Leaving the European Arrest Warrant is a huge mistake and will have significant operation consequences for law enforcement

Labour Party

The UK will be kicked out of the European Arrest Warrant if the government’s Brexit strategy goes ahead, the EU chief negotiator has warned.

Incredibly the Government wants to remain part of the system but has not yet grasped that to remain part of it, it cannot leave the European Court of Justice or the free movement scheme.

It’s astonishing that while on the one hand the Government recognises the importance of staying within it meanwhile it is doing everything it possibly can to sabotage our ability to remain part of it.

The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is a hugely important mechanism whereby EU member states can request the detention of criminals and is able to do so without having to apply for extradition which s a lengthy and bureaucratic process.

Instead of the UK being part of the EAW Barnier has suggested that the UK and the EU may be able to establish a streamlined extradition process. But this is reliant on several factors including agreement from all 27 EU member states, and it won’t be nearly as effective as remaining part of the EAW which is an efficient and effective system.

This is an incredibly serious situation which inevitably will have operational consequences for UK law enforcement. The UK will only have very limited access to analysis and to data produced by Europol relating to live criminal investigations. However, it would not be able to shape the direction of the enforcement agency or have any further input.

The BBC reported: “Successive UK governments have remained strong supporters of the European Arrest Warrant – which came into force in 2004 – despite calls from some Tory MPs for it to be renegotiated or reformed.

“According to the National Crime Agency, other EU members requested the arrest of 14,279 UK-based suspects in 2015-6, up from 1,865 in 2004. The UK made 241 such requests in 2015-6, leading to 150 arrests.”

Being forced to leave the European Arrest Warrant will only serve to make the UK increasingly vulnerable.


The issue of Modern Slavery exposes Conservative policy at its most flawed

Labour Party

John Major’s attack on Euro-sceptics as living in “fantasy land” hits on an uneasy fault line. There is a fissure within the Conservative Party, between an aspiration to again be ‘the natural party of government’, and a temptation to fall back on knee-jerk, Tea Party style approaches which win quick votes. At its core this remains a 1980s distinction, between high-handed ‘wets’ and the visceral politics of Thatcherism. This is perhaps why Major’s experiences remain so relevant 16 years on – nothing really has changed. The Conservatives are still torn between rhyme and reason.

This schism is brought into sharp relief by today’s European parliament vote on trafficking and organised crime. MEPs from across the member states have overwhelmingly endorsed recommendations by the Organised Crime committee, following a new report on trafficking networks. The report advocates tougher sanctions and renewed emphasis on improving labour conditions. It also asks for a pan-European public prosecutor’s office, and has drawn calls from trafficking NGOs for a more proactive Europol.

How the Conservatives respond to this will be fascinating. On the one hand Theresa May has made a clear and commendable pledge to end Modern Slavery; on the other she has persistently sought to repatriate judicial and policing powers from Europe and talk tough on immigration. These two approaches are wholly contradictory. They are two dogs, lashed together, which will simply never run in the same direction.

According to the committee’s report there are currently 880,000 enslaved people in Europe – 270,000 of whom work in the sex industry. I know from my own efforts to address sex trafficking that acting unilaterally just isn’t an option when faced with the fluid challenges posed by globalised crime. As the National Crime Agency’s Keith Bristow says, organised crime now operates “in an interconnected world where international borders are much less significant.”

On top of this – as the 2004 Morecambe Bay disaster showed – the groups most vulnerable to trafficking are refugees and migrant workers. These individuals need more help from the UK government. Instead, as Walk Free’s Global Trafficking Index reports, the UK’s vulnerability to trafficking is exacerbated by the “incredibly precarious living situation” our asylum system creates for people going through it.

The Conservatives’ hostility to the European Arrest Warrant, Europol, Eurojust, and the European Bill of Human Rights – not to mention their aggressive stance on asylum seekers – therefore fly in the face of all serious attempts to tackle trafficking. Moreover they undermine the party’s self-styled toughness on crime, and make a mockery of any designs their MPs have on becoming ‘the natural party of government’.

