Leaving the Eu: Security, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 18th January 2017.

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Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 2:00 pm, 18th January 2017

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There are three main issues on which the Opposition seek answers this afternoon: our ability to participate in the common arrest warrant; our future relationship with Europol; and our access to Europe-wide crime prevention databases, including the Schengen information system.

I will come to each of those things in turn, but first there is a general point to be made. As many in the House remember, our optimal relationship with the European Union in the field of security and justice was comprehensively debated during the previous Parliament. We opted out of all provisions relating to police and criminal justice so that we could have a fresh debate about which initiatives we wanted to be part of, and then opt into them again. That initiative was negotiated with European member states by the previous Labour Government and continued by the subsequent coalition. The process consisted of two years of negotiation and debate in this House, in government and in Brussels, and it culminated in Britain deciding to opt back in to 35 specific measures that we considered to be in our national interest.

Those measures included the European arrest warrant, Europol and access to the Schengen information system—the three things that I am concerned about today. I know that our Prime Minister is also concerned about them because it was she, as Home Secretary, who put it to the House on 7 April 2014 that we should opt back into the measures. It is so nice to have confidence that there will be unanimity in the Chamber this afternoon on this oft-contentious subject. However, the opt-in happened before the referendum, and now, in this post-referendum world, the Government need to tell us how they will ensure that we still have access to those measures, which we so recently decided that we needed to keep our citizens safe.

We do not have time today to rehearse the two years of debate that led to a decision to co-operate in each of the 35 areas that we decided to opt back into, so I will focus on our main concerns. There is no doubt that the European arrest warrant is a crucial tool in the fight against crime in the UK. Introduced in 2004, it provides a mechanism whereby crime suspects who have left the country—fugitives—can be surrendered back to the UK automatically by another European member state. It means that suspects who have fled can be returned in a matter of weeks or days. Crucially, it means that suspects can be returned to the UK even if the legal basis for the crime that they are suspected of committing is different from that under the law that applies in the country to which they have fled. That is because the European arrest warrant is underpinned by the principle that European Union countries agree to respect the decisions of each other’s criminal justice systems, even if they differ.