Britain will no longer support is the DNA-sharing process known as the Prüm decision

by jeeg 10. July 2013 23:12

Britain is to join forces with like-minded EU member states to try to reform the European arrest warrant after the coalition agreed after lengthy negotiations to maintain British involvement with the controversial measure.

Theresa May, the home secretary, will announce in a statement to MPs on Tuesday that the arrest warrant will be among 35 EU criminal justice measures Britain will continue to back.

Britain will remain part of Europol, the EU-wide intelligence sharing agency which co-ordinates police investigation, and Eurojust, which oversees judicial co-operation across the EU.

The home secretary will move to qualify her announcement by saying that Britain will push for a new proportionality test for the European arrest warrant to ensure that British citizens cannot be deported to other EU states for relatively minor offences. Ministers cite Polish law which imposes relatively long sentences on minor offences such as bike theft.

May will outline her plans to reform the arrest warrant as she announces to MPs that Britain will press to be allowed to opt out altogether from 98 of 133 EU criminal justice measures. The decision to maintain Britain's involvement with 35 of the measures represents a compromise between the Tories, who wanted to cap the number at 29, and the Liberal Democrats, who had called for the number to be set at 45. Oliver Letwin, the prime minister's policy guru, and Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury, have been negotiating the deal over the past year.

In her statement to MPs, May will announce that parliament will be given a vote next week on the government's proposals. This is designed to strengthen the hand of ministers who will have to negotiate for up to a year with the rest of the EU for Britain to be allowed to cut back on British involvement with EU criminal justice measures.

Under an agreement negotiated by Tony Blair, Britain has to opt out of all the measures even if it only wants to end British involvement in one of them. Britain will wait until the conclusion of the negotiations with the EU on the 35 measures it hopes to continue to back before exercising the mass opt out.

The two sides of the coalition will declare victory. May will say that the Tories have successfully managed to scale back on a dramatic scale Britain's involvement with EU-wide criminal justice measures.

The Liberal Democrats will maintain that they have ensured Britain will remain involved in measures that are vital in tackling cross-border crime. They are likely to argue that, in addition to the 35 measures to be backed by Britain, a further 20 will continue to apply because minimum standards in those areas have been enshrined in British law.

It is also understood that all but one of the measures supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) will be among those Britain will continue to back. In addition to the arrest warrant, these include the exchange of criminal records, joint investigation teams, Eurojust and Europol. The measures were identified by ACPO in a written submission to a House of Lords committee earlier this year which prompted peers to warn that Britain would put at risk the fight against terrorism if it opted out of such measures. The one ACPO measure Britain will no longer support is the DNA-sharing process known as the Prüm decision.

One Lib Dem source said: "This is a deal; it is a compromise. It is good for the Liberal Democrats; it is good for Conservatives. But most importantly it is good for the fight against crime."

Thais Portilho-Shrimpton, director of Justice Across Borders, said: "We fought hard for the past 10 months to stop the government from abandoning these vital EU policing tools and we are delighted the European arrest warrant and other crucial crime-fighting measures have been saved. We will remain vigilant to ensure these measures pass through the House of Commons and House of Lords unharmed, so it is guaranteed we will opt-back into them come December 2014."

 Nicholas Watt, Guardian

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