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EU Withdrawal Agreement: Co-operation on Justice

Volume 651: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2018

3. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the proposed EU withdrawal agreement on UK-EU co-operation on justice matters. (908247)

The withdrawal agreement will ensure a smooth and orderly departure from the EU on 29 March. It includes an implementation period until the end of 2020, during which existing civil and commercial judicial co-operation will continue. We have also agreed that the cases started before the end of the implementation period will be concluded under existing EU rules, and subsequent judgments in those cases will be enforced.

Police Scotland currently benefits from a strong relationship with other EU partners, such as Europol and Eurojust, which is vital for dealing with the cross-border crime that takes place. What assurances can the Minister give me that Police Scotland will continue to have such direct links after Brexit?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about Eurojust and Europol, which are under the direct remit of the Home Office, but we of course work closely with them. I was pleased to see references in the political declaration to mechanisms to ensure that the services and intelligence operations under them will continue.

The Minister will know that the Justice Committee has published two reports that set out some of the key areas that will be put at risk for British legal services, British companies and British citizens if we do not have legal continuity, should we face the regrettable event of a no deal. Is that why, perhaps, the Secretary of State was entirely right to write as he did in the Financial Times the other day?

I know that my hon. Friend, as Chair of the Justice Committee, has done a significant amount of work on this issue, and I have been pleased to respond to a number of debates that raised these important issues. The deal will allow us to continue working closely with the EU, specifically on family matters, which are important to so many citizens. We will continue to press for broader civil jurisdiction arrangements.

Can the Minister confirm that the Brexit talks on co-operation on justice and security have not yet been concluded, and that the limited text on justice and security in the political declaration is not legally binding? Can she give the House her best estimate of how long, were the House to vote for the withdrawal agreement, it would take to conclude the specific Brexit talks on justice and security? One year? Two years?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the political declaration sets out the framework for the negotiations that will go forward. I would encourage him to read the assessment the Government produced on 28 November on the security partnership, which compares the impact of the criminal justice and law enforcement proposals set out in the political declaration with a no deal scenario.

At any one time, there are about 5,000 EU nationals in our prisons, yet in the last six years, under the ineffective EU compulsory prisoner transfer agreement, only 217 have been sent back to prison in their own country. Will the Minister ensure that we can deport more EU nationals from our prisons once we leave the European Union?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about prisoner transfer. Since 2010, we have removed more than 44,000 foreign national offenders from our prisons, our immigration removal centres and the community. Of course, the EU prisoner transfer provisions facilitate those arrangements, but we have other measures in place with over 100 other countries to ensure that we can continue prisoner transfers.

The political declaration makes no reference to the Schengen information system database or the European criminal records information system. Both Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland are concerned about that, because both tools are fundamental to fighting and investigating crime. Can the Minister confirm that Scotland will lose access to these measures after Brexit?

As I mentioned, the Prime Minister has made it clear that she is seeking to ensure that the measures that underlay them, and the co-operation within them, will continue as far as possible post Brexit.

I should mention, because the hon. and learned Lady often asks about liaison with the Scottish Government, that I spoke to my counterpart, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on 29 November, and he reiterated to me how pleased he was with our engagement at official level on the negotiations with the EU.

The Government have created a Brexit crisis through their rotten deal, which is abhorred by both sides of the House. While the Prime Minister runs scared of democracy and delays the meaningful vote, Cabinet responsibility has broken down, with Ministers pitching their own plan B or even plotting leadership bids. Planning for future judicial collaboration with Europe is suffering as a result. The Justice Committee says the Government are providing “little detail or certainty” about future judicial co-operation. The Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee warns of a “worrying level of complacency”. When will the Secretary of State pay as much attention to dealing with this problem as he does to problems in his own party?

My Department is making a lot of efforts to ensure we have the right deal. We have received £17 million for EU Brexit preparations. We have over 110 full-time employees, including newly recruited employees, working across deal and no deal. I would say, as the Lord Chancellor said in his FT article at the weekend, that the Conservative party is ensuring the future of our country, whereas the leader of the Labour party is just trying to make political points to ensure a general election.