Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has welcomed an announcement that the UK is to remain part of Europol, the European law enforcement agency, for the time being, but warned of a renewed risk to the war on crime after Brexit takes effect.

Yesterday the UK Government became the final member state to confirm that it would opt in to an agreement on new powers for Europol, to take effect from May 2017, improving the way it tackles cross-border crime and terrorism. Some Brexit supporters had questioned the move, but law enforcement authorities warned the Government that it risked losing vital intelligence if it opted out.

Confirming the decision, Policing Minister Brandon Lewis said: "The UK is leaving the EU but the reality of cross-border crime remains."

He added: "Europol provides a valuable service to the UK and opting in would enable us to maintain our current access to the agency, until we leave the EU, helping keep the people of Britain safe."

The Government's decision is "without prejudice" to negotiations over its future relationship with Europol when Britain leaves the EU.

Mr Matheson, who had written to the Home Secretary urging an opt-in before the deadline at the end of December, said following the announcement that it was critical that access to the agency’s resources and collaboration be maintained for the longer-term, as part of discussions on the implications of Brexit.

He commented: “Organised crime and terrorism do not respect borders and it is essential that Police Scotland can access the information systems, support and technical expertise available through Europol, not only to help make Scotland safe but also to contribute to making Europe more safe.

“While we welcome this decision, it only provides a temporary solution and protects our participation in Europol only while we remain part of the EU. In terms of the potential implications of the UK Brexit vote in the longer term, membership of Europol and participation in the European arrest warrant and other key areas of justice co-operation remain at serious risk. We must ensure that our law enforcement agencies can continue to have the same level of access to Europol as they currently enjoy. This is critical to help them tackle organised crime and terrorism effectively and to keep our communities safe. I look forward to discussing these issues further with the Home Secretary.”