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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain must maintain its close ties with European law enforcement agencies after it leaves the bloc, a senior British police chief said on Friday, amid concern that the country's security could be damaged by leaving the EU.
Security was cited as a major issue by those who wanted Britain to remain in the European Union, including Prime Minister Theresa May, and the head of the bloc's law enforcement agency Europol has warned Brexit would have serious consequences.
"In bluntest form, we must be able to continue to exchange intelligence and we must be able to understand the movement of criminals and criminal behaviour across international borders," Lynne Owens, Director General of Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA), told reporters.
"We are supplying that information to the Home Office and it's for them to make the policy negotiations," she added.
The June vote to leave the EU means Britain could lose access to the Schengen Information System, which shares data on criminal suspects within the passport-free zone in Europe, and its use of the European Arrest Warrant, which allows easier extradition of criminal suspects inside the EU.
The NCA leads Britain's fight against serious and organised crime. David Armond, Owens' deputy, said he believed new deals could be reached if necessary through new bi-lateral or multi-lateral treaties but warned it could be a complex process.
"It's a concern. We're ... coming up with a strong operational case why those arrangements are necessary and developing scenarios where if we can't do it this way there is an alternative. I won't pretend it's easy," he said.
"The Europeans need us as much as we need them, maybe more so. I cannot envisage a situation where we can't continue to do business with our European partners, it's important for all of our security and the way we protect our citizens."
Britain's membership of Europol is an immediate issue for the government which must decide whether to opt out of new EU legislation regarding the agency.
Some pro-Brexit figures have said it would be illogical for Britain to sign up to closer police cooperation when it is in the process of leaving the bloc.
A decision is expected in the next couple of months.
Editing by Stephen Addison