This afternoon in the House of Commons Home Secretary Theresa May
confirmed that her Conservative party in Government will look to exercise the existing opt-out of more than 130 European crime and justice measures
in a few year's time, a move that the leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg has said he and his party will oppose
Addressing MPs on their first day back from the Conference season recess, Mrs May said
: “the UK cannot pick and choose the measures from which we wish to opt out; we can opt out only en masse and then seek to rejoin individual measures. So I can announce today that the Government’s current thinking is that we will opt out of all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice measures and then negotiate with the Commission and other member states to opt back into those individual measures that it is in our national interest to rejoin.
” she added
, “discussions are ongoing within the Government and therefore no formal notification will be given to the Council until we have reached agreement on the measures that we wish to opt back into.
In addition to cooperation in bodies such as Eurojust
, one of the measures that is most likely to go in this move will be the European Arrest Warrant
, a mechanism that has proved to be very effective and recently ensured the rapid return of Jeremy Forrest who fled to France with a 15-year old student
. Over the summer, Sir Stephen Lander, former head of MI5, and Lord Blair, former head of Scotland Yard, were among those who wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron
to say scrapping the European Arrest Warrant would be “entirely self-defeating
Labour MP Denis MacShane has described
exercising the block opt-out as “Tory Euroscepticism gone mad
” and that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Arrest Warrant “as a result of the Conservative obsession to limit Britain's partnership and co-operation in the EU, would be welcomed by all transnational criminals who flee British justice
”. For Liberal Democrat Lord Oakeshott, this is about just
"throwing some red meat to the rabid anti-Europeans on the Tory Right and in UKIP, and frankly there’s no difference between them
Mrs May’s announcement was met with joy by South West Conservative MEP Ashley Fox
, who posted on his Facebook page today
: “I was pleased to learn that the Home Secretary intends to call time on our involvement with the EU Justice & Home Affairs Programme […] I realise that Mrs May’s words may cause consternation in the Liberal Democrat parts of the Coalition Government, but this issue is too important to allow coalition politics to overrule the long term health of our justice system.
” [Editor’s note: is that not exactly what the Conservatives are doing to appease their backbenchers?!]
But Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson
, who piloted the European Arrest Warrant through the European Parliament, was expectedly disappointed at the announcement.
“Who would the public rather listen to: 13 former senior Police chiefs and the former head of MI5 or a Tory politician? A recent YouGov poll stated that 77% of the public supported co-operation with the EU to tackle cross-border crime and terrorism. David Cameron's attempt to appease his backbenchers threatens the safety of us all,
” he said in a statement
“We should be concentrating on how we can improve these powers, not on how to get rid of them. I agree that the European Arrest Warrant requires some reform in the UK, due to the failure of the last Labour government to implement the legislation into law effectively. But to withdraw completely flies in the face of our Police forces, who comprehensively agree on the importance such tools have in combating cross border crime.”
"Once again the Tories are blinded by their dogma. Their blinkered vision on Europe will put an end once and for all to the notion that the Conservatives are the party of law and order,
” he said
. “Criminals do not recognise national borders. We need robust policies to bring our police forces together.
“Liberal Democrats in government and in the European Parliament will fight to keep the tools that have helped arrest human traffickers, drug barons and paedophile gangs before they reach our borders.
Frankly, the whole situation is a bit of a mess with all the hallmarks of badly thought-out policy for the sake of a few headlines and roars of support behind the Prime Minister immediately after the Conservative party conference.
Of course, the timing once again has done the British national interest no good at all ahead of the next meeting of the European Union’s Presidents and Prime Ministers (aka the European Council
) which is scheduled to take place on Thursday and Friday this week
Labels: Ashley Fox, Graham Watson