Blinded by their eurosceptic ideology, the Tories are risking our national security

Withdrawal from the European arrest warrant would turn the UK into a haven for foreign criminals.

Cross-border crime cannot be tackled by nation states acting alone. Criminals do not stop at national borders. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Crime is becoming increasingly international and, in many cases, increasingly complex and sophisticated.

European co-operation in police and judicial matters is a great success story. Since the introduction of the European Arrest Warrant, over 4,000 criminals have been deported and removed from the UK. Thanks to the warrant, many criminals have been extradited back to the UK to face justice – the bomber who fled to Italy, the school teacher who abducted a 15 year old pupil and was found in France and, most recently, one of Britain’s most wanted fugitives, Andrew Moran, who was tracked down by the Spanish and British police working together. Prior to the introduction of the warrant, extradition took years, in some cases decades, rather than weeks or months.

European co-operation has also made inroads into tackling one of the world’s most chilling and horrific crimes: human trafficking - boys, girls, women and men traded by criminal gangs like commodities across borders. This modern-day slavery can only be rooted out by police forces co-operating closely. The Metropolitan Police and the Romanian National Police recently worked together to track down and bring to justice a Romanian gang that trafficked children into the UK, resulting in the arrest of 126 people for crimes including human trafficking, benefit fraud, theft, money laundering and child neglect.

Time and again, the Conservatives let their obsessive euroscepticism blind them to what is in the national interest. This case is no exception. The claim that it would be better to withdraw from cross border co-operation with our European neighbours in order to tackle cross border crime is illogical and ludicrous. The truth is that eurosceptics believe that anything that has Europe in the title must be bad, even if it helps the UK track down suspects, extradite foreign criminals and seek justice for victims of crime.

The consequences of pursuing the policy the eurosceptics advocate would be to turn the UK into a haven for foreign criminals fleeing justice in their own country. This danger has been highlighted by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Law Society and the intelligence services.

Decisions about European policy should be guided by the national interest, but instead the decision whether to opt back into 130 European police and judicial measures is subject to horse-trading within the Tory-Lib Dem government. Yet again, the Prime Minister is running scared of his backbenchers on all things European. He should start to lead rather than follow his party and put the national interest before his party’s interest. It falls to Labour to speak up for the victims of crime and call for policies which would help the police prevent and tackle crime and terrorism using the vital and necessary cross border co-operation that makes it possible. In this area, the advantages of our EU membership are clear for all to see.

David Cameron attends a press conference at the EU headquarters on May 22, 2013 in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.

Emma Reynolds is shadow housing minister and MP for Wolverhampton North East.

Photo: Getty Images
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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation