20th Mar 2018

UK to sign up to EU arrest warrant despite Tory rebellion

  • Workers clean Big Ben - the British parliament's iconic clock tower (Photo: UK Parliament)

UK MPs are set to sign up to a package of 35 EU justice laws, including the controversial European Arrest Warrant (EAW), despite a rebellion among Conservative deputies.

The House of Commons will debate and vote on the package on Monday (10 November).

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Although up to 100 MPs in David Cameron's Conservative party are expected to defy the government, support from the opposition Labour party and the Liberal Democrats is likely ensure a sizeable majority.

The vote comes at a difficult time for David Cameron, whose party is likely to lose a second by-election to the UK independence party (Ukip) later this month.

Ukip, along with right-wing Conservative MPs, has long campaigned against the EAW.

The UK secured the right to opt in or out of EU justice policy as part of its deal on the 2010 Lisbon treaty. The Conservative-led government in Westminster opted out of 133 pieces of EU justice law in 2013, but drew up a list of 35 laws that it wants to sign back up to.

It has a 1 December deadline to formally decide what it wishes to opt-in to.

The EAW serves as an EU-wide extradition system and came into force in 2004. Graham Watson, a former Liberal MEP for South-West England, piloted the bill through the European Parliament.

As a backbench MP, Cameron himself voted against ratifying the warrant.

Despite being one of Cameron's more eurosceptic ministers, home secretary Theresa May has led support for signing up to the EAW stating that the government would campaign "loudly and clearly" for MPs to back it.

In a letter to Yvette Cooper, Labour's home affairs spokesperson, May described the EU laws as "vitally important to our police and law enforcement agencies."

The package "helps us to tackle cross-border crimes, deport foreign criminals, track down those who seek to evade the law, and bring them to justice," she added.

Meanwhile, a group of 40 judges and legal experts warned that Britain would become a "safe haven for fugitives from justice" if it did not sign up in an open letter to The Daily Telegraph last week.

The EAW allowed Britain to extradite one of the suspects planning a second terrorist attack on London in July 2005, two weeks after the 7/7 attack which killed more than 50 people.

A survey by pollsters YouGov found that 56 percent of Britons supporting opting in to the warrant.

However, critics say that rapid extradition is not always conducive with justice and that the system makes it too easy for UK citizens to be extradited on relatively minor charges to countries where they might not receive a fair trial.

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