Nick Clegg aide urges Lib Dems to attack EU justice opt-out 'open goal'
By Patrick Wintour - Political Editor in The Guardian
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats
Briefing paper questions whether Tory backer and Crimestoppers founder Lord Ashcroft can support move
In a sign of the scale of the rift at the top of the coalition, the briefing paper says the home secretary's decision represents "an open goal for the Liberal Democrats".
The briefing paper, written by Ed Webber, the special adviser to the Lib Dem leader on EU affairs, also questions whether the prominent Tory party backer Lord Ashcroft can support opting out of the 130 EU co-operation measures, including the European arrest warrant.
The charity Crimestoppers, founded by Ashcroft, has used the European warrant to arrest more than 50 British fugitives hiding elsewhere in Europe, the briefing paper points out.
Due to the severe divisions between Tories and Lib Dems on the matter, May told MPs that the coalition was minded at present to opt-out of all EU judicial co-operation en bloc but was unable to say which forms of co-operation she would seek to negotiate back into. She stressed that, in many cases, she might seek memorandums of understanding rather than opt-ins.
Negotiating individual opt-ins would represent a challenge for Britain as it would require the agreement of its European partners. Some countries, such as Bulgaria, might demand free movement of its citizens within the UK in return for letting Britain back in, it was suggested. The European commission might impose higher administration costs for police co-operation on the UK as a result of the opt-out.
May is required to state by June 2014 whether or not Britain will retain the 133 European crime-fighting and justice measures, including the European arrest warrant. After that deadline, the European court of justice would have greater powers over EU police co-operation in the UK. The opt-out would mean all European judicial co-operation measures would cease to apply to the UK by December 2014.
David Cameron will attend a European heads of government summit in Brussels this week, where he will seek to defend UK banking interests from EU plans for greater banking co-operation. There are doubts about the effectiveness of any UK veto in this area.
A group of cabinet ministers led by the education secretary, Michael Gove, has let it be known that Britain should leave the EU if its demands for a repatriation of powers are not met.
The Foreign Office is undertaking a systematic inquiry into the balance of powers, which is likely to be completed by 2014 in time for the Conservative party to make a manifesto commitment on a referendum.
May is opposed to plans for a European-wide public prosecutor with powers of investigation and arrest across member states. She says the European arrest warrant has been used disproportionately, pointing out that Britain hands over many more suspects to other countries than it receives to face justice in the UK.
In February 102 Tory backbenchers signed a letter, published in the Telegraph, calling on the government to pull out of all of these measures. In August 13 senior former UK police and security chiefs, including a former head of MI5, signed a letter to the prime minister warning that pulling out of many of these measures risked putting national security, public safety and the UK's reputation and international leadership in this area at risk.
The Lib Dem briefing paper states: "This is about Eurosceptic Tories wanting to make it harder for the UK police to catch criminals, counter-terrorism and keep our streets and our families safe from dangerous criminals. They have put themselves in an extraordinary position and this is an open goal for the Liberal Democrats.
"There are thousands of cases where the police have used these measures to catch criminals abroad and deport dangerous foreign criminals from the UK, including one of the failed 21/7 London bombers. Only this year, the home secretary and prime minister's local police force, Thames Valley police, secured the arrest of a man wanted for 15 child sex offences as result of a joint investigation between Thames Valley and Danish police."