Dominic Raab is the Conservative MP for Esher and Walton. The Spectator recently gave him their coveted newcomer of the year award.
On Monday at 6.30pm, the House of Commons will debate extradition reform (any vote will be at 9.30pm). For those who believe in standing up for our core liberties – and basic standards of British justice – extradition reform is an acid test. I have written elsewhere about the case for reform of the European Arrest Warrant and the arrangements under the UK-US treaty. A rising number of our citizens, many manifestly innocent, are being subjected to rough justice – like the appalling treatment of Andrew Symeou, Deborak Dark and Michael Turner. On Monday night, MPs have an opportunity to do something about it.
The motion calls on the government to introduce legislative proposals to enact the basic safeguards recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), rather than accept the ‘do nothing’ counsel of the Baker review. Of course, the House cannot tie its own hands. The detail of any Bill would need to go through the proper Parliamentary process in the usual way. Each recommendation would be scrutinised, one by one. But, the motion prevents extradition reform from being punted into the long grass, and takes the JCHR recommendations as the benchmark. It is not asking the executive to do the impossible – calling on government to ‘pursue’ renegotiation of the European Arrest Warrant and UK-US extradition arrangements. No amendments have been laid, to try and tweak the motion or fudge the issue. So, MPs face a simple, straight, question: do you support or oppose extradition reform?
In addition to the many Conservatives, the motion has strong cross-party support, including Sir Ming Campbell, two Labour Chairs of Select Committees (Hywell Francis and Keith Vaz). The fifty-three sponsors of the motion – from John Redwood to Dennis Skinner – were yesterday joined by Mayor Boris Johnson, adding his full-throated support for reform:
"It is a travesty that the government has been too feeble to help Gary McKinnon and others in similar positions, by ignoring its duty to protect the well-being of its citizens. We need to bring to an end this brutal and absurd law."
In a welcome move, that reflects well on the government, I am advised that Conservative and Lib Dem MPs – front and backbench – will have a free vote. Although there are rumblings of clandestine efforts to cajole PPSs to block the motion – if pushed to a vote – they can easily resist if so inclined, and the government is not pressing for a vote.
So, who might? Whilst many Labour MPs have supported the motion, the frontbench are split. Some like Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan are believed to be supportive. But, the draconian habit of the Blair-Brown governments lingers. That makes it a litmus test of Ed Miliband’s leadership and credibility. Remember his conference speech, just days after winning the Labour leadership? In a break with the past, he boldly declared:
"I believe too in a society where individual freedom and liberty matter and should never be given away lightly … [W]e must always remember that British liberties were hard fought and hard won over hundreds of years. We should always take the greatest care in protecting them. And too often we seemed casual about them … Protecting the public involves protecting all their freedoms. I won't let the Tories or the Liberals take ownership of the British tradition of liberty. I want our party to reclaim that tradition."
Fine words. I understand that Labour backbenchers will be given a free vote. But, reports also suggest Miliband has instructed his frontbench to push the motion to a vote. The Opposition have not tabled any amendment, so it would be an attempt to knock extradition reform off the agenda altogether.
If so, Miliband’s words will prove a fraud, and his pledge to protect the freedoms of British citizens short-lived. On Monday night, we’ll learn whether – behind the liberal lipstick – Miliband shares the authoritarian instincts of his predecessors. I hope as many MPs as possible stick around to call his cards – and put extradition reform firmly on the agenda.