Andrew Mitchell was International Development Secretary from 2010 to 2012, and is MP for Sutton Coldfield.
Often the political events that really matter involve neither Parliament nor politicians. As the House of Commons packed up for the summer last week, a decision made in a courtroom on the other side of the City of Westminster raised serious questions about the UK’s sovereignty.
There, a judge ruled that the British entrepreneur Mike Lynch should be extradited to the United States because – in short – the US Department of Justice had said that such an extradition should happen.
It didn’t matter that the High Court in London had spent ten months considering allegations against Dr Lynch but not yet handed down its judgement. It didn’t matter that Dr Lynch’s business was based in London. It certainly didn’t matter that he was one of the most successful British businessmen of the last twenty years, with the creation of two massive listed companies to his name – Autonomy and Darktrace.
The only thing that carried any weight, in the end, was the UK’s extradition treaty with the US. This makes it far easier for the US to extradite Britons, than it is for the UK to extradite Americans.
It is unfair. But that is not the sole problem.
The treaty’s original purpose was to be a tool in the fight against terrorism. Today, the majority of extraditions concern non-violent alleged offences as US prosecutors appear to target not simply white-collar criminals in general terms, but businesspeople who have fallen out with corporate America. It has become, in other words, a tool to exert economic pressure on the UK, and some of us are deeply troubled by this.
Summer recess always meant carrying on with politics in a different place. The pandemic has seen my colleagues grow even better at making their views known from their constituencies. All of us are adept at communicating and campaigning remotely and this summer, in the light of that court decision, extradition is a real focus.
It is once again a subject in MPs’ virtual mailbags. The treaty destroys lives, one correspondent wrote to me, and there is an opportunity now to stand up to US whims. I do not see the US as whimsical; it is a vital ally. But I, like many Conservatives, think the extradition system cannot be allowed to stand in its current form.
The UK’s readiness to comply is not an international norm. France, for example, does not extradite its own citizens. Courts there have legal authority to prosecute crimes committed by Frenchmen and women overseas. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are among other “non-extradition” states.
Our arrangements with EU nations, meanwhile, are similarly unbalanced. Twenty European countries are refusing to guarantee that suspected criminals among their own citizens can be extradited to the UK.
For Britain, a moment of truth is upon us. The Home Secretary must now decide whether to agree to the extradition of Dr Lynch. If she grants the extradition he will appeal, but she should, at the very least, delay until a pending judgement in the High Court case that considered the allegations against him is published. She would be wise to go further and suspend all extraditions for those not facing allegations of sexual or violent offences until a review of our entire extradition system is complete.
The American Treaty is a hotch-potch of Tony Blair’s creation that is condemned anew with each fresh, monstrous decision, whether it is the pursuit of computer hacker by Gary McKinnon – who was saved only by Theresa May’s personal intervention – or the blank refusal of the US to yield up Anne Sacoolas, accused of causing the death by dangerous driving of Harry Dunn in Northamptonshire.
It beggars belief that for all the outrage the Treaty remains in place. Many Conservatives are determined that this state of affairs must not remain unchallenged.
The foreign secretary Dominic Raab once argued that while some would sigh at the hassle of renegotiating this extradition agreement, the liberty of our citizens must be put ahead of diplomatic inconvenience. I agree.
Until that renegotiation comes, a risk hangs over citizens working in this country: fall out with a US company and you could be seized by US officials. The situation is bad for business, bad for relations with our closest ally, and overdue for change.