Leaving the Eu: Security, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:06 pm on 18th January 2017.

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Photo of James Berry James Berry Conservative, Kingston and Surbiton 3:06 pm, 18th January 2017

I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention.

There are many other measures that I could mention: ECRIS; the Schengen II information system; the system for providing enforcement alerts, including for those wanted on European arrest warrants, which includes more than 70 million live alerts; and the European image archiving system, which is a database of genuine and counterfeit ID documents and travel stamps. In all those fields, I agree with the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, that we should be aiming for full membership, or the closest possible approximation to it.

Turning to the UK’s position since the general election, the Government have put us in a good position to take forward policing and justice co-operation with the EU. First, in December 2015, we decided to opt into Prüm II. Secondly, in December 2016, we decided to opt into new regulations governing Europol, and I was pleased to sit on the European Committee that unanimously approved that decision. Thirdly, the Prime Minister set out yesterday how a global Britain will continue to co-operate with its European partners in the fight against the common threats of crime and terrorism. She made it clear that she wanted our future relationship with the EU to include practical arrangements on matters of law enforcement and the sharing of intelligence material with our EU allies. That came as no surprise because she personally led several such initiatives during her many years in the Home Office.

Clearly it is up to the European Union and others to decide whether to allow the UK to remain part of the policing and criminal justice architecture that we are debating today, but the case for the EU and EU member states to do so is clear. It is probably clearer in this area than in any other area of EU co-operation, not only because it affects the security of each citizen of every EU member state, but because the UK is at the forefront of each and every one of these criminal justice measures. For example, 40% of contributions to Europol’s shared intelligence come from the UK—we are behind only Germany—and the UK is the main contributor of intelligence in several of the most important areas. It would not be in the interests of any EU member state, or the EU as whole, to shut itself off from access to that vital intelligence in pursuit of some lofty EU principle or ideal—this is a matter of practicality. If the tables were turned and another country that contributed 40% of Europol’s intelligence—this intelligence helps British police officers to fight crime—were leaving the EU, I would be the first to call on our Government to do everything possible to maintain access to that intelligence and to preserve our co-operation with that country. Without wishing to labour the point, it would be an act of self-defeating nihilism for the EU to seek to shut the UK out of policing and criminal justice co-operation measures.

How could we co-operate outside the EU? We could either be allowed to remain a member of such measures, which would require EU legislation to be rewritten, or we could be given informal or bespoke access, which the US already has with Europol. Once any legal hurdles are overcome, the two main sticking points will be money and judicial oversight. As for money, I am clear that we should pay to play. If we are to benefit from Europol, for example, which has an office and staff in The Hague, there can be no question that we should expect to pay. On judicial oversight, I understand that oversight of the European Court of Justice is a sticking point for many Members and for many members of the public who voted to leave, but that must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, looking at each measure on which there is co-operation. When we enter multilateral agreements with other countries on issues such as extradition, there is often an international court that arbitrates, such as the International Criminal Court.

I do not believe that we immediately became less safe because we decided to leave the EU. The measures we are discussing are hugely beneficial to law enforcement. The police and the public want us to continue with them, and I am pleased that the Prime Minister agrees. The litmus test for me on this and all other EU co-operation is simple: if we were not currently a member of the EU, is this is something in which would we be looking to get involved because it would benefit British people? For all the measures we are debating today, the answer is a resounding yes.

There will undoubtedly be legal hurdles to overcome, but it is clear beyond peradventure that our side is willing. I hope that the EU will respond in kind and that the starting point for any negotiations will be not whether we should do it, but how we should do it. Some Members have demanded guarantees and more information, but given the consensus in this area, it falls on everyone in this House, particularly those with expertise and legal training, to contribute on the question of how we assist the Government to ensure that we maintain this vital co-operation in policing and criminal justice for the benefit of all our constituents in Britain, and of citizens in Europe as a whole.