The threat from crime and terrorism does not stop at our borders. Globalisation and mass migration have created a world where more and more crime happens across national borders, and our response must be international too.
Drug smugglers, human traffickers and other organised criminals operate internationally. With the internet, keeping our children safe from paedophiles and other offenders means we have to co-operate with other countries. Similarly, keeping Britain safe from international terrorists means ensuring they have no place to hide, at home or abroad. It makes sense for European countries to pull together to cut crime and tackle terrorism. The EU can succeed where individual countries acting alone cannot.
It will make Britain safer if the UK takes part in common European action to tackle cross-border crimes such as paedophile networks, cyber-crime, human trafficking, money laundering, drug smuggling and gun-running. Britain should be in the vanguard of developing justice and home affairs policies in Europe. There should be a presumption that Britain will choose to take part and lead on such issues.
The EU has been at the forefront of extending the values of open, democratic and free societies across Europe, including protecting fundamental rights and civil liberties such as freedom of the press, thought, speech, liberty of association, religion, ownership and the right to privacy and dignity. The European Court of Justice ensures that people who suffer discrimination have somewhere to turn if their national government won’t act or if the EU institutions blunder.
Millions of British citizens benefit every year from the freedom to travel across Europe for work, study or holidays within a secure framework of civil protection and police co-operation. Around two million British people live or work in other EU countries. Many are married to or have children with people from other EU countries. A large number of British people now own homes or businesses abroad. Liberal Democrats want to ensure their legal and civil rights are guaranteed. The only way to do that is to co-operate through the EU.
Liberal Democrats believe that fighting crime and terrorism, whether through action at home or in Brussels, does not mean we should give up our traditional legal systems and civil liberties or create a surveillance state. Labour has systematically undermined our cherished freedoms and has tried to get agreements in Europe to do the same things across the EU, for example agreements for mass databases and email and phone surveillance. They even mis-used European agreements on bio-metric passports to justify spending billions on identity cards.
In the UK, Liberal Democrats would introduce a Freedom Bill to restore and protect our most important liberties. We will scrap ID Cards, remove the right of the state to keep innocent people’s DNA for life, restore the right to protest, and protect judges’ independence. We will protect people’s privacy, and stop unnecessary state intervention in our lives.
In the European Parliament, Liberal Democrats MEPs have a proud record of standing up for civil liberties. We have consistently fought for protection against discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability. We are leading a campaign to ensure these rules are extended to cover access to goods and services, where age discrimination is not currently covered in the UK. We oppose allowing the US to have open access to European phone, travel and credit card records.
The Conservatives and UKIP have consistently sought to block measures that help European police forces and judicial authorities to co-operate in investigations into child abuse, human trafficking and cross border crime. They oppose the European Arrest Warrant that has been so useful in bringing suspects to trial. The Conservatives’ opposition to European co-operation against dangerous criminals is perhaps the worst example of them putting their prejudice against Europe over the interests of the British people. If Britain becomes isolated in Europe, or the Conservatives and UKIP succeed in blocking cross-border co-operation on crime and terrorism, they will put British citizens in danger.
Liberal Democrats in Westminster and Brussels support measures to help Europeans fight cross border crime together. We will also continue to stand up for civil liberties and human rights and oppose creating a surveillance state.
Catching Criminals and Terrorists: Our MEPs support action that helps greater co-operation between police forces such as the European Arrest Warrant and the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) system. The European Arrest Warrant helps Britain bring back suspects swiftly to face justice in this country rather than wait for the old lengthy extradition procedures. The aim of ECRIS is to share information so that British police can check as a matter of course whether someone they have arrested has criminal convictions elsewhere in the EU. Without the efficient exchange of records, criminals would be able to leave other EU countries for a clean slate in Britain. We support greater action by Europol and Eurojust where justified. Liberal Democrats MEPs and MPs will continue to keep these systems under review to ensure that there is no abuse of innocent people and no curtailment of civil liberties.
Catching Sex Offenders: Cracking paedophile rings and freeing women who have been shipped to other countries and forced into prostitution, requires co-ordinated European action. Liberal Democrats support successful pan-European police action such as Europol’s operation in which police from 28 countries rescued over 20 young girls from the hands of abusers and arrested almost 100 sex offenders. We want a Europe-wide missing child alert system based on the US-style ‘Amber Alert’ warning system. This would allow the whole of Europe to be put on alert when a child goes missing. We believe Britain should fully adopt European rules which allow women who have been trafficked into the EU for prostitution to remain so that they are safe and can help bring traffickers and pimps to justice.
Ensuring Fair Treatment Abroad: Attempts to get guaranteed rights across the EU for defendants have been stalled for over three years. We support action to establish common rights in criminal proceedings across the EU. This would ensure that if you are arrested in another European country you would have the right to a lawyer, legal aid and an interpreter. This has been a problem in cases like the British plane spotters arrested in Greece in 2001. It also means that if you are the victim of crime abroad you will get the standard of justice you would expect in the UK.
Protecting Privacy: Liberal Democrats want data protection to be a higher priority among European governments. We believe that EU countries should share information to help catch criminals and terrorists but we need guaranteed privacy safeguards on access to databases by police and intelligence agencies, including when access is given to non-EU countries such as the US.
Co-operation on Asylum and Immigration: Liberal Democrats do not believe Britain should join the Schengen area of open borders in the foreseeable future. We would maintain and strengthen Britain’s borders with a new dedicated UK Border Force to ensure rigorous entry and exit checks. While UK asylum and immigration decisions should remain the responsibility of the UK government, Liberal Democrats believe that the UK should play a more positive role in setting stronger EU policies and common standards to tackle illegal immigration, to ensure the asylum system is fair and not abused and to agree a coherent approach to legal immigration from outside the EU. This will help Britain as well as the EU to protect its borders while creating an orderly immigration and asylum system in which EU countries fulfils their international refugee obligations and manage migration flows properly.