Thursday, 30 October 2014

Tories dithering puts the UK’s crime fighting abilities at risk

Back in June of last year I spoke up on the floor of the House of Commons in favour of the European Arrest Warrant making the case for the UK's continued participation, an important agreement that helps keep the UK safe from criminals and terrorist threats.

This issue has returned to the top of the political agenda as the time limit for the UK's commitment to remain within the EAW is running out. It has also risen to the top of the political agenda because David Cameron has dithered in putting a vote on the European Arrest Warrant in front of the Commons running scared of his back benchers, UKIP and the result of the Rochester and Strood by election.

The UK’s EAW opt in (we've always been in but exercised a temporary opt out') must be decided by December 1st. I know that people in Hyndburn expect nothing short of a Government which delivers fully on its first responsibility to the British people – keeping them safe from harm.

There are reports that 80-100 Tory backbenchers will oppose the EAW and make as one Government minister said. ' a safe haven for criminals' ' and the new 'Costa Del Crime' if those Tories succeed in blocking the UK's opt back in.

I strongly believe in retaining the European Arrest Warrant to help keep our communities safe, protect our borders and stop criminals fleeing justice. Yvette Cooper, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary has written to the Home Secretary to make it crystal clear that Labour will support the UK remaining part of the EAW.

It is important that we continue to have this power. Last year over 1,000 foreign criminals were deported under the European Arrest Warrant. These were issued most often for drug trafficking, murder, fraud, child sex offences and rape. We need to cooperate with partners in Europe to ensure people who have committed these serious crimes do not get away with it.

Moreover, senior police officers have been clear about how important the European Arrest Warrant is in enabling them to deport foreign criminals without going through a lengthy extradition process. Removing it would make it easier for criminals to come to our country to evade justice and would create more bureaucracy for our police. It would also make it more difficult for us to bring British citizens who have committed crimes back to our country to face justice. Last year, 14 British citizens were brought back to Britain using the European Arrest Warrant – something which would be a lot more difficult and a lot more bureaucratic without the EAW.

Unfortunately, the Tories are completely split on this issue – and not just on the backbenches. The Prime Minister described the European arrest warrant as “highly objectionable”, yet the Home Secretary recently strongly came out in favour of the EAW and is fighting for the UK to stay in it.

The Tories must not be soft on crime and must not sacrifice one of the police’s most important tools simple because it has the word ‘European’ at the start of its name. There are around 3,600 organised crime groups active in the EU, involved in drugs, human trafficking, online child exploitation and theft. Cross-border crime is a reality and we need the 21st Century tools to meet this challenge.

There have been some high-profile successes for the EAW, and we should not risk this ability.

For instance fugitive teacher Jeremy Forrest, who fled to France with a schoolgirl, was extradited to England on an EAW issued in September 2012. Or in 2005, when an EAW enabled the UK to quickly extradite from Italy a fugitive bomber, Hussain Osman who had attempted to carry out a terror attack in London. Or in 2012 when Jason McKay was extradited from Poland within two weeks for murdering his partner.

Under the old extradition arrangements, it would have taken several years to get him back to face justice for a murdered woman.