Theresa May told MPs that the terms of the 2007 treaty mean the UK has the opportunity to ditch a raft of agreements over cross-border policing in 18 months’ time – but that Ministers cannot pick and choose which of the 130 measures they wish to opt out of.
Given the straight choice of opting out of all or none of the agreements – which include the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system – Mrs May said the Government’s “current thinking” is to ditch them all, and then seek to negotiate individually on those which it believes it is in Britain’s interest to be a part of.
Mrs May told MPs: “The Government is clear that we do not need to remain bound by all of the pre-Lisbon measures.
“Operation shows that some pre-Lisbon measures are useful, some less so, and some are now entirely defunct.”
But she added: “The UK cannot pick and choose the measures from which we wish to opt out.
“The Government’s current thinking is we will opt out of all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice matters, and then negotiate with the Commission and other member states to opt back into those measures that it is in our national interest to rejoin.”
The move, announced in a Commons statement yesterday afternoon, was warmly welcomed by Conservative MPs.
Tory right-winger John Redwood said he would support Mrs May “opting out of the whole lot”.
Mrs May also won support from Labour’s Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and a former Europe minister, who said the EAW “started as a very good idea” but had “chaotic and unfair consequences”.
However, he urged her to consider opting-in to measures concerning Europol and cross-border policing.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper warned that opting back into individual agreements may not be straightforward, and claimed there was “complete confusion in the Government” over its EU policy.
Highlighting conflicting statements from David Cameron and Nick Clegg over the issue, the Shadow Home Secretary said the “chaos” mirrored the mixed messages over an in or out referendum on Europe.
“It’s like the Government is playing a giant game of hokey-cokey –and yet the fight against crime is at stake,” she said.
Opting back in to justice measures could and cost taxpayers money, she warned.
“There is no guarantee the European Commission and other countries will actually support us opting back in again,” she said.
Labour’s former Europe minister Denis MacShane, the MP for Rotherham, said Mrs May was “opting-in to the rampant europhobia” on the Tory benches.
“If you abolish the EAW, your picture will be up on the wall of every trafficker, child abductor, international criminal as the person who took away a fundamental right of British people to be protected from international crime,” he said.
But Mrs May said she took public protection “very seriously indeed”, adding: “I have not said what we will be doing on the EAW.
“I have noted the concerns that have been expressed in relation to the EAW, its proportionality, and in relation to some instances regarding UK citizens who have been in jail elsewhere.”
The decision, which must be confirmed by May 2014, will be subject to votes in both Houses of Parliament. Mrs May said a clearer timetable would be unveiled in the new year.