Tackling knife crime requires EU cooperation

   9 August 2019

Yesterday evening a London police officer was brutally attacked with a machete. Enough is enough, we need changes to our laws to stop violent knife crime. How many more people need to be attacked with knives for our laws to change?  We must work with our EU partners to combat knife crime.

The government has, at long last, promised more police officers. Officers on the beat will help but is far from all we can do to arrest rising knife crime or the other growing security threats to our country.

Last year, 18,000 assaults and 17,000 robberies involving a knife or similar object took place in the UK. Around 40,000 knife crimes in total were committed in England & Wales. Knives are involved in four out of ten murders. Our knife problem is comparable to gun crime in the US.

Like America’s guns, our knife problem is made worse by gaps in legislation. Zombie knives, combat knives, hunting knives, machetes and samurai swords are all legal in the UK at home or in another private place. If only they stayed there. 

It is illegal outright to own a stungun, pepper spray, pistol or most other guns. A shotgun can only be kept under tight conditions, by a licenced person with a good reason for it. It is rightly illegal to keep most firearms, so why is it legal to keep an arsenal of deadly bladed weapons?

Short of banning these weapons outright, we could limit online sales, require purchasers to register and provide ID, ban people with criminal records from acquiring them and impose a waiting period. Anyone who needs a samurai sword immediately probably should not have one at all.

Before being an MEP, as a barrister I prosecuted my fair share of knife crimes. Many are carried out with domestic knives shoplifted shortly before the incident. If you carry it all day you run the risk that you might be stopped and searched by the police. Many gang members steal a knife shortly before they intend to use it.

Cigarettes are hard to shoplift as shopkeepers must keep them securely behind a counter.  Knives are often kept on display with no special protection. Taking them off the shelves is an easy change that will prevent violence. The manufacture of domestic knives must comply with safety standards. At home we slice and chop food. The knifepoint is rarely needed in the average kitchen (a fork does the job) and it can be argued that rounded knife ends would mean fewer street stabbings with no loss in our family meal preparation.

But UK-based action is not enough. The internet and our proximity to the continent makes it hard to control weapons that are available in other European countries.

Gun ownership has been on the rise across the continent in the wake of multiple terrorist attacks – in particular, the Paris Bataclan atrocity in which 138 people lost their lives.

Against this backdrop, the EU revised its firearms legislation in 2017. It is now much harder to cross a border, buy a gun and bring it home through the borderless Schengen area, making the UK a significantly safer place. What Europe has done for guns should be done for knives.

Reducing supply of firearms is just one way the EU has made a difference. Another is dealing with human trafficking. To destroy sophisticated criminal networks who exploit and smuggle vulnerable people across borders, the EU set up the European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) for law enforcement to share intelligence and target international people smuggling gangs.

Divorced from EU, the UK will lose access to the EMSC. The project is EU funded, and successful intelligence sharing depends on trust and goodwill between members – not surprising given the risk to human life if intelligence sources on the ground are exposed.

Trust is being fast eroded by Brexit. The inevitable outcome will be more migrants huddling on British shores in need of our help after being dropped off by traffickers who take their cash and peddle myths about life in Britain versus the rest of Europe.

Whether it’s terrorism, people-smuggling, gun crime or even cybercrime and disinformation disseminated by bots, extra police is only part of the solution. We must reform legislation and work with our European neighbours or suffer more violent crime.