The European Scrutiny Committee published today its report “The UK’s 2014 block opt-out decision: summary and update”.

Bill Cash, Chairman of the Committee, said, “When we published our major report on the block opt-out last November, I said that the Government had repeatedly failed in its duty to provide Parliament with timely and relevant information on this critical matter. Our Committee, along with colleagues in the Lords and on the Commons Home Affairs and Justice Committees, has made all the running in demanding – on behalf of Parliament as a whole – the information and analysis needed to enable Members to scrutinise the Government’s approach to the 2014 block opt-out decision.

“This latest Report provides Members of the House and the wider public with an up to date overview of and guide to this complex subject.

“As the vote in the House approaches we also take this opportunity to remind the Government that we have said there should be a separate motion tabled for each of the 35 measures the Government proposes to rejoin – Members have the right to a separate vote on each one because of the individual significance of some of the measures and the need for full and rigorous Parliamentary scrutiny.”

The European Scrutiny Committee reached the following conclusions:
During the last 18 months, the European Scrutiny, Home Affairs and Justice Committees in the House of Commons, and the EU Select Committee in the House of Lords, have produced a series of Reports to inform Members of both Houses of the legally complex and politically contentious issues associated with the UK’s 2014 block opt-out decision. All of the Committees have been united in a common endeavour: to scrutinise the Government’s approach and to place as much information as possible in the public domain. It has, at times, been an uphill battle due to delays and omissions in the Government’s provision of information.

As we made clear in our earlier Report, The 2014 block opt-out: engaging with Parliament, the Government’s decision on the block opt-out, and on the measures it proposes to rejoin, will have potentially far-reaching implications. It will affect how and where policies and laws on these matters are formulated, interpreted and enforced. It will affect UK citizens who may be sought for, or involved in, criminal proceedings in another EU Member State and how suspects who have fled abroad are brought to justice in the UK. Above all, it will affect the way in which the Government seeks to ensure public safety and security while protecting its citizens’ freedoms.

We concluded in our subsequent Report, The UK’s block opt-out of pre-Lisbon criminal law and policing measures:

“A significant number of the measures which the Government does not intend to rejoin, such as those establishing cross-border contact points, networks, directories, or non-binding forms of guidance or peer evaluation, are those least likely to be susceptible to infraction proceedings or to adverse rulings by the Court of Justice. By contrast, although numerically far smaller, many of the measures the Government does propose to rejoin are far more likely to be susceptible to control by the Commission and Court of Justice because of their inherent significance. As a result, the potential for adverse judgments must be considered high.

“Whilst it is undoubtedly the case that the UK will divest itself of a significant number of obligations arsing under the measures that the Government does not propose to rejoin, the block opt-out does not signify any lessening of UK involvement in the key measures governing law enforcement cooperation in the EU. Whilst the full implications of extending the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice and conferring enforcement powers on the Commission in relation to these measures are, as yet, uncertain, it is clear that opting back in will increase the powers of both institutions and diminish the role and function of domestic courts in the UK as well as Parliament. Given this reality, we see little evidence of a genuine and significant repatriation of powers.”

As the final vote approaches (although the date remains uncertain), we trust that our latest Report will help to clarify the main outstanding issues so that Members of the House are better able to hold the Government to account.

We take this opportunity to remind the Government that we expect a separate motion to be tabled for each of the 35 measures it proposes to rejoin.