May to announce opt-out of EU justice measures
The home secretary Theresa May will confirm today that government plans to exercise its right to opt out of 130 EU cross-border measures on law and order.
She is expected to tell MPs that under an opt-out agreed by the last government when negotiating the Lisbon Treaty, the UK will drop out of the European Arrest Warrant, membership of bodies such as Europol and Eurojust, as well as arrangements to share databases.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, which came in to force in 2009, European-wide policing and crime prevention measures will become mandatory and enforceable through the European Court of Justice in November 2014 unless the UK opts out of the entire package by June that year.
The government could opt back in to individual measures - as long as the rest of the EU agrees.
The decision to exercise the opt-out was revealed by the prime minister earlier this month. It was condemned by legal professional bodies. Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said the that a decision to remove the UK from so many criminal justice measures, most of which are procedural and promote practical co-operation between member states, ‘could have far-reaching implications’. She urged the government to engage with practitioners to seek their views in an open and transparent consultation process.
Bar chief Michael Todd QC echoed the concern: ‘Those who advocate an opt-out of EU criminal justice measures assume that it will remove the UK from the scope of EU criminal justice, and that it may save money.’ But he said the UK’s opt-out can relate only to measures established before the Treaty of Lisbon came into force in 2009, which would be a ‘recipe for confusion and greater costs’.
Todd said that the practical considerations involved in the fight against cross-border crime would mean that the UK would almost certainly need to seek to opt back into them.
Timothy Kirkhope MEP, a former Home Office minister who is Conservative spokesman on justice and home affairs in the European Parliament, said Britain had been left with no real choice but to opt-out because of terms in the Lisbon Treaty. 'Accepting the authority of the European courts would be incompatible with the UK's common law system and legal traditions which have been developed over hundreds of years,' Kirkhope wrote in the Politics Home website.
But he warned that by opting out the UK would no longer be able to use the agencies, shared databases, funding and instruments in law enforcement created by the EU. Instead the UK would have to make bilateral arrangements with each EU member state.
'Expecting this decision to be the end of the story, and believing it to be a silver bullet for all the UK's legal and immigration problems is naive at best. We cannot sign up to the full body of EU law, but the signals we send to our European partners in exercising our opt-out will be crucial if we wish to have the luxury of cherry-picking our way back into those areas that are to our benefit.'