Opinion: Who’s the odd one out?

Name the odd one out: Timothy Edmonds (convicted paedophile), Hussain Osman (convicted terrorist), Julian Assange (Wikileaks founder wanted for questioning by Swedish police) and Abu Hamza (Egyptian-born militant Islamist now facing terrorism charges in a New York court). Not too difficult – it’s Abu Hamza, who was extradited to the USA after an eight-year legal battle.

The other three are currently, or have been in the past, the subject of European arrest warrants. All of them, if Theresa May gets her way, would have been able to evade justice for as long as they could frustrate bilateral extradition arrangements (assuming any were in force).

May’s proposal is for the UK to opt out of 130 EU justice and policing measures and then to opt back in with those areas deemed to be politically expedient, a sort of a la carte crime-fighting. Opting back in will require all 26 member states to agree to our proposals and will probably cost the UK hundreds of millions. It seems fair to ask whether all states will readily accede to this and what will be their quid pro quo. This, after all, comes at the same time as the UK is seen as blocking an urgently-needed European banking union, as well as threatening to veto an enlarged EU budget. Whatever your view of these policies, anyone with experience of complex negotiations will tell you it’s the wrong moment to be picking fights.

Which points to an intriguing question– with Michael Gove and Phil Hammond already suggesting that the UK leave the EU and a significant proportion of the Tory cabinet in support of this idea, will the next general election effectively be the ‘in or out’ referendum, with Liberal Democrats and Labour on one side of the debate and the Tories on the other? Whilst Europhilia has never been popular in this country (whatever we Liberal Democrats might wish), the practical flaws in the “let’s just have free trade like Norway” argument would probably not survive the scrutiny of an election campaign (this is a huge topic, but the simple point is that there is no motive for the other 26 members of the EU to make it easy for us to negotiate an exit followed by a free trade deal). If the big question in 2015 turned out to be one on which we were aligned with Labour that might be good news for the Liberal Democrats. Then the Tories would be the odd ones out.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and News.


  • Why couldn’t bi-lateral agreements be as powerful as the EAW? Either bi-lateral agreements currently aren’t strong enough or the EAW is fundamentally illiberal?

  • Richard Dean 17th Oct '12 - 3:35pm

    Julian Assange is the odd one out. A fair proportion of people, including George Galloway, seem to think his action was porr etiquette rather than a crime, and more probably feel it was at worst a rather minor crime.

    This dicussion might be helped if we knew what the 130 measures were. It’s feasible, after all, that some of the ones that May says are no longer relevant might actually cost is more than “hundred of millions” to implement.

  • Charles Beaumont 17th Oct '12 - 5:14pm

    Thanks for all comments.
    @Thomas – the question is not the power of bilateral agreements vs the EAW, but the practical challenge of trying to secure them. Other EU members will assume that the UK’s actions, at a time of real strain for the EU, is little more than deliberate disruption and will be disinclined to make the partial opt-in easy for us.
    @Tom – I don’t propose to have the big EU debate here (not because I don’t want to have it but because it is not my key point). My point about a free trade agreement is that the UK cannot blithely assume that other EU members will straightforwardly let us leave the Union and negotiate a free trade deal. The costs and concessions demanded will be huge. To put it differently, you could argue we’re locked into the EU (I don’t have a problem with that, but I realise many do). So it’s not about the benefits or otherwise of following a Norway-style model, but it’s a question of (im)practicality.
    @Jedi – I think the weakness with your argument is that no-one takes our threat to leave seriously. Partly for the reasons above (practicality) and partly because most Europeans find it unbelievable that we would seriously consider leaving. So I think we can threaten and will be ignored, mostly.

  • @Charles Beaumont
    You’ve listed Timothy Edmonds, but as far as I can see an EAW wasn’t used and he was arrested at home (I believe?).

    ” there is no motive for the other 26 members of the EU to make it easy for us to negotiate an exit followed by a free trade deal”
    I keep hearing this, but no one has yet explained why (aside from the spite argument). We import more from the EU than we export – from memory I think the split was 60 – 40. On top of that, I believe the export figures also include goods sent to Rotterdam for onward transmission, so the true export figure is probably less than 40%.

    Why would Germany want to make trade difficult and risk all of those BMW sales etc? Ditto for the other nations, why would they make life difficult for such a big customer?

  • Charles Beaumont 17th Oct '12 - 8:10pm

    Jedi: “being a non functioning part of a larger sovereign entity” appears to be the policy trajectory of the Tory party. The financial crisis makes the larger sovereign entity (which was probably always inevitable) likely to happen more quickly. At present, most people in the UK don’t want to be part of a larger sovereign entity. However, most people in the UK have not been confronted with the full reality of the alternatives. My point about the EEA/Norway is that it is (to some) a superficially attractive alternative which, when examined in some detail, turns out to be no better than the current situation but with the considerable disadvantage of uncertainty as to whether it could be achieved in the first place.

