European Arrest Warrant — the UK ignoring its own “red lines”

The UK says it wants to continue use of the European Arrest Warrant, but wants out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The snag is that the two go together: Michel Barnier has said he’s happy to respect the UK’s “Red line” but the UK isn’t. What’s going on?

Court of Justice of the European Union
The bare bones are stark.

On the one hand, the European Arrest Warrant has been a remarkable success, enabling the authorities in any EU nation state to issue an arrest warrant which can be used anywhere in the EU. One of the notable success was the arrest of the people involved in the London tube bombings in 2005, and it’s widely seen as important in the fight against terrorism.

But an arrest warrant also needs some sort of judicial context so that it is possible to appeal against its mis-use. There are bi-lateral extradition agreements between countries, which need to specify where which courts have jurisdiction, but rather than the confusion of multiple bilateral agreements, the European Arrest Warrant provides for this through the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Withdrawl from the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union is (apparently) one of the British government’s “red lines” in talks over Brexit. Michel Barnier has bluntly pointed out that he is willing to recognise the UK’s “red lines” and wishes the UK would do the same.


This is about more than convenience. A naive suggestion could be that we all muddle along, and assume that nothing needs to go to court. That sort-of assumes no divergance from what the CJEU would accept. If the UK means that, then why end the jurisdiction. If the UK does envisage things that the CJEU would not accept, that means asking other countries polices forces to honour UK law above their own, something that goes well beyond the pooling of sovereignty through the EU which the British Eurosceptics object to.

Another naive suggestion is that people are not thinking, and are hankering after the days when Britain thought it ruled the world and ignoring today’s reality, in a messy world where things are highly interdependent.

The government has no excuse for that sort of magical thinking — the House of Lords Europe Committee reported on this in 2016.

My suspicion is that what is going on is dangerously detached from reality. The administration of justice is a basic function of a state. What’s being mobilised at the moment is some very primitive fears about invasion by foreign courts and defence against criminals / terrorists. The path of rationality would say that the European Arrest Warrant is a good idea, and the co-operation that needs should go through a shared court. Whipping up people’s fears and anxieties meets the needs of the Tory right wing, hankering after an imperial past, but it doesn’t engage with today’s reality.

It’s worse than that. It actively encourages a disengagement from the present. The realities of a globalised world will bite in due course. Pretending they don’t exist just makes that more painful when it happens. In following this course, the government is failing in its fundamental duty to protect the British people.

Chillingly, the narrative is that the EU is at fault for not giving in on this one. Once again, the government and Eurosceptic bits of the media are successfully pinning the blame for reality on the EU. In the mean time, with astonishing patience, Michel Barnier seems to be offering a way to engage with present-tense and future reality. It feels as if wise governance is on the other side of the Channel, while a British government in hoc to its Brexiteers is gambling with national security.

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