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Thursday, February 03, 2011

This Government cannot be trusted on EU crime and policing

The torrent of EU justice, police and immigration laws keeps on coming and the Government keeps on signing up to them.

Home Office Minister James Brokenshire today told the House of Commons that the UK has opted in to the EU's cyber-crime directive. Now leaving aside the merits or drawbacks of the new law in question, this decision demonstrates the complete lack of democratic accountability that we've been highlighting over the past weeks and why we've been pushing for MPs and the public to be given more power under the EU Bill.

Not only did MPs not get to vote on whether the UK should sign up to this particular directive, the Government broke the European Scrutiny Committee's 'scrutiny reserve' to do so. MPs on the ESC considered the proposal late last year but did not clear it because they felt there were still questions for Ministers to answer about the plans. The directive sets "a maximum term of imprisonment of at least five years" for certain cyber-crime offences.

But there is another technical but hugely significant point. We've explained before that in 2014 the UK has the right to opt out of around 90-100 EU policing laws that came into force before the Lisbon Treaty took effect. On the other hand, if the Government decides to remain opted in, these laws will fall under the full jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice for the first time. The Government has said it will put this hugely important decision to a vote in both Houses of Parliament - something that we welcome.

However, the directive the Government opted in to today 'repeals and replaces' a pre-Lisbon law, meaning that there is now one less EU law the UK can opt out of in 2014. It also means that the Government has today handed jurisdiction over the area of cyber-crime from the UK courts to the ECJ. And all without Parliamentary debate or approval.

The Minister said that by giving an oral statement to the House he was acting in the spirit of Parliamentary scrutiny but this is, quite frankly, nonsense. What use is scrutiny after the event? The Government has made a decision and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Today's statement was just to put that fact on record.

Last month, Europe Minister David Lidington made a statement committing the Government to observe Parliamentary scrutiny and give MPs more opportunity to have a say on EU justice and home affairs opt ins. On today's evidence it doesn't seem the Home Office got the message.

To make matters worse, the Government also looks set to opt in to the EU's plans to make the telephone numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, email and other details of British air travellers available on demand to police forces across Europe. The Commission's current proposal covers flights between EU and third countries but, not satisfied with this, the Coalition wants the proposal stretched further to cover data collected on all flights within the EU as well.

MPs have again been sidelined and the Government is fast losing any trust that Lidington has been seeking to build on this issue.

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