Yesterday’s Sunday Times contained an interview with the home secretary Theresa May which has triggered debate on the European arrest warrant and whether we should opt back into its provisions. She says yes, and is recycling her usual law and order fear-baiting mantra regarding rapists and murderers being set free if people don’t agree with her. But this is a conversation that’s becoming not just about law and order. It has become a flash point in the political argument being fought over the UK’s relationship Europe as a whole.
- Joseph Kotrie-Monson is a lawyer specialising in Extradition and Serious Crime at Mary Monson Solicitors.
In the last 10 years or so, European migration has of course increased by a huge margin. The principle of free movement of workers, by which Europe has been thought to prosper so that labour can go where it is most needed in our collective economy, has led to a change in the social makeup of this country. The Poles in particular have not just come for work, but used the networks and immigration paths laid by relatives and family friends in the post war period to make a home. Polish official figures but the number of their citizens in the UK at approaching a million, although this has never been corroborated by our Office for National Statistics.
Now in the immigration argument, I’m never going to be a UKIP guy. My father came over with the first post war wave in the 1960s, and my mother is second generation Irish. If hard working people want to come here for a tough life with opportunity and fill empty jobs, then I say welcome. But my views on immigration are completely irrelevant today, because this isn’t about free movement and relaxed borders. It’s not about the EU. The main issue today is simply one of security.
The European Arrest Warrant protocol allows for extradition of someone requested by a member state from another member state provided that the name and offence details are provided to the court. The strength of the case does not have to be proved by the country doing the requesting. The fact that the person is wanted by a court or police in the other country is enough. This means that criminals from Germany, or Romania, or Finland who enjoy the benefits of our relatively open borders with those countries to come here to evade justice can be summarily sent back as easily. In effect, the principle is that the looseness of our border arrangements with EU countries means that we need a corresponding looseness to allow the police and courts of those countries to reel in suspects or fugitives in cases there.
The fairly basic logical conclusion of this is that if the tory backbenchers banging the drum this week have a problem, their problem is with open borders, not extradition.
To consider just cancelling the arrangement while we have people on remand waiting to be extradited and at least a million EU nationals living here would be comparable to outlawing crash helmets because you don’t like motorcycles.
That said, there is a sensible conversation to be had. Not the one going on now against a backdrop of the fearful murmuring among conservative MPs about UKIP candidates ‘coming over here’ in the next general election and ‘taking their jobs’. The conversation that needs to be had is about whether we should make it so easy for somebody to be extradited to a legal jurisdiction where the police and court systems are so different from ours that we can’t anticipate justice will be served at the same level. I don’t know a great deal about Bulgaria, other than the people I have met from there are very nice.
Something else I know about Bulgaria is that it has the highest rating for corruption and lowest for transparency in Europe. The idea that we would allow British citizens or any British resident to be sent to a country that far away both geographically and culturally, without enquiry as to the quality of the case is one that should surely be discussed properly. France or Germany are perhaps different examples. We have a political relationship going back 50 years, and a cultural relationship going back to the middle ages, but there are infant democracies in the post communist accession group whose police and legal systems are undeveloped, and whom we invite into the UK and provide equivalent status to our own, no questions asked, and that seems wrong.
But none of that is the argument for today. The urgent question is whether or not we opt in to a security arrangement which is necessary in the context of our border arrangements to prevent the UK being a haven for foreign criminals. I can’t believe as I’m writing these words that for a change I’m agreeing with Theresa May, but for once, even though as usual her reasoning is based on lowest common denominator scaremongering, she’s actually right.