In July of this year the Conservatives grudgingly agreed to ‘opt back into’ 35 of the 130 EU Law and Order measures which they had previously withdrawn from, meaning Britain will now, thankfully, retain our involvement in Europol and the European Arrest Warrant.

But we need to go much further. As Anti-Slavery International’s Klara Skrivankova puts it, “The tools are there, but we don’t use them enough. Europol is still seen as a supplementary force – it should be more proactive.” To genuinely take on the scourge of trafficking we must not just pay lip service to Europe, but throw our full weight behind the solutions it can provide. On the issue of trafficking – if on nothing else – we really do need an ‘ever closer union’.

I would therefore urge Theresa May, if she wants to show she is genuine about tackling modern slavery, to set aside her party’s gut impulses for a moment and focus on the real problems the modern world faces. The alternative for the Tories is to succumb to incoherence and allow the brawnier, stupider of the two animals lashed together to lead Britain down an isolationist course which ultimately makes us more vulnerable.

UK Government embarassing U-turn over European arrest warrant

Labour Party

It was an embarrassing climb down for the Home Secretary, Theresa May, yesterday who was forced to agree that Britain should remain a participant in the European arrest warrant scheme.

She had made promises to change British law so that the European arrest warrant could not be used to extradite UK nationals over what she said were ‘trivial or dubious charges.’

But she confirmed in a statement to Parliament, to the heckling of some of her own back bench euro sceptic MPS, that the fast track arrest warrant was among 35 EU criminal justice measures the government was seeking to retain.

Another embarrassing U-turn for the government and yet again the coalition government failed to understand the political significance of making such a move had it pursued it further. It also illustrated how the coalition is prepared to put politics above the interests of the country.

Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, responded by saying many of the measures May “is seeking permanently to opt out of have been replaced already, did not operate anymore or had never been used, while others were just agreements to cooperate.”

If this is May’s way to seek repatriation of powers then it couldn’t be a worse strategy mainly, but not only, because this specific piece of legislation a serious policy on crime and justice. This is an important power and is not a game- something Yvette Cooper reiterated when responding to May’s announcement.

I’ve said it before and I repeat it here, some significant crimes have been resolved swiftly in the United Kingdom as a result of the European arrest warrant. For example, we were able to catch and bring to justice the 7/7 terrorists as a result of this; an indication alone of how useful it is and therefore how important it is to protect.

Lords Committee slams May’s repatriation plans

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The House of Lords EU committee said ministers have “failed to make a convincing case to repatriate powers.” That was their verdict after the government presented plans to opt out of 130 European Union Police and Criminal Justice measures. Their claim is that staying in would weaken the UK’s ability to fight crime – but in reality the opposite is true.

The most powerful part of the measures is the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) which came into force in 2004 and it has meant It can take as little as 14-17 days to extradite a suspect in some cases. And in cases where there are objections to an extradition it could take up to a year to resolve; now it can be sorted in approximately 48 days.

The effect of the EAW  is best illustrated by the rapid extradition of  those wanted in connection with the attempted London bombings in 2005 following the 7/7 bombings, a point made before on this blog.

Why then, the Government wish to out of such an important, package is to put it mildly, bewildering. They believe the UK does not need to be bound by them – but rather it can negotiate itself back into individual measures where it is in the national interest to do so.

But as the House of Lords Committee said, this is not a convincing argument and any opt out would include leaving the EAW. But other important measures will also be lost such as the speed with which DNA profiles and fingerprints are shared, along with joint work in several areas like terrorism, human trafficking and football hooliganism.

By opting out of these measures and attempting to re-join or ‘cherry pick’ those which it wishes to be part of is irresponsible, it will be an expensive exercise – to change something which is already effective, not to say an extremely complicated process.

