The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has today published its assessment of each of the 129 measures subject to the United Kingdom’s block opt-out, including the European Arrest Warrant. This is an area of policy which is highly legally complex and politically sensitive.
Yet, says the Committee, again and again the Government has failed to provide the information Parliament needs to scrutinise these measures properly.
There are two sets of conclusions in the Report: first, the Committee asks detailed follow-up questions on a number of the measures in question, including the European Arrest Warrant.
Second, in a set of strongly-worded conclusions at the end of the Report, the Government’s overall approach is thoroughly analysed. The Committee sees signs of incoherence in Government policy – probably a consequence of coalition politics – and observes that several of the explanations for the 35 measures the Government wants to rejoin appear to have been written as if the Government was not intending to rejoin them, and vice versa.
The Committee concludes that the House must be given the opportunity to vote on each of the measures the Government proposes to rejoin before formal negotiations with the European Commission and Council begin.
The Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees have also produced Reports on the measures covered by the Home Office and Ministry of Justice respectively.
Chairman of the Committee, Bill Cash MP, says:
“What is at stake here is the level at which national criminal justice policy is decided. The Government has neglected its duties to Parliament time and time again and we have fought an uphill battle – alongside the Home Affairs and Justice Committees – to force Ministers to provide us with the information we need.
“The Report we produce today is a handbook for Members of this House and others on all the measures covered by the block opt-out, including the 35 measures the Government seeks to rejoin. We expect the Government now to schedule a debate in the House when Members can make a decision on each of the measures the Government proposes to rejoin.”
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 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.