MEP calls on Parliament to decide on EU crime measures
David Cameron is running out of time to opt-out of EU policing laws, a Conservative MEP has warned.
Timothy Kirkhope says MPs must decide soon whether they want to back the prime minister's plan to repatriate power over 135 crime and police laws.
Mr Cameron is under pressure from Eurosceptic Conservative backbenchers to show he can claw back powers from Brussels by ditching the European Arrest Warrant and other cross border crime agreements.
The prime minister wants to opt out of the agreements, and then negotiate to opt back in to the ones he feels are in the national interest.
Mr Kirkhope stressed that "we need to get a move on" and that this required Parliament to "make its mind up" about the opt-out and about what measures it wanted to opt back in to.
He believes that if the UK is to renegotiate the crime and justice measures contained in the Lisbon Treaty, a quick decision is needed so that there is enough time to successfully conclude the negotiations.
The UK will leave these agreements in December 2014 - thanks to a 'block opt-out' secured by the previous Labour government - unless it notifies the EU that it wishes to opt in to them permanently.
The government's policy, set out by Home Secretary Theresa May in Parliament on 15 October last year, is to opt out of the agreements and then to negotiate to opt back in to certain measures, although it has yet to decide on which ones.
As a condition of the Lisbon Treaty, in 2014 a number of areas of cross-EU cooperation on crime and justice will move to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
These will include the operation of the European Arrest Warrant and the laws covering the sharing of criminal and DNA databases across European borders.
According to Protocol 36 of the Lisbon Treaty if the UK opts out of the measures, it is required to seek the "widest possible" level of cooperation within EU law without "seriously affecting" the way those laws work.
At a debate hosted by the think-tank Open Europe, Cecilia Malmström, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, raised questions about the practicality of the government's strategy.
The Commissioner said: "the package of measures that the UK re-joins has to be coherent", and that "some of the 130 or so measures are of course linked to each other, so you cannot join a few of them but not the others".
'We need to get a move on'
Timothy Kirkhope said that if the opt-out is handled correctly it could be a "positive process" in which European states can improve on their current arrangements in a way they all found politically acceptable.
However, he also said that getting this process right would require an "enormous amount of diplomacy" and "good timing".
This diplomacy can only begin once Parliament has taken a decision about what course of action it wishes to pursue.
This decision must come by 31 May 2014 at the latest, but Mr Kirkhope wants it earlier than that so there is plenty of time for negotiations.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "We have made a commitment to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before we take a final decision on the opt out. That vote will take place in good time before May 2014.
"Discussions are ongoing about which measures we may seek to opt back into and any decision will be guided by what is in our national interest."