We revealed this morning that the first battle that Nick Clegg intends to pick in the coalition after his party’s victory in Eastleigh is over the European arrest warrant.
The EAW is one of a number of measures involved in the European crime and justice framework, which the Tories want to leave altogether. The prime minister has won plaudits among his own party for saying he would pull out of the 130 measures agreed among EU countries, but he needs the support of his coalition partners to do so, as it must go to a vote in the Commons.
Negotiations between the two parties are being led by Danny Alexander and Oliver Letwin, and according to sources close to the talks, have pretty much broken down altogether.
The reason for the standoff centres on one of the 130 measures – the European arrest warrant. This allows countries to extradite suspects from other European countries, as long as the offence of which they are suspected could carry a sentence of 12 months.
Both sides agree that the EAW has been somewhat over-used of late: the number of times it has been used has risen from around 3,000 in 2004 to 13,000 in 2008, and officials from both sides of the coalition say it is being used for increasingly petty offences by some countries.
But while both parties say they want to reform the EAW, they both know that doing so will prove nigh-on impossible, as it will require the consent of all 27 EU member states. Where they differ is that the Tories are quite happy to scrap the EAW if it is not reformed, whereas Lib Dems would rather have an unreformed system than none at all. They point out that the EAW has been key in several high-profile cases, including that of Jeremy Forrest, the British teacher who was brought back from France after he fled there with his 15-year-old pupil.
Nick Clegg today met campaigners from Justice Across Borders, which has campaigned to keep the EAW, and afterwards issued a pretty robust statement aimed squarely at the prime minister:
While some measures of European co-operation on crime are old, out of date or defunct, the police and other law enforcement agencies consistently tell us that other measures are essential for our national security and public safety. The European arrest warrant is one of those key measures.
His aides have been even stronger. One told the FT yesterday:
It is incredible that people would risk the security and safety of British citizens for some anti-European posturing.