Opinion: The Tories: tough on Europe, soft on crime

The news that Sussex teacher Jeremy Forrest has been arrested in Bordeaux on suspicion of abducting pupil Megan Stammers is a timely reminder of the value of EU cooperation to fight crime. The maths teacher, who now faces imminent extradition, joins a long list of suspects caught with a European arrest warrant and swiftly returned to face justice in the UK. But the Conservatives’ dogmatic opposition to all things European is now putting the safety of Britons at risk.

The European arrest warrant, in operation since 2004, has succeeded in cutting average extradition times in the EU from one year to a matter of weeks. In the Stammers case, Jeremy Forrest was due to be dispatched to the UK just a week after his arrest in France. Since the scheme was introduced, it has helped catch hundreds of criminals who would otherwise have gone unpunished, including drug traffickers, paedophiles, benefit fraudsters and an attempted London terrorist.

Along with other EU crime-fighting measures, the arrest warrant helps make Britain a safer place. When criminals cross borders, the police and judges need effective ways to catch up with them.  That’s why Surrey Police are working with gendarmes and magistrates from Annecy to investigate the recent Alps murders in a joint team set up under Eurojust – another EU cooperation scheme.

Senior police officers and a former head of MI5 are amongst those who’ve spoken out in favour of Britain remaining in EU police and justice measures to be able to pursue “serious organised criminal and terrorist networks.”  The Bar Council pointedly says that “the loss of these measures, including the European Arrest Warrant, would directly threaten law and order in the UK.” And the British public agree: a Eurobarometer survey found that 76% of people thought the arrest warrant brings important benefits to the country.

Yet all this progress is now being put at risk by pressure from Conservative eurosceptics for the UK to pull out of EU crime-fighting measures. 100 Tory MPs wrote to David Cameron earlier this year to demand he opt out of EU justice and home affairs policies, and Cameron last week indicated he wants the UK to use a little-known EU treaty mechanism to pull out of 130 different EU agreements.

The cost of such a withdrawal was laid bare by the Centre for European Reform in an excellent new report last week. The Tories would deny British police a series of effective crime-fighting tools and put public safety at risk. Even if the UK were to opt back into some agreements, our national influence would be heavily diminished over the content of current and future EU policies.

European Lib Dem justice spokeswoman Sarah Ludford MEP and Lib Dem Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for Surrey Nick O’Shea have launched petitions in support of the European Arrest Warrant, which I am pleased to support. But Liberal Democrat ministers in the Coalition government must now fight tooth and nail to make sure we remain at the heart of EU decisions on crime and justice – and keep our streets safe.

* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.

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  • Richard Dean 9th Oct '12 - 10:57am

    I am offended by the use of the Forrest case in this way. Both parties seemed willing, and who knows who led who and why and for what? It doesn’t compare with a lot of much nastier crimes.

    You’d probably find that those euroskepitics who want to opt out also want to introduce draconian anti-crime measures in the UK, so severe as to give rise to successful challenges in the European Court of Human Rights if we stayed in. Far from being soft, these people probably think they’re being hard – even if their actions increase crime!

    I agree that it would be crazy to pull out of EU decision-making bodies. Such a pullout would represent a major loss of sovereignty, since it would severely diminish the UK’s power to shape its own destiny.

  • I think the European Arrest Warrant, is an excellent tool. Maybe we need to serve a few on the BBC?

  • @Richard Dean
    ‘and who knows who led who and why and for what? ‘

    She is underage and a child!!!!! He is a 30 year old man.

  • I think most people would agree, that most kids in this age range of 14 to 17 are just not equipped to deal with mature relationships. But just to add ‘legal insult to injury’, I believe that the age of consent varies across Europe. France Greece(15), Portugal Italy (13), And I believe, (correct me if I’m wrong), Spain sees a 12 year old as able to consent (utter madness!).
    But let me put this question to you. Suppose an Italian or Spanish teacher decides to bring his 13 year old girlfriend to the UK, get a teaching job and set up home here. I guess, Italy and/or Spain would not, be requesting a European Arrest Warrant. But would the European teacher be arrested here?
    I’m not making a judgement on whether the above is right/wrong. I’m just making the point that the European project has a long way to go to truly, unify 17 or 27 different cultures. And IMHO it is akin to herding cats. Good Luck.

  • Let me add another layer of complexity to my above question.
    Suppose Jeremy Forrest took up a maths teaching position in Italy. During his stay he meets and sets up home with a 15 year old girl. My understanding is that he has not committed a crime in Italy. However he decides to bring his 15 year old girlfriend to meet his parents in the UK.
    Would he be arrested at the UK border?

  • Apologies, but if I can add yet another layer to this European legal minefield, around my second question above:
    What crime could the UK police arrest Jeremy Forrest for as he entered the UK with his (say), 15 year old Italian girlfriend?
    As an Italian national, the 15 year old girl is legally able to give consent therefore Mr Forrest has committed no crime. However if he met a 15 year old British girl in Italy, and brought her home to see his parents, he would be arrested !
    Complicated, is it not, this European stuff?

  • Stuart Mitchell 9th Oct '12 - 8:26pm

    John Dunn:

    I would have thought the answer to all three of your scenarios is that the teacher would not be “arrested at the border”, but would certainly be arrested if he engaged in sexual activity with the girl within the UK.

    In the case of Forrest, even if the girl were 16 (but under 18), he would still be committing an offence as he would be deemed to be in a “position of trust” in respect of her, as a teacher at her school. I have no idea whether other European countries have similar laws.

  • Stuart Michell:
    The point I made is that because the age of consent differs across Europe, the legitimacy of such relationships trans European borders, cause legal anomalies. As such, I do not think you addressed any of my questions.

  • good to hear that the Scottish referendum will give the vote to 16+..

  • guy mallone 1st Nov '12 - 1:24pm

    i have actual experience of the euro warrant – a polish mate of mine who had parking tickets outstanding(unpaid) in some polish town – hes an electrician and works in south london- end of jan this year he was put on a plane and forcibly removed to poland ( he came back to work the next month) – on one the lib dems fetted euro warrants ….

    cards on the table , ive been a non payer of parking fines in the past (for which read community charge top up – in all but name) – the idea of being forceably removed from another euro country back 2 england for a couple of oustanding tickets – is a joke

    the consertives propose only to enforce a euro warrant for serious crimes …. crimes which would actually be crimes were they commited in england – it seems to me the tories have struck the right balance

    the slavish uk enforcement of a warrent for trivial offences -(( and poland abounds with such examples)) – is bizarre as is indeed your parties polices re. the e.a.warrent

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