As we stagger towards the end of the Parliamentary sessions and look forward to sun, sand and sangria, the UK’s relationship with Europe has continued to occupy our minds as well as a good deal of Parliamentary time.
At the centre of the current discussion is the UK’s right to opt out of 130 European directives on justice and security. Negotiated by the Labour Government as part of the Lisbon Treaty the ability to opt out lasts for five years so a decision is required next year. More challenging is the “all in all out” nature of the opt out – no picking or choosing – you have to adopt the lot or adopt none.
The 130 measures can be divided into three categories – around 40 that are considered redundant or inapplicable, around 35 that cover issues relating to the more efficient prosecution of international crime (eg. mutual recognition of confiscation orders and the operation of the European Arrest Warrant) and about 60 that extend the role of the European Court of Justice (‘ECJ’).
There can be no argument about the value of opting out from the first category – cleaning the barnacles from the ship of state is important. Applying to opt back into the second category, as the government proposes, seems suitable. In an age of globalisation national borders are increasingly porous as far as criminals are concerned. The last category has more controversial aspects – at a time when European judges have told the UK that “life cannot mean life” even for the most heinous of crimes the potential danger of our courts being restricted by judicial activism on the part of the ECJ seem a high to risk at this time. Better to wait and watch developments rather than taking what will surely be a one way ticket.