    Germany’s over-riding need is to create a sovereign entity to enable it to control the economies of the southern members in such a way that removes the risk of repeat of the current crisis. However much it is in Germany’s interest to keep the UK inside the tent in some way, nothing that we do trumps Germany’s absolute requirement to secure their own fiscal and financial future. It is very misleading to suggest we have a simple IN/OUT choice. I think most Britons will resignedly accept that once the full implications are laid out clearly.

    Yes, we could always be an island floating free, making our own way in the world, but you try negotiating trade access with China or Brazil as a rapidly shrinking medium sized global has-been whom most countries will regard as having made a huge error. That’s the uncomfortable reality.

  • Charles Beaumont 17th Oct '12 - 8:49pm

    Chris_sh – the point about why it would be difficult is this: your argument assumes that we enter negotiations on roughly equal terms. But on the contrary, the EU exists as an entity and no other member is even considering voluntary departure. Whilst we could become, as you point out, the EU’s biggest trading partner, the other members still have to agree to go through the immensely complicated process of letting us become that when they would prefer that we remain as full members. And then the UK would still face the challenge of its own international trading relations – for example the 45 trade agreements that we take advantage of as an EU member.

  • @Charles Beaumont
    “your argument assumes that we enter negotiations on roughly equal terms”

    It wasn’t really an argument, more a genuine question. I keep hearing this statement, but no one ever says why the EU (or nations within the EU) would actually want to make life difficult for their companies who export to the UK.

    “Whilst we could become, as you point out, the EU’s biggest trading partner,”

    Perhaps I “miswrote”, I doubt that we would become the biggest trading partner (if we did then there would be something seriously wrong in the EU), but we would be a big customer who takes a lot of goods from the EU. Make life too difficult/expensive and people may go elsewhere.

    “the other members still have to agree to go through the immensely complicated process of letting us become that when they would prefer that we remain as full members”

    But again, if either the UK or the EU came to the conclusion that it was time to separate then why would they want to make it more difficult to sell their goods over here?

    “And then the UK would still face the challenge of its own international trading relations – for example the 45 trade agreements that we take advantage of as an EU member.”

    That would obviously be an issue for the UK, but it wouldn’t really effect the EU directly (it may have an indirect effect, if the UK went bust then obviously people wouldn’t have money to buy as many EU goods).

  • Charles Beaumont 17th Oct '12 - 10:08pm

    Chris – I take your point that the German govt has nothing to gain from making it hard for the UK to buy BMWs. No doubt, if it came to that it would be in our mutual interests to have broadly open markets. But I think it stands to reason that the EU would rather not negotiate our exit followed by our re-entry to a free trade zone, even if only to avoid the extraordinary complexity of the process, let alone the impact on the EU’s credibility. So why would they make it easy?

  • Charles Beaumont 17th Oct '12 - 10:18pm

    Jedi – greater European federalism, we both agree, is almost inevitable. Campaigning to adopt the Euro in 2015 would indeed be, er, courageous. But ultimately the question is, do you risk life on the outside or accept the remorseless march of further integration? There’s no need for the UK to join the Euro but we should be honest about the big questions.

  • Charles Beaumont 18th Oct '12 - 1:15pm

    Ian – your point about Norway well made: as I’ve made clear I don’t actually believe we could easily get the same status as them. But even if we did we would enact almost exactly the same raft of EU directives (so no fewer stories about straight bananas etc.).

  • So when is the referendum on May’s proposal going to be held?

    Or is it a case , that in the absence of a referendum, “pro-EU” decisions by the government are undemocratic but “anti-EU” aren’t ?

  • Charles Beaumont 18th Oct '12 - 7:20pm

    From today’s FT:
    “The arrangements for banking regulation may provide a template for a new institutional architecture that effectively excludes Britain from decision-making across the single market. The consequence would be to leave Britain in a position not dissimilar to that of EU outsiders such as Norway and Switzerland – bound by the rules and to pay their dues but unable to shape anything.”

  • Alex Macfie 19th Oct '12 - 1:16pm

    The EU free trade agreement with Canada is still under negotiation; the main thing holding it up (and which could well be the death of it, as with ACTA, when it is voted on in the European Parliament) is the demands by the EU negotiators for extremist intellectual property laws. If CETA does contain ACTA-like IP laws, then voting it down would be a good thing.

  • @Tom Papworth
    statements of the obvious and blinding generalisations – I’m amazed!

    ‘radical free marketeer Paul Krugman’ is unlikely to disagree that barriers to trade are destructive, or that efficient trade is beneficial.

    As an elected politician yourself, I wonder what you mean when you describe the ‘unreliability and ignorance’ of the political class.

    Norway doesn’t just have free trade, even if it has free trade to start with.

    Norway (as Switzerland etc) benefits as a small country from exploiting the gaps between different regulatory regimes, which it can only do as a result of an economy historically constructed in a manner to be able to do so.

    Norway’s is a niche existence for a peripheral country. It is no basis on which to establish a political model, and especially not for a hub country like Britain.

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