As expected by anyone who has been involved in the debate surrounding the European arrest warrant (EAW) and other crime and justice cooperation with the EU, the Conservatives have been trying hard to delay the final vote on staying in.
There seems to have been some kind of confusion in the Home Office and it emerged yesterday that the vote on the EAW and other measures will now happen after November 20, the date of the Rochester and Strood by-election.
If this vote is not held before the date the opt-out of all measures is enforced, December 1st, the consequences of their actions could be catastrophic. For example, if the Home Office has not put into place the transitional measures they promised to negotiate with the EU, to cover for any delay in opting back in to the EAW and other measures – they should kick in if we do not have a resolution before December 1st – already existing EAWs would be open to legal challenge.
Which, of course, means that, for example, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, currently taking asylum within the Ecuadorian Embassy, would be able to walk out without fear of being arrested and extradited. Assange and any other person with an EAW in their name, would most likely win any challenges against the issuer/executioner of an EAW in the UK, since the country would no longer have at their disposal the law instruments to back up the order. It could cost the UK millions to fight these challenges, fugitives could remain free and suspects of crimes could never face justice.
In spite of the approach of Eurosceptic MPs and the unnecessary delays caused by the Home Office on the vote, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, is very aware of the power of this cooperation with the EU. Only last year, she asked the director of Europol, a Brit, Rob Wainwright, for advice and support in the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, so she knows the importance of ensuring the opt in happens without major issues.
Two years ago, I was invited to set up a campaign to stop the Government from abandoning a number of measures of EU criminal law cooperation, including the EAW.
Justice Across Borders* was founded at the end of October 2012, with the intent of explaining to the Conservatives and Lib Dems the consequences of opting out of all of this cooperation.
We worked very hard with EU and UK politicians, laywers, academics, as well as EU and UK police chiefs to provide evidence that opting out of instruments such as the EAW and agencies such as Europol and Eurojust would not only leave us unprotected, it would also make our ‘judicial’ relationship with other European Union countries unnecessarily more complicated.
After almost a year of intense campaigning, negotiating, explaining, giving evidence to committees in both Houses and bringing the issue to the public eye, we did enough influencing to secure the package of 35 measures - it was then taken to the European Commission and Council for further negotiation and is now coming back for a vote in both Houses of Parliament.
It is important to note that the EAW is not the only measure at stake here. The package of 35 measures have returned from the EU as an unbreakable set – so any calls from Eurosceptic MPs to have a separate vote on the EAW will most likely be ignored.
As a consequence, their attitude towards the issue could delay the opt in to extremely important measures, such as (and I quote the official names) the Council Decision to Combat Child Pornography on the Internet, the Council decision on Joint Investigation Teams (allows our police to work efficiently with foreign forces in their territory or ours), and crucially, the Council Decision on the Establishment of the European Criminal Records Information System (allows the UK to collect information on previous convictions of people coming into the country and vice versa). The full list of measures can be found here.
Any delay in continuing to participate in these measures could mean a delay in investigations, joint actions and operations - a delay in catching criminals and keeping the UK safe.
*Justice Across Borders became a registered charity supporting victims of serious crime abroad and subsequently ended its activities in May 2014.