There are many bones of contention tumbling out of the Pandora’s box that is Brexit, but few are quite as concerning as continental security and law enforcement. Both Britain and the EU have come to rely heavily on the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) since it was introduced in 2004; the UK opted back into the EAW in 2014 after a one-year hiatus. Since its inception, the EAW has facilitated the extradition of thousands of criminals between the UK and other EU member states.
Against the backdrop of Brexit, senior figures in Brussels argue that leaving the EU necessarily entails relinquishing participation in the EAW and giving up access to continental databases such as Europol and the Schengen Information System (SIS). This state of affairs has alarmed the British political establishment. As Claude Moraes, the Labour MEP who chairs the European parliament’s justice and home affairs put it on May 10th, there are real concerns that the UK could become a “Costa del Crime.”
Cracking down on cross-border criminals
Over the last seven years, the EAW has resulted in 2,300 arrests of suspected criminals in other countries and extradition to the UK. That works out to around one arrest every day, highlighting the importance of the tool in tracking down wanted persons. Several high-profile cases have hammered this point home recently, from the murderer who absconded to Ireland and evaded British authorities for more than 15 years to the complex and highly publicized case of Alexander Adamescu.
As Private Eye recently reported, Adamescu is wanted in Romania to face allegations of bribing judges, charges which he claims are politically motivated and which critics of the EAW say underline how the system can be abused by countries where corruption is rife. Adamescu has fought deportation back to Romania for several years, arguing he would be denied a fair trial and that inhumane conditions in Romanian jails led to the death of his father. His crusade has received the backing of prominent Brexiteers, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as a host of right-leaning organisations and pressure groups.
However, a crucial piece of evidence in Adamescu’s defense – a document corroborating his condemnation of the Romanian justice system, purportedly from the Romanian National Administration of Penitentiaries – was recently found to be fake, just days after Adamescu bragged to a British tabloid about those very same documents. The revelation has left his defence in disarray and his supporters’ attacks on the EAW in tatters. His bail was revoked and, thanks to the EAW, Adamescu is now awaiting extradition back to Romania instead of evading justice in London’s posh suburbs.
Other EU member states put just as much effort into sending British criminals back home to face trial. Spain in particular has returned fugitives to the UK in droves, thanks to a long-running joint task force with local authorities dubbed Operation Captura. Some 81 UK nationals have been apprehended to date, including Jamie Acourt, the drug lord allegedly involved in the brutal killing of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is well aware of the stakes. Earlier this year, she lodged proposals for the UK to retain its security privileges in the interests of both parties. As Home Secretary, May was a keen advocate of the EAW and cited several statistics on its efficacy at the time. Chief among these was the expediency of the arrangement: May pointed to how it had taken more than 10 years to extradite Rachid Radma, the man accused of the 1995 Paris bombings, from Britain to France without the EAW. By contrast, Hussain Oman – the terrorist responsible for the London Underground bombing in 2005 – was deported to Britain from Italy in just 56 days.
Despite the obvious advantages of the status quo, Brussels is adamant that Britain won’t be able to have its cake and eat it too after it leaves the bloc. Until now, the UK has enjoyed the comparative privilege of opting out of almost 100 European security measures it deemed extraneous while participating in 35 it has hand-picked. European officials insist that exceptional freedom to choose will no longer be available after its departure from the EU.
Senior Eurocrats point to Denmark as an illustrative example. The Nordic country voted to leave Europol in 2015, and although it still enjoys access to the database, it holds no voting rights on EU security laws. The outcome still rankles Denmark, so Britain can hardly expect a better deal after leaving.
One compromise could be an extradition agreement similar to the one in place between the EU and Iceland and Norway, though that arrangement took 13 years to finalize and is still not without its drawbacks. In any case, a scenario in which the post-Brexit UK keeps the same benefits it has now appears to be fanciful at best and delusional at worst.
Britain needs cooperation now more than ever
The recent breakdown in Russo-British relations only makes the need for a robust security and law enforcement framework even more imperative. Russia has become a major investor in the British economy over recent years; there are 57 majority-Russian companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, more than anywhere else outside of Moscow. Much of this wealth is suspected of links to corruption, with £190 million of UK property subject to criminal investigations over the origins of the money involved.
At a time when the UK is still reeling from its all-too-liberal embrace of Russian investment and the fall-out from the alleged poisoning of a Russian spy on British soil, the UK the EAW more than ever. Otherwise, it could become a haven not just for dirty money but dangerous criminals as well.