18 December 2018
Theresa May’s Brexit deal poses a threat to human rights – we aren’t talking about this enough
The rise of authoritarian populism in many parts of Europe means that standards of justice are in danger of decreasing under current Brexit extradition arrangements
Those who hoped that the UK’s Brexit negotiations might be drawing to a close with the publication of the withdrawal agreement will have been disappointed by the political declaration that accompanied it. It shows the terms of our future relationship with Brussels have so far only been discussed in very broad terms.
Among the many issues still to be resolved is the question of future extradition arrangements. Inside the EU, these are currently governed by the European arrest warrant (EAW), the fast-track procedure rushed into force in 2004 during the war on terror.
By applying the principle of mutual recognition between EU states, the EAW has reduced the expense and time involved in extradition proceedings. Courts are expected to treat the rulings of their EU counterparts as their own, allowing extradition to take place without prima facie evidence, executive approval or a full examination of the facts.
Although remaining part of the EAW will not be an option for the UK if it ceases to be an EU member, the political declaration suggests a preference on both sides for an arrangement that replicates many of its features.
Iceland and Norway already have an agreement with the EU that borrows many of the EAW’s features, including the principle of mutual recognition. A better option for the UK would be to dispense with mutual recognition altogether and build a new agreement that sought to maximise efficiency without compromising standards of justice.
That would allow us to restore the requirement on requesting states to provide prima facie evidence of guilt and allow courts to give full consideration to the human rights implications of each case. Although there would be an inevitable reduction in the speed with which extradition requests could be processed, the gain in the UK’s ability to provide a haven of liberty at a time of rising authoritarianism would more than justify it.
David Clark was special adviser to Robin Cook MP (1997-2001). He is a senior fellow at the Institute for Statecraft and author of ‘A Warranted Response: Brexit, human rights and the European Arrest Warrant’, a new Fabian Society report