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Expert View

May should fess up: Brexit will make fighting crime harder

by Denis MacShane | 19.06.2018

Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years.

Michel Barnier could not have made it clearer: the UK will lose access to lots of EU crime-fighting tools after Brexit. That means less access to criminal databases; minimal influence over crime fighting strategy; and being kicked out of the European Arrest Warrant. The reason? Because of Theresa May’s red lines on free movement, the European Court of Justice and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was one bit the Theresa May has always said she supported. As recently as February, she stood up in Munich and insisted the UK would stay in Europol, the EU’s police agency, and keep using the EAW. But she also ruled out the submitting to the ECJ’s rule.

Today in Vienna, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator made it clear she cannot have her crime-fighting cake and eat it.

There have been demands from police chiefs and crime-fighting outfits across the UK that Brexit should not mean the loss of the EAW and other measures for combating cross-border crime and terrorism.

In 2016-17, UK police used the EAW to bring back 178 wanted criminals to the UK from the rest of the EU. This is an increase on the 112 EAW surrenders to police the previous year.

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In Munich in February the Prime Minister insisted that Britain would stay in Europol and keep being able to use the European Arrest Warrant.

Barnier accepted that the May’s proposals on law enforcement and criminal justice showed a “desire to keep the benefits of EU membership” but that her government wants “to maintain all the benefits of the current relationship, while leaving the EU regulatory, supervision and application framework”.

This is not stubbornness from Barnier, it’s a reality check. In 18 EU member states the EAW can only work on the basis of EU membership. Some constitutions, notably in German, forbid extradition to a foreign country. The EAW arrangement, agreed under EU laws by member states, makes exceptions for extradition to other EU countries. Similar extradition arrangements have also been agreed with countries like Norway, Iceland and Switzerland – all of which accept free movement and other key EU laws.

The EAW arrangements are completely intermeshed with the ECJ and EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as membership of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights – a non-EU initiative May also suggested she would like to leave in April 2016.

Barnier also made clear that after Brexit the UK would have to apply for access to sensitive EU criminal data like other countries outside the bloc.

This will come as a major blow to the UK’s senior police officers. They can’t make political statements but surely some MPs who care about cross-border crime, for example those on the Commons’ home affairs committee, might raise a voice? Otherwise it’s “welcome back, the Costa del Crime” as UK criminals raise a glass to Brexit.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

2 Responses to “May should fess up: Brexit will make fighting crime harder”

  • It’s no surprise that Brexiters want to make life easier for criminals because Brexit itself is a crime, a crime on a grand scale against the country. No one witnessing the swaggering nonchalance of Arron Banks putting to fingers up to parliament as he lines his own pockets can doubt that he is cast in same mould as Al Capone. For Theresa May and Boris Johnson read Bonnie and Clyde. These are the bad boys and girls of Brexit, revelling in the glamour of big time crime and confident that the press will put the frighteners on any MP’s who step out of line. Unfortunately, for the media and for many of the public, it’s all far more exciting than responsible, law abiding politics.

  • Why in the world would the UK think it could leave the EU yet retain access to the block’s intelligence databases and its judicial and extra-territorial arrest procedures? If Turkey left NATO would Britain be in favour of giving it continued access to its intelligence databases ? I think not.

    Our government can only be a collection of irrational fools to make such an argument, or they take Europe for fools! The usual British smoke and shiny mirror magic isn’t working, nor is harrumphing. If it weren’t so important it’d be hysterical.