COMMONS

Engagement over 2014 Block Opt-Out

25 March 2013

Government’s failure to provide vital information on UK Block Opt-Out is unacceptable, say MPs

Engagement with Parliament

It is unacceptable that the Government has failed to satisfy information requests which would have ensured genuine engagement with Parliament in the process leading up to the Parliamentary vote on the UK’s block opt-out says the European Scrutiny Committee in its report, published today entitled “The 2014 block opt-out: engaging with Parliament”.

In addition, says the Committee, the Government has also failed to meet its own deadlines for the provision of its Explanatory Memoranda on measures subject to the block opt-out and to provide any reasonable justification. 

Chairman of the Committee, Bill Cash MP, says,

“We consider the delay to be unacceptable and irreconcilable with the Government’s professed commitment to enhanced Parliamentary scrutiny of EU justice and home affairs matters.”

Background

The Government’s decision on the block opt-out will determine the extent to which two EU institutions – the Commission and the Court of Justice – will have a role in overseeing the application in the UK of approximately 130 EU criminal law and policing measures agreed before the Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009.

Whilst the significance of each of these measures will vary, it is clear that some, notably the European Arrest Warrant, raise issues affecting public safety and security as well as the protection of individual rights.  A decision to opt out of all of these measures and (if the Government wishes) to seek to rejoin some of them would have potentially far-reaching implications.  It would affect how and where policies and laws on matters covered by the opt-out decision are formulated, interpreted and enforced.  It would affect UK citizens who may be sought for, or involved in, criminal proceedings in another EU Member State and how suspects who have fled abroad are brought to justice in the UK.  Above all, it would affect the way in which Government seeks to ensure public safety and security while protecting its citizens’ freedoms. 

The report sets down the correspondence between the Government and the European Scrutiny, Home Affairs and Justice Committees, to illustrate their efforts to obtain the information which will enable Parliament to consider the complex issues arising from the UK’s block opt-out. 

Recommendations

The report states that the Committee has urged the Government to provide the legal and policy assessment of each of the measures subject to the UK’s block opt-out which it must surely have undertaken as the basis for determining that it is currently minded to exercise the block opt-out.  Although the Government promised to produce, from early January to mid-February, five Explanatory Memoranda on all of the measures, as well as (at a later stage) an Impact Assessment of the final package of measures that the UK intends to apply to rejoin, so far it has provided nothing.

Chairman of the Committee, Bill Cash MP, says,

“We are at a loss to understand why the Government is unable to make available to Parliament its assessment of the costs and benefits of UK participation in these measures. It is in complex cases like these that timely, effective scrutiny by the House’s Committees can make a real difference.  The Government must provide the information it promised us so long ago, to enable us to make our Report to the House later this spring.  We also ask the Home and Justice Secretaries to commit themselves to engaging constructively with Parliament during the remainder of the process.”

The content of the measures subject to the block opt-out is known – indeed, all were agreed before the Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009 – and it must therefore be possible for the Government to ascertain their legal, policy, operational and financial implications for the UK.  The delay in providing information suggests that the Government is reluctant to disclose to Parliament the evidence on which the decision in principle to exercise the block opt-out is based. 

Image: PA

Share this page