particularly beneficial at Liverpool, the UK port she profiled in her report, as it is privately-owned, which has led to gaps in information and intelligence sharing with public authorities.

Dr Sergi’s research was carried out between January 2019 and May 2020. It was commissioned by the British Academy, as part of its funding for research aimed at tacking the UK’s international challenges. It has since extended funding to allow Dr Sergi to do further studies on Liverpool Port and the potential implications of Brexit on crime levels.