July 27, 2010
Home Secretary Theresa May has just announced to the House of Commons that the UK has decided to opt in to negotiations on the European Investigation Order (EIO). It will give foreign police forces the right to request UK police to seek and share evidence on suspects. This clearly poses fundamental questions about safeguards for civil liberties and the new pressures it will place on police resources.
Let us first give May some credit for giving a statement in person and allowing questions to be put to her rather than issuing a mere written statement (She has done good work on parliamentary scrutiny of EU issues in the past). However, it should also be said that MPs have not previously had the chance to scrutinise the proposal either in the European Scrutiny Committee or in the House.
The truth is that, although May did her best to push the ‘nothing to see here line’, the Government cannot guarantee how the final directive will look until after negotiations with other member states and MEPs in the European Parliament, which under the Lisbon Treaty now have powers to co-decide in justice and home affairs.
May said that signing up to the directive did not present a loss of sovereignty. But John Redwood made the valid and important point that if the UK doesn’t have the ability (which it doesn’t) to opt out of the European Investigation Order if it ends up as something “different to what was advertised” after negotiations then this must imply a loss of sovereignty.
The Home Secretary admitted today that there are aspects of the current proposal the Government does not like. This will now be decided by qualified majority voting, meaning the UK is powerless to veto the EIO either if these unwanted elements are retained or if new and unforeseen amendments are added along the way.
This is not to mention the fact that, as a result of Lisbon, the European Court of Justice will have the power to make rulings on how the EIO is interpreted in the UK.
Given this Government’s pledges to protect civil liberties and reduce bureaucracy in public services, such as the police, this is surely too big a gamble to take.Open Europe blog team