Earlier this month, the Home Secretary announced UK plans to exercise its ‘block’ opt out from 135 EU crime and policing measures, and consider which if any to opt back into on a selective basis. This week, I published Cooperation Not Control – The Case for Britain Retaining Democratic Control over EU Crime and Policing Policy with Open Europe. It assesses each of the 135 measures, and makes the case for enhanced operational cooperation, but argues that none of this necessitates that Britain follow the path towards a harmonised EU criminal code, decided by qualified majority voting, and enforced by the Commission, the European Court of Justice and – in due course – an EU Public Prosecutor. In short, it is not unreasonable to want more cooperation without giving up democratic control. Having exercised the block ‘opt out’, that is what the government should push for.
The European Arrest Warrant has become one of the most contentious of the 135 measures. If you are concerned about lop-sided extradition under the UK-US treaty, it is a drop in the ocean compared to the rough justice meted out under the European Arrest Warrant to British citizens like Andrew Symeou, Michael Turner, Deborah Dark and my own constituent Colin Dines. They variously faced corrupt police, incompetent justice systems and squalid jails, despite either being cleared or having no evidence or charges presented against them. The UK surrenders 11 people under the EAW for every individual extradited to Britain, so it is far more lop-sided than the US regime. In terms of scale, last year we surrendered 3 British nationals to the US, but 32 to EU countries.
Of course, extradition relations are vital. No-one wants to abolish the EAW. Predictably, Labour have been stressing the EAW’s law enforcement value. This month Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told Parliament:
‘[The EAW] made it possible to arrest Jeremy Forrest and bring him back to face British justice for the alleged kidnapping of Megan Stammers and to bring back Hussain Osman for trying to bomb the London underground, and it closed down the “Costa del Crime” when British criminals fled to Spain.’
The EAW has proved useful, although the Metropolitan Police also complain about the strain on police resources from scatter-gun requests from EU authorities. But, Labour’s assertion masks two important developments.
In 2004, Labour signed Britain up to the EU Citizenship Directive as well as the EAW. If a British villain or fugitive turns up abroad, the simplest thing would be to have him deported back (rather than rely on extradition). However, since 2008 (the government have not retained data going back further), whilst 769 British nationals were deported home from the US, just 75 were deported from all 27 EU countries (the annual rate has been steadily declining). Compared to countries outside Europe, the EU Citizenship Directive made the expulsion and return of British fugitives much harder – hence, reliance on the EAW.
This is one of the perverse consequences of the development of EU justice and home affairs policy. Deporting criminals home to face justice within the EU should be easy. But, there ought to be safeguards to prevent the innocent being carted off abroad. EU law has developed in the opposite direction.
Personally, I don’t accept the Faustian bargain presented by Labour (and, astonishingly, many Lib Dems), whereby we have to trade-off safeguards protecting the innocent in order to catch serious criminals. The EAW can and should be re-negotiated – as the House of Commons unanimously backed last December – to insert modest safeguards to protect the innocent, without jeopardising our ability to catch crooks and terrorists. Next time you hear Labour pointing to the cases of Jeremy Forrest and Hussain Osman, ask yourself why they weren’t deported back to the UK, as would normally happen with most of our partners outside Europe. The answer is that Labour signed Britain up to the EU’s skewed priorities.