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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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Commission event. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On 31 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.