Here is the summary of the committee, it sums it up completely:: “In light of the evidence we have received, we conclude that the government have not made a convincing case for exercising the opt-out and that opting out would have significant adverse negative repercussions for the internal security of the UK and the administration of criminal justice in the UK, as well as reducing its influence over this area of EU policy.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called this a “shameful dereliction” of Theresa May’s duty in an attempt to appease Conservative Eurosceptics.

And there was a typically weak response from Liberal Democrat cabinet minister Danny Alexander who said: “I am are clear that any final package will have to ensure the UK’s continued participation in all the key measures which are important for public safety.”



Law Society urges the Government not to opt out of EU crime measures

Labour Party

We have yet another interesting twist to the repatriation of powers debate. No less an institution than the Law Society wants the Tory-led coalition to remain opted into the 130 EU crime and policing measures currently under threat from Theresa May.

In a letter to the The Times’ Editor of 28 January, the Law Society urged the Government to “reconsider its position” over the proposal to opt out of over 130 EU crime and policing measures. The Chairs of two Law Society committees, Richard Atkinson QC and Mark Clough QC, warn that “the implications if the UK chooses to opt out … are of great concern. The proposal … (announced with no public consultation) is likely to create significant unnecessary cost for the UK at a time of major cutbacks, not least across all areas of our criminal justice system.”

Two of this country’s most senior lawyers recognise that “many of the measures are vital to address cross-border crime” and that none of them “have been demonstrated to be harmful to the way our criminal justice system operates”. Withdrawing from the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) could lead to “suspects being held in pre-trial detention for longer periods with the resultant extra costs”. Instead “the UK should be working with its EU partners to improve the EAW and the procedural rights of suspects and victims”.

Cameron faces more problems with the Eurosceptics

Labour Party

David Cameron’s feral Eurosceptic backbenchers are not going away.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph today 102 of them urge the Prime Minister to “opt out” of 130 EU laws, including the European Arrest Warrant, over the next two years. And this is no ordinary letter, signed as it is by the officers of the 1922 Committee – Chairman Graham Brady, Vice-Chairman Charles Walker, Secretary Mark Prichard and Treasurer Brian Brinley together with former Cabinet Ministers John Redwood and Peter Lilley

Crucially, the 102 warn Cameron that if he fails to get these powers back within this timescale, the transfer of powers to Europe will be irreversible.

This sounds to me very much like an ultimatum. The backbenchers apparently want Mr Cameron to use the “opportunity” provided by the Lisbon Treaty to repatriate up to 130 EU rules and regulations on policing. Since the UK opt out is due to end in June 2014, the Eurosceptics see this as their deadline.

Since the Tories have 306 seats in the House of Commons, 102 represents a third of the parliamentary Conservative party. To have such a high proportion of your MPs against you on an issue they believe to be of the utmost importance is not a very comfortable place to be, to put it mildly.

As I have said many times before, repatriation of powers is a policy which cannot be achieved. I can see no reason why 26 EU member states should agree to the demands one country, especially when they do not agree with the demands being made by the UK. What is more, David Cameron has not helped himself in the EU by increasingly marginalising the UK. Taking the Tories out of the centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament, and not signing up to the treaty changes in December last year are just the two most significant of Cameron’s actions to have alienated our colleagues in Europe.   

Cameron’s position is made even worse by the fact that many of these Eurosceptic MPs voted for him to be Tory leader because they believed he was one of them.

The Eurosceptics are, of course, merely using the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as a hook for their own agenda. It would be foolish to claim all is well with the EAW. One of the main complaints concerns proportionality. We know that the UK, and Germany as well, get more warrants than they issue, and nowhere does it state that the warrant must only be used for major crimes. This matter is indeed being investigated and Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has acknowledged that the warrant is being misused for low-level crimes.

Having only just got over being castigated for caving in on not opposing the “fiscal compact” countries having access to European Union institutions and the European Court of Justice, David Cameron is facing another onslaught. I’m tempted to wonder how long this war of attrition can go on, especially since the Tories’ Lib-Dem coalition colleagues have a very different, pro-European Union perspective.