UK Politics

Don't ditch European Arrest Warrant, says former Tory minister

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Media captionDamian Green MP speaks to the BBC's Andrew Marr

Ditching the European Arrest Warrant would make the UK the "best place" in the EU for rapists, murderers and child molesters to flee to, a former immigration minister has warned.

Conservative Damian Green said the call by some of his backbench party colleagues to leave the agreement was "really dangerous".

Opponents of the warrant say it makes it too easy to extradite UK citizens.

MPs are set to get a vote on the issue later this year.

The European Arrest Warrant, created in 2004, ensures that a warrant for arrest issued in one European Union member state will be directly enforced by a judge in any other.

The UK must decide by December whether to continue using the warrant and whether to opt in to more than 30 other EU criminal justice measures.

There would be a vote in the House of Commons beforehand, with some Conservative backbench MPs hinting at a revolt. If this is large, it could force the government to rely on Labour votes to win.

'UKIP-light'

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Home Secretary Theresa May warned: "If we don't have these measures in place, it will be harder to keep tabs on terrorists returning from Syria and travelling around Europe and we would have more foreign criminals in our prisons."

The Commons vote would probably take place around the time of the Rochester and Strood by-election on 20 November.

The Conservatives are hoping to regain the seat after one of their own MPs, Mark Reckless, defected to the UK Independence Party (UKIP), prompting the contest.

Mr Green told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show that leaving the warrant "would be more than a sop to UKIP. It would be really dangerous. I can't really understand why my Eurosceptic colleagues would consider this as a battle to fight."

He added that it "would make this a less safe country... rapists, murderers, child-abusers would think Britain is the best place to go if you've committed crimes in other parts of Europe."

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Image caption David Cameron, pictured with other EU leaders on Friday, says the UK will not pay the bill by 1 December

The chairman of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers Graham Brady has told the BBC: "I feel very strongly we ought to be bringing powers back to the United Kingdom, back to British democratic control."

Fellow Conservative MP Dominic Raab has criticised the warrant for being "lop-sided", with the UK extraditing more people than are handed over by other EU countries.

He said earlier this month: "I think that if we don't have a clear line consistent with our wider strategy it will be a storm to make our other EU rebellions look a bit like a squall."

Mr Green said the Conservatives were the only party offering an in/out referendum on EU membership.

He added: "Whatever happens it would be a complete disaster for the Conservative Party to become UKIP-light or do a pact with UKIP.

"If the Conservative Party tries to turn itself into something like UKIP, it will haemorrhage in other parts of the political spectrum. So that's not a sensible policy to take."

The controversy over the European Arrest Warrant comes as the government finds itself embroiled in a row with Brussels over a demand to pay an extra £1.7bn to the EU.

'Anger'

David Cameron said the EU had "another think coming" if it thought Britain would do so by the 1 December deadline.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that much of the EU had become "fossilised", saying: "Europe has changed. Some of the treaties are 40, 50 years old now."

He also defended the government's plans to restrict the number of EU citizens who can claim benefits in the UK.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Fallon said: "Particularly on the east coast, towns do feel under siege from large numbers of migrant workers and people claiming benefits and it's quite right that we look at that."

For Labour, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: "Frankly I don't think anybody will be convinced by David Cameron's anger or indeed Michael Fallon's anger.

"What we need is action on change and reform in Europe and, alas, that's not what we are getting from this Conservative government."

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