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 MP for Wolverhampton North East and former shadow Europe minister.

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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”