Lib Dem Lords vs the Article 50 Bill: Brian Paddick: You can’t keep people safe without ceding sovereignty

The Lib Dem Lords have made some cracking contributions to the debate on the Article 50 Bill. Ahead of its next Lords stages, we’re bringing you all the Lib Dem contributions over the course of this weekend. That’s no mean feat. There were 32 of them and cover more than 30,000 words. You are not expected to read every single one of them as they appear. Nobody’s going to be testing you or anything. However, they will be there to refer to in the future. 

Our Lords excelled themselves. Their contributions were thoughtful, individual, well-researched and wide-ranging and it’s right that we present them in full on this site to help the historian of the future.

As a former Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Brian Paddick knows his stuff when it comes to matters of crime and security. He talks about the process of inter-country information sharing taking weeks or months rather than instantaneously as present. So much for Brexit making us safer. 

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is in his place, I will thank him for the opportunity to debate this legislation which we might not have had if he had not played such a good role in the Supreme Court. As our party spokesman on home affairs I want to make absolutely clear that I support the protection of the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK and of UK citizens living in the EU.

This afternoon I seek to make only one point and to use one example to illustrate that point. The British people did not know the full consequences of leaving the EU at the time of the referendum and did not therefore make an informed choice. They are entitled to a vote on the final deal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, said, none of us, on either side of the argument, knew what the full consequences of leaving the EU were going to be at the time of the referendum—and, of course we will not know definitively until the negotiations are complete, although there are some things of which we are certain and which I will come to.

Let us be honest: no one, least of all the Conservative Government, thought much about the consequences of a leave vote because they never believed it would happen, as the noble Lord, Lord Darling, has just said. That is why the people need to decide, once they can make an informed choice, whether to accept the final deal negotiated by the Government. One thing is for sure: it is the people who started the process that will lead to the negotiations to leave the EU. Therefore, it is only the people who should decide, by means of a referendum, whether they want to go through with it once they have all the facts.

I come to my example. As the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal said yesterday, the Government’s White Paper sets out in detail the 12 objectives for the negotiations, one of which is to continue to co-operate with our European partners in important areas such as crime, terrorism and foreign affairs—the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, clearly articulated how important such co-operation is. My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire pointed out yesterday:

“The White Paper also pledges to maintain close co-operation on internal security, intelligence and crime, but without accepting judicial oversight of such sensitive issues. That will not be possible”.—[Official Report, 20/02/17; col. 30.]

A major plank of the leave campaign was to make the UK Parliament sovereign and for law to be decided by British courts. But, as I shall seek to demonstrate, essential co-operation with the European Union on issues of terrorism, serious and organised crime, policing and justice—matters that are the primary role of any Government to keep their people safe—cannot be achieved without ceding sovereignty. To be effective in combating terrorism and serious and organised crime, such as people trafficking and child sexual abuse, and to bring to justice criminals who flee from the EU to the UK or vice versa, there needs to be a mass exchange of information between the countries of the EU and the UK.

At the moment there are shared electronic databases, with more due to come on stream in the coming months. They enable a police officer who stops a suspect in the street in the UK to check instantly whether they are of interest to the security services anywhere in Europe and whether they are wanted under a European arrest warrant. Fingerprint and DNA samples found at the scene of a crime can be checked across the EU in seconds, minutes or hours, rather than in the weeks or months—if it could be done at all—that it would take using Interpol.

These EU databases are subject to data protection law agreed by EU member states. Compliance is overseen by the European Court of Justice. At the moment we have a say as to what these EU data protection laws are. When we leave the EU, we will not. If we are to continue to have access to these vital databases, we will have to comply with EU data protection law over which we will no longer have any say.

The Government have also said that they will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. So who will adjudicate on our compliance with EU data protection law? The Government may say that there should be a bespoke body specifically to adjudicate on such matters, as it suggests in its White Paper. This will obviously duplicate the work currently undertaken by the ECJ. Who is going to pay for this bespoke body that will ensure that the UK complies with EU law over which we will have no say? One thing is for sure: it is not going to be the Mexicans.

The British people believed that we would be safer outside the EU. They believed that we would no longer be subject to EU law and that we would no longer have to pay anything to, or for anything to do with, the European Union. That is what they were told during the referendum debate, whether in good faith or not. The reality is that we will either be much less safe if we no longer have access to the information held on these EU databases, or we will have to give up sovereignty by complying with EU law over which we will no longer have any say. We will either still be subject to the ECJ or we will have to fund an alternative body to adjudicate on these issues. Not many people realise this, and even fewer realised it at the time of the referendum.

This is why we are proposing an amendment to the Bill which will enable the British people to decide on the final deal when they know exactly what the consequences of leaving the EU are. This is not necessarily because they were misled or did not understand, but because it is only now beginning to dawn on all of us what the full consequences are going to be. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said, what is not democratic about giving the final say to the British people?


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