The Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced on Monday that the Government intends to opt-out of around 130 EU policing and criminal law measures. They then plan to opt back in to certain measures, although this would have to be agreed by the other EU governments and, as we’ve come to expect from this Government, they’re reluctant to be pinned down on exactly which ones.
Coming just a couple of weeks after David Cameron’s bragging about using his veto, this shows yet again that the Government is putting populist policies ahead of the UK’s best interests. It’s easy for the Tories to brand this as the much flaunted ‘repatriation’ of powers from Brussels, but this ignores the complexity of the issues and the risks to UK security.
The recent debate on this has largely focussed on the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and Eurosceptics have been relishing relaying the tale of an EAW used to arrest a man in the UK for stealing a wheelbarrow in Poland. However, they’ve been much quieter about the case of Jeremy Forrest, the teacher who was arrested in France on suspicion of abducting his pupil. Or the case of Hussein Osman who was extradited from Italy in connection with the failed London bomb attacks in July 2005. In both these cases, an EAW was used in order to apprehend the suspect.
Senior police officers in the UK have been urging the Government not to opt out of the EAW, pointing out that it is an important tool in the fight against crime. You wouldn’t know it from recent press coverage, but the EAW has been a European cooperation success story, reducing extradition times to an average of 48 hours or less and helping to tackle serious organised crime.
After all, Eurosceptics may like to believe that the UK would fare much better alone but organised crime does not stop at national borders. It is vital that we cooperate with our EU neighbours if we are to have any hope of preventing drug and people traffickers, fraudsters and terrorists. However, it seems the Tories would rather listen to misinformed zealots on their back benches, than take advice from experts.
Of course, cases such as the wheelbarrow man do show that there is a need for improvement in the way in which the EAW is implemented and it is worth noting that other countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, have adapted the EAW to ensure proportionality. Labour MEPs have pushed for reform in Brussels and the Commission has committed to reviewing it. However, by opting out Cameron will once again be excluding the UK from participation in these future discussions.
David Cameron says he does not want the UK to leave the EU. However, by constantly capitulating to the Eurosceptics, he may well find himself backed into a corner and forced to allow just that to happen – something that would certainly be disastrous for the UK.