EU - Policing in Partnership Across Europe

26/05/2016 16:03 | Updated 26 May 2016

The ever more far-fetched OUT campaign, whose leaders included Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, now tries to scare us with the imminent arrival at Dover of five million Turkish and Albanians, depicted by them as largely gun-owning criminals and gangsters. It's time they told the very different truth. Brexit would do irreparable harm to the UK's ability to prevent and detect crime, in particular cross-border offending like human traffickers, drug smugglers, organised sex offenders and those involved in terrorism. These are now frequently thwarted by exchange of intelligence, joint investigation, speedy evidence collection and the European Arrest Warrant, all shaped, practised and integrated EU-wide over the past 30 years - a shield for our security which is effective. It works. There is nothing to replace it.

The European Arrest Warrant has transformed the extradition of suspects both from the UK to other EU countries and, importantly, into the UK from across the EU so that they can be put on trial for crimes committed here. An example is when Husain Osman, suspected of a failed attack on at Shepherds Bush underground on 21st July 2005, fled to Italy. His data was put onto the Schengen Information System, a warrant issued for his arrest and in less than two months he had been seized in Rome and returned to the UK.

The EAW is underpinned by that information system - SIS2 - by which real time wanted alerts are loaded immediately onto the central database. Closely linked are the Prum decisions, which deal with the fast track exchange of DNA, fingerprint and vehicle data for combatting terrorism and serious crime. Prior to EU Joint Investigation Teams, police in the UK had to issue a letter of request in a local court to ask a foreign court to authorise police to obtain material abroad. Now one officer will ring up an EU counterpart to use his local powers in pursuit of evidence for the UK inquiry. Europol is supported by the US and other non-EU governments but it is nonetheless governed by European Union countries. From 2013 it has hosted the European Cybercrime Centre - EC3 -responding both to cyber-criminals and to attacks by terrorists and foreign intelligence agencies.

It is important that wanted criminals should not be at large, endangering the European public for a single extra day yet prior to the EAW, extradition processes were labyrinthine. Some states who now fully operate the EAW would simply not, before its implementation, extradite their residents. They included Germany, France and Poland, meaning that if someone was seriously assaulted in the UK and their assailant went home there could be no justice for the victim of a German, French person or Pole, in this country.

Bilateral agreements typically led to struggles such as the ten year battle the French fought to extradite Rachid Ramda, wanted for the terrorist killings of eight people on the Paris Metro. He was arrested in the UK and appealed against his deportation several times, funded by British legal aid and raising considerable diplomatic tension between the two states. Even now, extraditing unwanted criminals to countries to which the EAW does not apply is lengthy and complex as was evident in the effort required for Abu Hamza's extradition to the United States. This is not a situation to which we can return in the EU without potentially undermining British public safety.

This area is where the Brexiters usual arguments fails. Faced with any benefit from membership of the EU, they generally say that we could accomplish the same by negotiating bilateral agreements. But in the area of justice and home affairs that argument is false.

Once we were no longer signatories to the Treaties that underpin these agreements, there would be uncertainty as to what intelligence, which evidence and what processes could and could not be shared with us in this inevitably legalistic territory around public protection. At the very least it would take many years to agree complex, multi-faceted bilateral or EU to UK security provisions. Norway has been trying to negotiate its way into the European Arrest Warrant, from outside the EU for more than ten years.

Meanwhile, the UK would be exposed to risk, unable to reach suspects we need urgently to apprehend or to remove from the UK. And we would be letting down victims. In 2011 Operations Koala and Rescue led by Europol (which is run by a Welshman) 230 abused children were rescued from an international ring of more than 670 suspects, including 240 from the UK. In the past five years the EAW has helped us remove over 5,000 criminal suspects to EU countries, at the same time 675 have been returned from European countries to face British justice. There is strong evidence to show that foreign criminals if they get into the UK continue to offend when they are here. There must be a real risk that if we are forced out of the EAW and thus onto slower extradition arrangements than the rest of the EU that we become a safe haven for European criminals much as Spain's 'Costa del Crime' used to be for British fugitives.

In 2013 the Tory Government itself recognised the key importance of these measures and opted into them. They could have removed the entire 135 Justice and Home Affairs provisions in the Lisbon Treaty from our jurisdiction, consistent with some Tory views that they were 'intruding' into our perfect justice system. Instead they selected 35 provisions including the European Arrest warrant as being vital to retain.

Former Home Secretaries, Alan Johnson and David Blunkett and former Head of ACPO Sir Hugh Orde are all agreed on the essential, virtually irreplaceable nature of these arrangements with the current Home Secretary Theresa May. She told the Home Affairs Select Committee, on 10th May, that these provisions make the UK: "Safer and more secure in the EU than out"

She knows that there is nothing that could be put in place to protect the British public as effectively as these well-honed provisions do against international terrorism and criminality in the weeks and years after Brexit. There is no counter argument to that.