Britain to invoke powers to opt out of EU policing laws


THE BRITISH government is to invoke powers to opt out of more than 100 European Union policing and criminal laws, in the latest signal of an ever-increasing Eurosceptic tone coming from Conservative ministers.

Under EU treaties, the UK has the right to exercise a so-called “block opt-out” from 130 justice and home affairs laws agreed before the Lisbon Treaty entered force, as long as its gives notice by June 2014 that it intends to do so. Home secretary Theresa May and prime minister David Cameron are expected to do that this week, saying the UK will negotiate later to sign up to the powers it believes will be of benefit to it in the fight against crime.

The home secretary’s move follows calls to wield the opt-out at last week’s Conservative Party conference from the “Fresh Start” group of MPs who favour a renegotiation of the UK’s EU membership, rather than departure from it.

Conservative MPs are suspicious that British officials would slowly ensure that the UK signed up to all or most of the new Brussels powers unless dramatic action is taken, pointing out the UK has signed up for 20 new such laws up to May this year.

Every time a law covered by the opt-out is amended it ceases to be covered by the opt-out and becomes subject to the full jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which is unpopular in London, from December 2014.

Many of the 130 laws, Conservative MPs argue, regulate criminal law in member states, rather than anything that improves cross-border co-operation, even though some of the laws are necessary for the operation of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

The EAW is deeply unpopular among many Conservative MPs, who believe it has been roundly abused by Poland – who left the UK authorities with a £30,000 bill to arrest and extradite a Pole who had allegedly stolen a wheelbarrow before he left Poland. The use of the EAW to extradite people for trivial offences and its requirement in many cases that people be extradited for acts that are not criminal offences in the UK, has “caused major concern”, the Fresh Start group said.

Meanwhile, Conservatives pondered the significance of a report in yesterday’s UK edition of the Mail on Sunday where “friends” allegedly close to education secretary Michael Gove revealed that he wants Mr Cameron to toughen his stance in talks with Brussels.

Conservative MP and Eurosceptic Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Commons Public Administration Committee, said: “The significance of the change in Michael Gove’s attitude cannot be overstated.”