Later today, I will be voting for the United Kingdom to remain part of the Arrest Warrant and other important measures which help our police and law enforcement agencies to fight crime and protect the public.
As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I have heard the compelling case made by the police and our security services for the UK to remain part of the package of measures which the Government has identified as being in the national interest.
As has become all too sadly clear, jihadists and foreign fighters are travelling from Europe to fight in Syria and Iraq. Some of them want to return and wreak havoc here. That is why our police and security services need effective powers to disrupt them. If the United Kingdom becomes the weak link in the chain – for however long – after our opt-out takes effect in a few weeks’ time, the risk is some of them would come to the UK and go to ground.
The package before the House of Commons this evening includes not only the Arrest Warrant – which helps us to deport foreign criminals and bring people back to the UK to make them face justice – but other important tools in the armoury of our law enforcers, for instance the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), which allows us to request information about the criminal records of foreigners from other EU countries; or SIS II, an important source of data containing over 51 million alerts relating to people and objects wanted for law enforcement purposes, such as foreign fighters.
But I also approach this issue as a constituency MP.
Two of the 7/7 bombs went off in my constituency. Fifty-two innocent people were killed – and over seven hundred more were injured – on that awful day. Two weeks later, there was an unsuccessful attempt to repeat that carnage. The failed 21/7 bombings sparked a manhunt described by the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner as “the largest investigation that the Met has ever mounted”.
One of the 21/7 bombers, Hussain Osman, fled to Italy to try and escape justice. He may have had in mind the example of Rachid Ramda, the mastermind of the 1995 Paris Metro bombings, who fled to the UK and avoided extradition to stand trial for his crimes for more than a decade. But thanks to the Arrest Warrant, which had come into force since then, we were able to bring Osman back to Britain in just 56 days. As the Member of Parliament for the Cities of London & Westminster, I am glad to see him behind bars, serving a minimum sentence of forty years, rather than still trying to evade justice.
I understand the concerns many other Conservatives – in Parliament and around the country – have voiced about the Arrest Warrant as it has operated in the past. I shared many of those concerns, and am clear that we need to protect our interests against the misuse of the Arrest Warrant. That’s why I was so glad to see the reforms which this Government brought into law earlier this year – to ensure that British judges can now refuse warrants which are issued for disproportionately small offences, to make sure that people will no longer have to spend lengthy periods in detention before standing trial, and to make clear that people should not be extradited for conduct that takes place in the United Kingdom and is not against the law of this land.
With these changes now in effect, the Arrest Warrant can – and should – remain as an important part of the police’s armoury. But the measures in today’s debate are about more than terrorism and violent crime. As the MP for the City of London, I was concerned by the warning of Minouche Shafik,in her first speech as Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, that “deep-rooted problems” in the City are undermining public trust in our financial system.
That’s why measures like Financial Intelligence Units – which facilitate the exchange of financial information between EU states to combat money laundering – or the Asset Recovery Office and Confiscation Orders – which help us to track down the proceeds of crime make sure the UK gets its share of assets seized abroad – are so important too.
In addition, it was worrying to see my colleague Priti Patel, a Treasury Minister, warning that Britain stands to lose up to £100 million a year in tax evasion and face increased risks of fraud, money laundering and counterfeiting if we do not continue to participate in these important crime-fighting measures. The Naples II Convention, another of the measures in question, allows our customs officers to seize smuggled drugs and contraband from the European black market which would otherwise cost millions of pounds in lost taxes. In 2011 alone, a joint operation by HMRC and European police forces foiled a cigarette and alcohol fraud operation connected to an oil laundering scam which would have resulted in £120 million of lost revenue to the Treasury.
These are the serious crimes which form the backdrop to today’s debate. That’s why newspapers from the Evening Standard and the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph and The Sun have all urged us to stay in these important measures. The Prime Minister has exercised the UK’s opt-out and returned more than 100 justice and home affairs powers from Brussels. The Home Secretary has reformed the arrest warrant to make it fit for purpose. Now Parliament must ensure that our police and law enforcement agencies have the tools they need to do their vital work.