This week, the Crown Prosecution Service announced it has sufficient evidence to charge two Russian nationals with the Salisbury nerve agent attack on 4th March 2018. Unfortunately, the evidence which implicates the two men also show that on the same evening they took the train directly from Salisbury to Heathrow and flew to Russia, where they are protected from extradition.
However, the UK has already obtained a European Arrest Warrant (as well as an Interpol red notice) which will ensure that the two men are will be brought to justice in the UK should they ever enter an EU country.
The UK’s ability to obtain an arrest warrant across the whole of Europe so quickly, or even at all, is thanks to its membership of the European Union. This is yet another matter which should give us cause to question our decision to walk away.
The European Arrest Warrant allows judicial authorities in the EU to request the arrest and return of suspects and criminals in other countries without having to go through the lengthy traditional procedures for international extradition. In 2015-6, the UK was able to arrest around 150 suspects under the European Arrest Warrant terms, and to send 1,100 back to other member states, compared with just 60 before the EAW was introduced.
Currently, only full member states of the EU use the European Arrest Warrant. EEA members Norway and Iceland took 14 years to negotiate an extradition scheme, which falls short of the EAW as it is not an automatic process. Even now, it is not in force as some European countries have yet to sign the agreement.
Theresa May, having initially said that Britain would not stay in “bits of” the EU, has belatedly asked for the UK to be allowed to remain in the EAW. But the EAW is not a CIA-style rendition system. It comes with the ecosystem of the EU’s legal safeguards enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the possibility to appeal on points of law to the EU Court. Unless the UK accepts the full package, the EU will not consider allowing it, as a non-member, avail it of this instrument.
The government has now promised to ‘respect the remit’ of the EU Court, in the realm of security. Yet, this is not the only red line that holds us back from participation as the UK does not to accept the continued application of the Charter of Rights. And another obstacle has now appeared: this year’s Data Protection Act, the weakness of which could create legal obstacles which seriously reduce pan-European cooperation.
Without the European Arrest Warrant, or a new negotiated agreement, the UK would necessarily fall back on the Council of Europe extradition procedure, which is a slow and political process, taking up to one year to extradite a criminal, compared to the 48 days it currently takes with the EAW. The UK could rely on Interpol red notices. However, these do not act as arrest warrants; each individual country can decide how to deal with the criminals, if they deal with them at all. This, too falls far short of our current situation.
During the referendum, the Leave campaign argued that by ‘taking back control of our borders and our laws’ the UK would be increasing public security and safety. As with many of their claims, the reality is exactly the opposite. Brexit, especially with the government’s red lines, is limiting the UK’s police and security service’s ability to cooperate with Europe when tackling serious, organised cross-border criminals. No access to the European Arrest Warrant reduces our ability to bring these criminals to face justice in the UK or in the EU27.
The government’s plans are clear. The public should be asking why they we are willing to risk effective levels of security cooperation for red lines driven by right wing ideology, not public safety.