UK

Theresa May Condemned For Handling Of European Arrest Warrant Ahead Of Commons Vote

07/11/2014 21:08 GMT | Updated 07/11/2014 21:59 GMT
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BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 30: Home Secretary Theresa May addresses the Conservative Party Conference in the main hall of the ICC Birmingham on on September 30, 2014 in Birmingham, England. The third day of conference will see speeches on home affairs and justice. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Senior MPs have lined up to condemn Theresa May's handling of the process for deciding on the controversial European Arrest Warrant (EAW) ahead of Monday's crunch Commons vote. The EAW is one of 35 European Union police and criminal justice measures the Government wants to opt back in to, with MPs expected to approve the package as a whole.

But the chairmen of three influential Commons committees have criticised the decision to hold a single vote, arguing that the Commons should be able to decide on the EAW separately rather than as a "take-it-or-leave-it package". David Cameron faces a backbench revolt on the EAW, and the Government has resisted calls to have more than one potentially difficult vote on the EU measures.

The Government opted out of a series of justice measures, and has until December 1 to decide which powers to opt back in to. Supporters of the EAW argue that it has played a vital role in securing the return to the UK of suspects in significant crimes, including 21/7 terrorist Hussain Osman, who fled to Italy, and teacher Jeremy Forrest, who was returned from France to face trial over the alleged abduction of a 15-year-old girl.

But some Tories oppose the measure because of concerns that it is too easy for UK citizens to be extradited on relatively minor charges to countries where they may have no guarantee of a fair trial.

Tory Sir Bill Cash, chairman of the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, said: "We do not accept that the motion tabled by the Government for Monday's debate fulfils the Government's commitment to engage constructively with Parliament, or its undertaking to hold a further vote in both Houses of Parliament before making a formal application to rejoin any measures. We expect Parliament to have a further opportunity to vote on the full 35 measures on the basis of an amendable motion or motions."

Labour's Keith Vaz, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, said: "Members of the House are expecting a separate vote on whether or not to rejoin the European Arrest Warrant. Monday's debate, on an unamendable, take-it-or-leave-it package, will not give us that opportunity.

"The Government must now arrange a debate and vote which meets the expectations of our committees and the undertakings it has already given."

Justice Committee chairman Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith said its view was "that the House should have the opportunity to vote on whether items should be subtracted from or added to the opt-in list". The vote could see dozens of Tory MPs defy the party leadership to oppose the measure, but Home Secretary Mrs May was contacting wavering backbenchers in an attempt to secure their support.

Asked if Mr Cameron would be ringing MPs, his official spokesman said "the Prime Minister speaks to colleagues on a regular basis". But he added: "The Home Secretary and her team are very much taking the lead in explaining the reason why the Government has set out its approach and I would expect that to continue."

Yvette Cooper has written to Mrs May to ask why there will not be a specific vote on the EAW. In the letter, the shadow home secretary said: "As you will know, I fully support your decision to opt back into the European Arrest Warrant. It means 1,000 suspected foreign criminals are removed from our country each year. We were looking forward to supporting the UK's continued involvement in the EAW.

"However, it appears you and the Government are too ashamed of your position to include it in the motion being put before the House - which is far from a 'vote on the European Arrest Warrant'. You are running away from your backbenchers instead."

She added: "I am seriously concerned that your decision to vote on a motion which doesn't mention the European Arrest Warrant, simply to try and avoid a Tory party rebellion, may endanger the UK's continued use of this vital tool. You have committed to a vote on this before the opt-in process is finalised.

"The deadline for that is December 1st 2014 - when the 'opt-out' you enacted will come into effect. If you have not opted back into the Arrest Warrant by then, it will cease to function in the UK. Surely we must be voting on Monday to authorise its continued use, as you pledged to do?

"You must urgently amend the motion to ensure all 35 measures being opted back into are voted on Monday - these vital crime-fighting tools, as you have said yourself, are too important to lose."