On January 1st, 2021 a new day will dawn, and the UK will finally be out of the EU. We will be taking back control of our borders, our laws and our money, finally free to seek new opportunities and fulfil our potential as a country. Or will we?
The details of the Brexit deal struck between the two negotiating teams are yet to be released, but there are some things that we know already. First, there’s the Brexit divorce bill, which the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) anticipates we’ll be paying until 2064. Second, there is the ongoing legal wrangling – set to end up in court – as the EU attempts to force the UK to continue complying with various freedom of movement rules.
And then there’s the issue of extradition. This an area where both UK and EU negotiators are keen to maintain ‘close cooperation’ after Brexit, in a move that sounds an awful lot like carrying on as though Brexit never happened.
Sources close to the negotiations have said that the two teams have almost reached a deal that will preserve the main features of the dreaded European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in a ‘new’ system that looks and smells suspiciously like the old one. Looking at the government’s intentions on this issue, many have concluded that this new arrest warrant system will ‘replicate the EAW’ and is effectively the ‘EAW-lite’.
But at least we’ll be outside the European Court of Justice (ECJ), right? This was one of Boris Johnson’s most important pledges in the run up to both the General Election last year and the Conservative Party leadership election before that. And while it has been reported that the one remaining sticking point for this new extradition deal is the role of the ECJ (the UK does not want it to have one), the force of that institution will continue to be felt in the UK for many years.
Back in October last year the two sides snuck a worrying provision into the withdrawal agreement to allow EAWs issued before the end of the transition period to continue long after the UK has left the EU and the official EAW system. This provision means that if an EAW is issued against you and you are arrested before 31st December 2020, you will be playing under the old rotten rules, under the jurisdiction of the ECJ.
Let us remind ourselves why this is a problem.
The EAW is a ‘fast track’ extradition process expressly designed to send people off to foreign countries with minimal fuss and almost no protections. The system relies on the frankly laughable assumption that all EU member states have criminal justice systems of equal quality, and forces British judges to go along with this charade by enshrining the principle of ‘mutual trust and recognition’ in the law. This results in an awful situation where foreign prosecutors are not required to prove there is a case to answer – because of course they can be trusted – and even incontrovertible proof of innocence cannot stop extradition.
What this means in practice is that sub-standard and patently corrupt prosecutors in barely reformed post-communist states are able to ride roughshod over the fundamental civil liberties that have been part of British society for centuries – and there is not a thing anyone can do to stop them.
This system has allowed a series of injustices, including in cases like that of Andrew Symeou, who spent more than ten months in appalling prison conditions after Greek police beat accusations out of his friends; various cases of mistaken identity where even evidence of innocence was not enough to halt extradition; and too many other examples of serious, outrageous, avoidable injustices to count.
Perhaps the most famous current EAW case in the UK is that of Alexander Adamescu. Adamescu is wanted in Romania on politically motivated charges which have been proven by British and German intelligence experts – including the former head of MI6 – to be fabricated as part of an ongoing dispute between the corruption-exposing newspaper owned by the Adamescu family and the former socialist government. Supported by influential MPs including Sir Graham Brady and Steve Baker, Adamescu is now calling on the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to intervene and save his life.
Romania has substantial ongoing issues in its criminal justice system including medieval prison conditions that mean the country abuses human rights at rates similar to Russia, unconstitutional links between their secret intelligence services and the judiciary, and a record of lying to Europe on a grand scale. Some experts have argued that Romania’s many and various problems mean it is effectively a failing state. And it is not just Romania: there are similar problems in Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria.
If Adamescu and others like him had hoped that the UK finally leaving the EU would mean they would be protected from abuses by corrupt countries like Romania, they are to be sorely disappointed. Instead, their cases will continue exactly as they did before, and any new cases will be conducted under rules that are effectively a copy and paste of the old rules.
At a time where it is popular to point to how much everything has changed, on extradition at least it seems that things are to remain exactly the same. Far from fulfilling the promise and hopes of Brexit, Boris Johnson is set to lead us into a sorry state of affairs where the EU’s dogma of mutual trust and recognition is still King.