Numbers and statistics have been thrown about during this EU referendum campaign – some have said it has become a war of numbers. But let’s not lose sight of the important issues we are talking about and the challenges we face as a country in the increasingly globalised world in which we live.
We regularly hear concerns about the security of our country, but the truth is we are a secure country that is more secure as a member of the European Union. When a European national commits a crime, it is easier for us to deport them to their home country to face justice and prison if we are in the EU because of our membership of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system and the European Prisoner Transfer Agreement (EU PTA). In fact, over the course of the last parliament, we removed over 5,000 European criminals to face justice in their country of origin under the EAW. Along with the EU Criminal Records Information System, the EAW and EU PTA help us to clear up the backlog of foreign offenders in UK prisons, rather than allowing it to increase.
There are clearly some inefficiencies in the process for deporting foreign national offenders to all countries (EU and non-EU), as the Home Affairs Select Committee – which we both sit on – points out today. The system is not perfect and the Government could be better. No one is denying that. But claims that our membership of the EU is a hindrance to the removal of foreign national offenders simply do not stack up.
On the contrary, our membership of the EU helps in removing foreign national offenders from our shores and we face many more potential barriers to removing non-EU foreign national offenders. First, we might not have a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) with their home country. Second, most PTAs require the prisoner and home country’s consent (unlike the EU’s PTA). And third, an foreign national offender from an EU country is much more likely to volunteer their nationality, which is in turn easier to confirm.
There is a more general point on security. Collaborating across borders over security issues makes us safer because threats are now global in nature. People trafficking, drug smuggling, serious organised crime knows no borders – criminals actively avoid them. So we need to work with our European neighbours and counterparts to share best practice, intelligence and information and together tackle these global, cross-border threats more effectively.
While it would be possible to collaborate with European countries from outside the EU, it is far easier to do so inside the EU, with a seat at the table, in a debate that we are leading. We are not the only ones who think this – leading security voices have overwhelmingly supported a vote to remain because it benefits UK security. Former Home Secretaries and the current one, former intelligence chiefs and the current British Director of Europol have all agreed – Britain is stronger and safer in the European Union.
What is the alternative? If we choose to leave the EU and junk the EAW system, the EU PTA, criminal records sharing, European watchlist alerts, and all the other tools we have at our disposal to deal with foreign and cross-border criminality, Britain will have to negotiate separate extradition treaties with 27 individual EU countries. Whatever complaints people may have of the current system for deporting foreign national offenders, putting in place individual arrangements with all these countries could take years and, even then, the arrangement may not be as robust as the EAW and EU PTA systems. This will hinder, not help, the removal of foreign national criminals from the UK.
Undoubtedly there are EU nationals in the UK who commit criminal offences – as there are British nationals who commit offences in other EU countries. But the truth is the overwhelming majority of EU nationals living in the UK are law abiding people. Analysis shows that EU nationals working in the UK pay 34% more in taxes than they take out of our system. So these are people who work hard, pay their fair share, and spend their wages on Britain’s high streets, growing the British economy and helping to create more jobs.
There are legitimate questions to be asked about the efficiency of the system for deporting foreign national offenders, and the report of the Home Affairs Committee – a committee evenly balanced between MPs who wish to remain in and those who wish leave the EU – does that. But we cannot allow Leave campaigners to distort and misuse the report published today, and to play games with our country’s national security, the safety of our families or the security of the British economy in this referendum campaign. Britain is stronger, safer and better off in the European Union.