Scottish minsters are urging their Westminster counterparts to sign protocols on the UK's membership of a new European policing co-operation framework.

The UK Government has to indicate by January 2017 whether it is to accept a new regulation on the cross-border agency Europol. Failure to do so would mean the UK would no longer be a Europol member from 1 May 2017.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson believes this would have serious implications for the ability of police to share information, and potentially impact on live operations, and has written to Home Secretary Amber Rudd to press for a decision.

The issue is separate from the Brexit vote and negotiations, but the Scottish Government is anxious that it is not overshadowed by these.

Mr Matheson said: "The ability to share information quickly and co-ordinate operations with other law enforcement agencies through Europol is key to detecting, disrupting and detaining criminals across borders. That is necessary to keep Scotland and the rest of the UK safer from the threats of organised crime, cybercrime and terrorism.

“Europol supports the effective operation of the European arrest warrant through which Police Scotland has arrested 301 offenders, while 43 offenders have been returned to Scotland to face justice. European co-operation also gives our police practical support and expertise from the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), and enhances their ability to locate missing persons, as well as tracking down fugitives.

“As the Home Secretary said recently, Europol has played an important role in keeping us safe. That is why I have written to her, pressing for the UK Government to end the uncertainty for our police and their law enforcement partners by making a decision to sign up to the revised Europol arrangements.”

The Home Office said it would make a decision in due course. A spokesperson commented: "The Prime Minister has stated that law enforcement cooperation will continue when the UK is outside the EU.

"We will do what is necessary to keep our people safe. We are exploring options for cooperation arrangements with Europol once the UK has left the EU but it is too early to speculate at this stage what future arrangements may look like."