LONDON — Theresa May has been accused of making Britain a „haven” for foreign criminals as European Union officials warn her Brexit red lines means Britain will be ejected from the European Arrest Warrant.
The European Commission has this week warned that Britain cannot continue to participate in the European Arrest Warrant after Brexit if it follows through on May’s commitment to ditch the European Court of Justice.
A source close to the bloc’s negotiating team told BI: „The UK will lose access to the European Arrest Warrant as this is dependent on the European Court of Justice.”
They added: „UK officials do not understand that member states would have to change their constitutions to facilitate an exception. The UK wants all the rights without the obligations that other countries have to agree to.”
The European Arrest Warrant — established in 2002 — is the EU’s cross-border system for extraditing alleged criminals from one member state to another. In practice, it means that a person based in Britain accused of crimes in another EU member state can be extradited with reduced cost and legal complication, and vice versa.
The UK will become the destination of choice for criminals — Catherine Bearder MEP.
Extraditions can take place outside the European Arrest Warrant. However, they’d be much more costly for a UK government and require a more drawn-out legal process. Figures show that over 1,000 fugitives have been extradited to the UK through the initiative, while the UK has extradited around 10,000 alleged criminals to other EU member states since 2004.
Politicians from across Britain’s parties have told BI that May must relax her ECJ red-line in order to protect Britain’s national security. There is particular concern that leaving the European Arrest Warrant will make Britain a popular destination for European fugitives, as it’ll be more difficult for them to be extradited to countries where they are wanted by authorities.
„Leaving the European Arrest Warrant makes this country less safe. Ask any policeman, the UK will become the destination of choice for criminals,” Catherine Bearder, Liberal Democrat MEP, told BI.
„When will Mrs May and Mr Javid realise the damage to our safety that their harmful and completely unnecessary red line on leaving the European Court of Justice will do? They must rethink their hard-line opposition.”
This concern was echoed by Labour MEP Seb Dance, who said leaving the European Arrest Warrant means „Britain faces a double whammy of being unable to bring our own criminals to justice and becoming a haven for criminals from across Europe seeking to hide from their own governments.”
„It’s absolutely nuts”
Politicians from across the political spectrum criticised May’s refusal to shift on her red lines.
One leading MEP who wished to remain anonymous told BI: „It’s absolutely nuts. It’s the UK’s fault for not following the rules — not the EU’s fault for insisting on them.”
May was accused of putting politics above Britain’s security. „This is another example of unexpected consequences,” Julie Girling MEP — who in October had her parliamentary whip removed by the Conservatives for voting against Brexit talks progressing to the next stage — told BI this week.
„The UK Government has just assumed that the UK will be able to opt into the EAW system without ensuring agreement from Brussels. I hope we can as it is clearly mutually beneficial, but it is a good example of where we could both be significantly worse off as a result of Brexit.”
In an interview with BI earlier this year, Girling strongly criticised her former party’s handling of Brexit. „It’s either a lack of understanding, or it’s a deliberate fudging because they don’t have a political answer,” she said.
In Westminster, Labour MP Ian Murray said the government’s Brexit plan posed „a potential threat to the security of our country,” adding „this latest news about the European Arrest Warrant only makes things worse.”
Murray, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, added: „The EAW allows us to quickly and easily extradite foreign criminals or bring UK nationals back to this country to face justice without getting bogged down in bureaucracy.”
The news that Britain is set to be excluded from the European Arrest Warrant came after the latest round of talks between EU and British negotiators in Brussels this week.
A senior EU official told reporters that the UK government was „chasing a fantasy” and that a myriad of issues was far from being resolved with just five months until a deal needs to be agreed.