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6th Jun 2020

UK to turn back the clock on EU police co-operation

  • British policeman outside the PM's residence in 1967 - the UK wants to turn back the clock on EU co-operation (Photo: arbyreed)

British defence minister Philip Hammond has confirmed reports the UK will seek to end participation in dozens of EU-level crime-fighting structures.

Several British newspapers on Sunday (14 October) predicted that home affairs minister Theresa May will in parliament on Monday say the goverment is "minded to" opt-out of some 130 EU justice and home affairs programmes.

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The list includes the European arrest warrant and the European criminal records information system, as well as future schemes to create an EU-level public prosecutor and a European investigation order, a protocol on EU countries' exchange of evidence in criminal cases.

Under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, the UK has an option until 2014 to walk away from the laws but can subsequently ask member states to opt back in to some of them.

The mass-circulation paper, the Daily Mail, on Sunday quoted education minister Michael Gove as saying: "We have to tell them [the EU] if they don't return some of the important powers they have snaffled from us, we will leave."

It cited figures saying the arrest warrant scheme costs the UK €33 million a year and that some EU countries, such as Poland, are abusing it by, for instance, asking the UK to catch and hand over a man who stole a wheelbarrow.

It noted that eight out of 32 British cabinet members would be happy for Britain to leave the Union altogether.

It also quoted work and pensions minister Ian Duncan Smith as saying: "The countries in the eurozone want to redefine what 'in' means. We need to redefine what 'out' looks like. That is the direction we are inevitably heading."

Speaking about the Daily Mail story in a BBC interview on national TV on Sunday, the British defence chief said: "What Michael [Gove] is reflecting, and many of us feel, is that we are not satisfied with the current relationship between the EU and the UK."

"For the first time in a decade, those of us who are uncomfortable with the way that relationship has developed see an opportunity to renegotiate it ... It makes sense for Britain to be in the single market but to reset the relationship so we have a balance of competences which works for Britain and the British people," Hammond added.

The home affairs move is likely to face opposition from the more pro-EU Liberal party in the British ruling coalition, however.

Its leader, Nick Clegg, a former EU official, has promised to veto the opt-out.

For his part, Vince Cable, the Liberals' business minister, said at a literary festival in Cheltenham, in the UK, also on Sunday that dismantling the EU is a dangerous business.

"We tend to forget, until we were reminded last week of that Nobel prize, the European project was constructed in order to rescue Europe from extreme nationalism and conflict. There is no automatic guarantee that won't return," he noted.

Lord Blair, the former British police chief, and Stephen Lander, the former head of the UK's domestic intelligence service, MI5, in a recent letter to British leaders also warned against the opt-out move.

"Responding to an increasingly international criminal environment requires modern international legal and policing tools, fast and effective cross-border co-operation, and the ability to raise standards and share best practice with our closest security partners," the two men wrote.

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