by Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, member of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee. ///
Last week to astonishing cries of “shame” from the Conservative backbenches, Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the UK will seek to remain a part of 35 European policing and criminal justice measures, including the European Arrest Warrant, Europol and Eurojust. Thanks to the Liberal Democrats, the efforts of such Eurosceptic Tory MPs to make the government go soft on cross-border crime were blocked and our police will continue to have the tools they need to bring criminals to justice and keep the public safe.
The prelude to the Home Secretary’s announcement dates back to when the previous Labour government negotiated a protocol to the Lisbon treaty whereby the UK could decide in 2014 to exercise a ‘block optout’ of all the pre-2009 police and criminal justice cooperation instruments, to which it had signed up to in the preceding decade.
This opened up the hornet’s nest of the UK being able to ‘repatriate’ powers from the EU, which had Eurosceptic Conservatives foaming at the mouth. If they had been in government on their own – unconstrained by the LibDems – I’m certain the Conservatives would have let their Eurosceptic wing trump common sense by opting out of all of these crime-fighting measures. This would have left our police high and dry in the fight against cross-border crime.
In an ideal world, I would have preferred for the UK government to refrain from using the block optout at all. This is in line with the view of the cross-party House of Lords EU committee, which said that none of the measures are harmful to the national interest and that exercising the block optout was unnecessary. Some of these measures are obsolete but they could have been left to wither on the vine, or repealed or replaced through negotiations with our European partners. Regrettably, the Conservatives were so hell bent on getting their “Ministers to seize back 100 powers from Brussels” headline from the Daily Telegraph that they were unable to see the logic of this strategy.
Nevertheless, thanks to no less the Liberal Democrats, the UK will, subject to any more spanners in the works, remain a part of all the measures deemed vital by the Association of Chief Police Officers. The critical importance of keeping the UK in these justice and policing co-operation measures is best illustrated by the number of people we’ve extradited to other countries using the European Arrest Warrant to face justice for acts committed abroad. Since 2009, we have used it to deport over 4,000 criminal suspects from the UK to other EU countries, including 57 for child sex offences, 414 for drug trafficking, 86 for rape and 105 for murder. Senior police rightly warned the Conservative Ministers that without the EAW the UK would have become a safe haven for these criminals, who may have gone on to commit further offences in Britain.
Yet it’s not just a case of extraditing people to other European countries; it’s also about getting wanted persons back. Hussain Osman, one of the failed 7/7 London bombers, is now serving a life sentence in Britain for terrorism, after he was extradited from Italy using the EAW. Earlier this year one of Britain’s most wanted criminals, Andrew Moran, was returned to the UK using the Euro-warrant to face armed robbery charges following a raid on a luxury villa on Spain’s Costa Blanca.
Before the EAW was introduced extradition used to take an average of one year, but now that has been cut to an average of 48 days. If the Eurosceptics had got their way on opting out of the EAW it would have taken much longer for the UK to bring the likes of Osman and Moran back to face British justice. Given they have expressed frustration over the protracted Abu Qatada deportation saga, it beggars belief that Eurosceptic Tories were prepared to go soft on crime by opting out of the European Arrest Warrant and making it harder to extradite and bring to justice criminals within the EU. The EAW does need reform, and work is in progress to deliver that, but pulling out of it is not the solution.
The challenge of persuading a bunch of rabid Eurosceptics of the necessity of European cooperation was very considerable. This goes some way to explain why the negotiations with the Conservatives within the coalition government took over a year to complete. I would like to pay tribute to the persistence and dogged determination of the Liberal Democrat negotiating team led by Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, which deserves much credit for ensuring that we will continue to work with our European partners to fight cross-border crime. Thanks to their efforts common sense prevailed and our police will continue to have access to the vital tools they need to catch criminals and keep the public safe.