By Thomas Escritt
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - British police would find it harder to protect citizens from militant attacks and organised crime if it left the European Union, the head of Europol said on Monday, countering a claim to the contrary by a leading British euroskeptic.
Intelligence sharing capacity would need to be replaced if Britons voted to leave in a June referendum, Rob Wainwright, director of the EU-wide police body, said.
"If you take that infrastructure that they (British police) have helped to design over the past 40 years, it would make the United Kingdom's job harder to protect citizens from terror," he said.
Senior British government minister Iain Duncan Smith, who is campaigning for Britain to leave the 28-member bloc, said at the weekend that remaining in the European Union would increase the risk of Paris-style attacks in the EU.
Wainwright said that Britain was already free to impose tougher border controls as a non-member of the passport-free Schengen zone.
British police forces, meanwhile, had taken a leading role in building up Europe-wide counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing programs, said Wainwright, a former head of Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency.
If Britain left, "it could choose different immigration and visa policies," he said, "but in or out they would still be vulnerable to clandestine criminal networks smuggling people, who are adept at avoiding any border policy."
(Reporting By Thomas Escritt Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)