I have confidence that the European arrest warrant is far more powerful than any other extradition process anywhere in the world, and we would be stupid if we let it go.
Since the European arrest warrant was introduced in 2004, the UK has used it to bring 2,500 individuals from outside the UK to face justice. Let us not forget that it was the mechanism that ensured that Hussain Osman was brought to justice after he fled to Italy after a failed suicide bombing in London in 2005. The problem that we face is that the European arrest warrant is available exclusively to EU members. We will have to overcome considerable hurdles if we are to maintain the current arrangements and we are not in the European Union. In fact, as a recent briefing from the Centre for European Reform think-tank states, if, having left the EU, the UK wanted to get a similar deal,
“it would need to convince its partners to change their constitutions. In some cases, this would trigger a referendum.”
Do we really think that countries would hold such a referendum because we have decided to leave the EU?
Some countries outside the European Union have attempted to negotiate access to the common arrest warrant system. Norway and Iceland, for example, have concluded a surrender agreement with the EU that represents an attempt to get the same benefits, although it has not yet come into force. That agreement is weaker in two ways. First, it requires the alleged offences to be the same in both countries, thus losing the flexibility that comes from the agreement of member states to respect the decisions of each other’s criminal justice systems. Secondly, it allows countries to refuse to surrender their own nationals, which would make things tricky if a national of an EU country were to commit an offence on UK soil, for example.
On top of that—as if that were not bad enough—the agreement took 15 years to negotiate, and that was for countries in both Schengen and the European economic area, but as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, there are no plans for us to be members of either. The alternative is that we fall back on previous extradition treaties that are far more cumbersome and will, in some cases, require EU countries to change their own laws in respect of the UK.
It is hard to see how any of those options are preferable to the current arrangements. I find it particularly hard to understand how this fits with the Prime Minister’s pledge yesterday to “work together more” in response to threats to our common security. While it is not difficult for an individual who has broken the law in Britain to hop on a cheap flight to another European country, I fear that it will be very hard indeed, without the European arrest warrant, for us to get them back again. For that reason, Labour calls on the Government to ensure that the current arrangements are maintained.
I turn to our second concern. This House approved regulations confirming our opt-in to Europol only a few weeks ago, and we did that because it is vital to our national security. Europol—the European Police Office, to give it its proper title—exists to combat serious international organised crime by means of co-operation between the relevant authorities of member states, including those tasked with customs, immigration services, borders and financial policing. As we know, Europol is not able to mandate national forces to undertake investigations, but it provides information and resources that enable national investigations to take place.
In the words of the British director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, whose previous career was in UK security institutions, our decision to opt into Europol is:
“Good for Britain’s security, great for police cooperation in Europe.”
Indeed, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service confirmed on
“a vital tool in helping UK law enforcement agencies to co-ordinate investigations involving cross-border serious and organised crime”.
He also said:
“About 40% of everything that Europol does is linked to work that is either provided or requested by the United Kingdom.”—[Official Report, European Committee B,
However, when pushed about whether we can maintain our membership of Europol, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, speaking in this House last year, was able to say only that the Government will seek to:
“preserve the relationship with the European Union on security matters as best we can.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 614, c. 45.]
When my hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer asked him the same question about Europol yesterday, we got no more information about how that could be done.