On 1 December, unless Parliament in the meantime backs the Government’s proposal to re-join thirty five EU Justice and Home Affairs measures, which it believes is in the national interest to do, Britain will withdraw from Europol and Eurojust, two agencies which provide invaluable assistance in the battle against serious international crime.
We will likewise withdraw from the European Arrest Warrant which enables us to get back wanted British criminals who have taken refuge elsewhere in the EU and to send back foreign criminals who have come here.
And then Britain will also have to withdraw from a number of other measures which provide for the rapid exchange of information on criminal records and for cooperation against crimes such as terrorism, drugs, human trafficking, cyber-crime and child pornography.
You might think it was a no-brainer to re-join such measures, which are proving their worth on a daily basis and to a steadily increasing extent. If you do think that, you would be in good company.
That is the view of senior police officers, of the Crown Prosecution Service, of the bodies representing the legal profession and of the legal authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland, all of whom gave evidence to parliamentary committees enquiries which have backed all the options in depth and which have backed the Government’s desire to re-join these measures.
The government is facing opposition in taking this decision from within the ranks of its own back-benchers and from the United Kingdom Independence Party.
The alternative course, which they suggest of negotiating separate bilateral agreements covering all these matters with each of our 27 EU partners, has been tried already and it does not work.
Timeline: the fall of communism in Europe
Timeline: the fall of communism in Europe
1/8 January 1989
At the start of the year, the map of Europe looked much as it had since the aftermath of the Second World War, with the Eastern half of the continent ruled by Communist regimes
2/8 August 1989
In Poland, Solidarity won the general election. In Hungary, a huge protest at Sopron marked the beginning of the end for the Communist regime, which fell two months later
3/8 October-December 1989
By late October, the Velvet Revolution marked the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia. Romania’s Ceausescu regime fell on Christmas day.
Despite the dramas of 1989, it was not until March 1990 that free multi-party elections took place in East Germany. Re-unification with the West followed in October.
The Communists were defeated in elections in all six of Yugoslavia’s republics in 1990; by 1991, four of the six had declared independence, leaving only Serbia and Montenegro
Bulgaria’s Todor Zhivkov had been ousted in 1989. The old regime fell apart slowly, and elections were held in 1991 – as they also were in Albania, after some slow reforms.
The collapse of the Soviet “bloc” led in due course to the collapse of the Soviet empire. Estonia, Georgia, Latvia and Lithuania all voted to secede from the USSR in the course of the year
8/8 December 1991
In August, a coup had failed to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev and reverse his reforms. Other Soviet republics declared independence, and on 8 December the USSR was dissolved.
That was what we had before the EU measures came into effect. It means slower, more costly and less efficient recourse for British citizens who are the victims of crime and it is likely to make Britain an attractive haven for criminals from elsewhere in the EU. It risks re-politicising the whole process of extraditing criminals between Ireland and Britain.
We like to think of ourselves as pragmatic, practical people who favour solutions that work and who shy away from ideology.
And yet those who object to re-joining these measures do so on largely ideological grounds and choose to ignore the practical benefits of this network of cooperation which has been built up over recent years and which actually works.
They discount the fact that the Government’s approach includes withdrawing from a much larger number of EU Justice and Home Affairs measures of lesser or no practical value to this country.
One can only hope that common sense will prevail over the next few weeks and that we will not find ourselves living in a legal vacuum after 1 December. What a wonderful Christmas present that vacuum would be to the criminal fraternity.
Lord David Hannay is a former Ambassador to the EU and the UNReuse content