UK to announce EU policing opt-out plans
by Daniel Mason
The United Kingdom is set to announce plans to withdraw from European Union justice and home affairs cooperation measures including the European Arrest Warrant and a pan-EU criminal records database.
Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May is expected to use a statement in parliament today to say the government is "minded" to opt-out of some 140 common EU programmes that target cross-border crime and terrorism, it was widely reported over the weekend. The UK has the opportunity to step back entirely from EU justice and home affairs cooperation in 2014 before attempting to opt back in to those elements that it supports.
The policy could provoke tension in the coalition because the Liberal Democrats support measures such as the arrest warrant, which was used to extradite one of the failed July 2005 terrorists from Italy. The two parties are negotiating over the aspects of EU cooperation in which they would remain. A source close to Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is reported to have said: "We're not going to let a Eurosceptic obsession put the British public in danger. It would jeopardise public safety to opt out of all these things."
And Labour leader in the European Parliament Glenis Willmott, speaking at the party's conference earlier this month, said: "If we opt out of EU police and judicial cooperation, it would be an insecure prime minister putting Tory party unity before the interests of the British people." According to the Financial Times, the former head of MI5 Sir Stephen Lander and the former head of Scotland Yard Lord Blair were among a group to write to Prime Minister David Cameron saying that opting out of the arrest warrant would be "entirely self-defeating".
But it will be seen by the Conservatives as part of an attempt to reach what Cameron has called a "new settlement" between the UK and the EU in a bid to appease the eurosceptic wing of the party. Conservative cabinet minister Philip Hammond said yesterday that the party was "not satisfied with the current relationship between the EU and the UK. The balance of competencies is not right".
Cameron has suggested that the realigned relationship with the EU could be put to the British people as part of a general election campaign or in a separate referendum, but has appeared to rule out an in or out vote on the UK's membership. A YouGov poll this weekend showed that in such a referendum, 48 per cent would vote to leave the EU and 32 per cent to remain as a member state.
However, the Mail on Sunday reported that Michael Gove, Tory education secretary, was ready to vote for Britain to quit the bloc if it cannot return powers from Brussels to Westminster. The paper claimed as many as eight cabinet members agreed that the UK should threaten to leave. It quoted Gove as telling friends that the government should tell the EU: "Give us back our sovereignty or we will walk out."