‘Brexit’ would hamper Britain 's ability to deal with rapists, murderers and even terrorists, a new campaign to keep Britain in the EU has warned.
In the clearest signal yet that it intends to fight hard on the dangers of quitting the European Union, the ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ group set out the security risks as well as economic pitfalls at its official launch ahead of the EU referendum.
The tactics were swiftly dubbed ‘Project Fear’ by Eurosceptics, but former police chief Sir Hugh Orde insisted that safety would be put at risk if the UK pulled out of the European Arrest Warrant or EU intelligence-sharing databases that helped combat crime.
Sir Hugh referred to the case of 21/7 bomber Hussain Osman, who was extradited under the warrant from Italy and is now serving 40 years in a British jail, as well as wider statistics on the most serious crimes.
His remarks came at a star-studded launch in London’s Brick Lane, with senior business people, trade unionists, student leaders and economists declaring that Britain couldn’t take the “leap in the dark” of leaving the EU with so many jobs linked to European trade.
Apprentice star and West Ham chairwoman Karren Brady warned that there was no alternative to being part of a global trade alliance, while former BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders suggested Eurosceptics were ‘lying’ about the consequences of ‘Brexit’.
Former Marks and Spencer boss Stuart Rose, the chairman of the ‘In’ campaign, refused to use a pre-drafted line that those who want to leave the EU were ‘quitters’, preferring instead to say that they would be ‘taking a risk with Britain’s prosperity’.
But it was Sir Hugh who had the most startling warnings, declaring that pulling out of the European Arrest Warrant would have dire results.
“We have the European arrest warrant, which everyone agrees is the most effective way of catching bad guys who commit crimes in this country, but equally sending criminals back to the countries from which they have come when they try and evade justice by travelling across borders…We would see that as utterly essential in the modern world,” he said.
He added that when he researched the issue as president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, he discovered that the Metropolitan police was asked to find and arrest 50 murderers, 20 rapists and 90 robbers.
“And my experience tells me if you are a robber in another country, you are a robber in this country. If you are a rapist, you are a rapist, and if you are a murderer, you are by definition extremely dangerous ... If I was a villain somewhere else in Europe and I was escaping justice, I would be coming here because it’s going to take a lot longer to get you back.”
UKIP leader Nigel Farage was swift with his riposte, pointing out some of the downsides to the European system, compared with ancient British rights.
The 'In' campaign stressed they were making a 'positive' case for remaining in the EU, but Lord Rose, who was also joined by Innocent smoothies founder Richard Reed and youth campaigner Darcy Levison, underlined the point about economic and physical security.
"Those who want us to leave Europe would risk our prosperity, threaten our safety and diminish our influence in the world. We know our economy would take a hit, we just don’t know how bad it would be,” he said.
"To claim that the patriotic course for Britain is to retreat, withdraw and become inward looking is to misunderstand who we are as a nation. I will not allow anyone to tell me I’m any less British because I believe in the strongest possible Britain for business, for our security and our society."
Neither David Cameron nor Jeremy Corbyn attended the launch, but Britain Stronger In Europe said it would be glad of his support once his renegotiation with Brussels was completed.
However, small business minister Anna Soubry broke ranks to become the first Government minister to send her support.
Strong Cameron supporter Charlie Mullins, of Pimlico Plumbers, followed Lord Rose in switching his support from the Eurosceptic Business for Britain group, a fact seized on by the 'In' campaign's deputy director.
Mr Mullins said: "I find myself unable to support Business For Britain due to a direct conflict with my core belief that the UK is, on balance, better off inside Europe than out. For all its faults, it’s the biggest single market in the world and, for me, that’s the clincher and if I’m being honest a complete ‘no-brainer’.
In a pre-briefed version of his speech, Tory peer Lord Rose had been expected to ram home the ‘quitters’ accusation at least three times, but he pointedly left out the phrase.
Will Straw, campaign director, explained to The Huff Post UK: “He edited the speech and delivered it in his own way”. Mr Reed did however use the ‘Quitters’ phrase and Mr Straw insisted the campaign would continue to use it to describe their opponents.
Underlining the breadth of the campaign, Ms Flanders said that the UK may indeed 'have to go another way' than EU membership at some point 'down the line', but said leaving in the next two years was just too soon.
The referendum on whether the UK should remain in or leave the EU will be held before the end of 2017, once David Cameron has completed his renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership.
Last week, anti-EU group ‘Vote Leave’ launched its campaign, with the backing of eurosceptic Labour, Tory and Ukip MPs.
A separate group, ‘Leave.EU’, is also running a campaign, and has the backing of the Mr Farage and Ukip.