At Friday’s EU Banking Summit David Cameron had a meeting in a side room with the rump of the more extreme parties that make up the European Conservative and Reformist Group, ECR, rather than the European Peoples Party, the home of every other mainstream conservative leader in the European Union. It was the result of his decision to put his Conservative MEPs on the sidelines in the European Parliament and was symbolic of the increasingly isolated position of the UK at the summit.
A practical lesson of all of this is whether this isolationism has real short to medium term detriment to UK citizens. In relation to this summit, it is now more than a theoretical possibility that the interests of the UK and the city of London in shaping financial rules will be systematically ignored or overridden. This is as a result of ECB supervision not being extended to the UK.
Earlier this week, I wrote on LabourList how the Theresa May statement on justice and home affairs and a number of other key EU Summits and statements would form “veto moments” where the Conservative Party would increasingly attempt to neutralise the UKIP threat and prepare the UK for a renegotiation and manifesto commitment to a referendum. It is now clear that this strategy can and will do practical damage to UK interests. As the dust settles on the JHA statement in the House of Commons on Tuesday it is now clear how much damage has been done.
Since coming into power in 2010, the Tory government had chosen to opt into a staggering amount of EU legislation in this area including measures on rights to suspects, human trafficking, sexual abuse and pornography, victims of crime, cybercrime, a European Investigation Order and much more. Such decisions confirm that the Tory government see the merits behind increased enhanced cooperation with the EU on justice and home affairs issues.
And yet, despite this, the Home Secretary has confirmed her intention to opt-out without giving sufficient justification. She played down the harmful effects saying there would be an option to opt back into key measures. Crucially, no mention was made of the lack of guarantee for the UK to opt back into measures.
It is not the case that the UK will be automatically allowed to pick and choose any measures it wants to opt back into. It is dependent on agreement from the European Commission or the European Council. For the majority of measures, like the European Arrest Warrant, it is up to the Council to agree unanimously on letting the UK rejoin. That means agreement from all other 26 Member States.
This now puts the future of the EA in real danger. The case for reform of the way the EAW is used in the UK is clear and urgent – however the concept, when implemented correctly, has already proved its worth. The EAW has reduced extradition times to an average of 48 hours or less since it came into force and it has allowed for the extradition of serious criminals and terrorists including Hussain Osmain. An inability to opt back into important JHA area like this could result in huge repercussions for the safety of UK citizens.
Another practical area of uncertainty is the financial implications that the UK could incur as a result of the opt-out decision. The rules state that the UK will be responsible for any costs as a result of its decision to cease cooperation in certain areas. Neither the Commission nor the Council have yet given any details on what exactly the cost could be however reports have indicated that it could be significant.
The one positive thing that came out of the Home Secretary’s announcement this week is that the vote in the House of Commons will not take place until early next year. This gives us the opportunity to have an honest and open debate so that any final decision can be made with the best interests of UK citizens in mind.
Claude Moraes MEP is Deputy Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party.