The UK is to abandon a crucial tool used to speed up the transfer of criminals across borders with other European countries.
Acting against the warnings of senior law enforcement officials, the government said it would not be seeking to participate in the European arrest warrant (EAW) as part of the future relationship with the European Union.
In a document setting out the UK’s approach to negotiations with the EU, the government said: “The UK is not seeking to participate in the European arrest warrant as part of the future relationship.
“The agreement should instead provide for fast-track extradition arrangements, based on the EU’s surrender agreement with Norway and Iceland which came into force in 2019, but with appropriate further safeguards for individuals beyond those in the European arrest warrant.”
Under the current arrangements, police forces, prosecutors and the National Crime Agency can apply for an EAW to effect a fast extradition of a criminal suspect from any EU member state, and likewise EU countries can apply to the UK to return fugitives. The European Commission has previously claimed that average extradition times have been reduced from one year to less than two months through the use of the EAW.
After the EU referendum, the then NCA deputy director general, David Armond, said losing the EAW would be a “tricky” issue.
“If we can’t stay in that we’ve got to negotiate a series of new treaties with overseas territories about what extradition will look like,” he said.
Theresa May argued strongly in favour of the EAW when she was home secretary. Rejoining the warrant, which also allows for swift extradition of foreign offenders in the UK was put to a vote in 2014, ahead of which May said it was a vital tool for keeping Britons safe.
Stephen Doughty, a Labour MP and member of the home affairs select committee said: “It is extraordinary that the the government is willing to put the security and safety of our citizens at risk – all in the name of ideological obsession – by pulling out of the European arrest warrant.
“It is also deeply irresponsible to threaten to walk away from talks in June – which would not only threaten our economy, but also our safety and security. What price are they willing to pay? Or is it all an idle threat?”