Johnson hands Truss the poisoned fruit of the Northern Ireland Protocol

19 Dec

At the start of the Theresa May Mark One era – that’s to say, when Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill were in charge – the Foreign Office lost charge of Europe policy.

Timothy didn’t trust this institutionally pro-Remain department, for which the European project had been a guiding mission for over half a century, to conduct the Brexit negotiation with the EU.

So David Davis was reinvented as Secretary of State in the new Department for Exiting the European Union, to be followed after his resignation by Dominic Raab, who soon quit himself, and then Stephen Barclay.

The Foreign Office lost out a second time round when David Frost took on responsibility for managing Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU – including the Northern Ireland Protocol.

One way of interpreting the appointment of Liz Truss to take on Frost’s former responsibilities is that the Foreign Office has got lucky third time round, as the legacy of Timothy’s restructuring is finally buried.

The change is certainly a shot in the arm for the boys and girls in King Charles Street – undeservedly, some would add, given Raffy Marshall’s recent discloures about its internal workings during this year’s Afghanistan crisis.

The loss of Europe policy was an existential agony for the Foreign Office, made worse by it getting overseas aid, which it didn’t want, but not gaining international trade, which some of its mandarians do want.

Regaining European policy in full will help raise spirits there, lowered recently not only by the Marshall revelations, but by news of a coming ten per cent cut in its budget.

Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs tend to have a low view of the Foreign Office and a high one of Frost.  They will greet the return of Europe policy to it with suspicion at best, hostility at worst.

Boris Johnson could have appointed a direct successor to Frost and kept Europe policy away from King Charles Street instead.

That he didn’t takes us to another view of the appointment.  That he is now weak, Truss is strong, she wanted European policy back at the Foreign Office…and has duly got her way.

We will find out soon enough how energetically she pushed for this outcome – if at all.  But whatever happened, let me offer a third angle from which to view the change.

The pro-Brexit right of the Parliamentary Party, broadly speaking, wants Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol moved soon.  In particular, they want the role that the Protocol grants to the European Court removed.

This swathe of Tory MPs includes much of the constituency that Truss must woo successfully in any forthcoming leadership election if she is to make it past the parliamentary stage of the contest.

She will therefore face a choice during the next few months, assuming that Johnson himself isn’t the victim of a confidence ballot.

To her right will be supporters of a “clean Brexit”, urging that Article 16 be moved as soon as possible.  To her left will be a band of former Remainers opposed to such a manoeuvre under almost any circumstances.

And while there aren’t necessarily many of them, there is a wider body of Tory MPs, mostly but not exclusively on the centre-left of the party, who will oppose her candidacy.

The future of the Protocol, of the UK’s relationship with the EU, and of Northern Ireland itself thus risk getting tangled up with Truss’s ambitions, and those who support and oppose them.

One further take on this mix is that, since Frost was a known factor in the province and Truss isn’t, the Executive is nearer collapse this evening than it was yesterday.

In particular, the DUP knew where it was with Frost – or thought it did, anyway.  It may not have the same confidence in Truss, however unreasonable that prejudice may be.

(Furthermore, it’s worth bearing in mind Dominic Cummings’ claim that this Government will bungle any attempt to move Article 16 – so it’s better not done now.)

All this is consistent less with a powerful Truss regaining Europe policy for her department than with a resourceful Johnson handing her a poisoned fruit.

Emily Barley: The Government’s Brexit plan puts us at risk of substandard and corrupt justice systems in EU member states

21 Jul

Emily Barley is Director of Due Process, the anti-EAW campaign group, and Chairman of Conservatives for Liberty.

Brexit campaigners hailed a massive victory when, back in February, the Government announced that we will be leaving the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Finally, we knew we’d be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), be able to restore our great British tradition of civil liberties, and could protect people living here from the abuses and mistakes of the EAW processes, substandard EU justice systems, and medieval European prisons.

But there was a sting in the tail of the Government’s announcement: sure, the plan was to leave the EAW, but then replace it with something that looks suspiciously like the EAW.

The EU-Iceland-Norway agreement the Government is modelling its proposed extradition agreement on has been described by experts as the “EAW-lite”, and has all the same problems that have raised such widespread objections to the EAW.

Under the Government’s plan we would be technically outside of the ECJ, but our courts would still need to take into account its judgments – in practice continuing the same state of affairs as now and not fulfilling the expectations Boris Johnson raised when he promised to take us out of it.

This new EU-wide agreement would have the same foundation of “mutual trust and recognition” between the UK and EU member states which requires British judges to turn a blind eye to serious abuses and mistakes in the substandard and corrupt justice systems of the likes of Poland, Greece, Hungary and Romania.

This system leaves us all vulnerable. It has led to cases like that of Edmond Arapi, who was convicted of a murder in Italy that happened while he was at work in the UK; Andrew Symeou, who was held in a Greek hell-hole for ten months after an ill-fated holiday where police beat false accusations out of his friends, and Alexander Adamescu, whose case is the most infamous and egregious example of the failings of the EAW going through the UK courts right now.

Adamescu is sought by Romanian authorities to face charges of corruption in a business insolvency case. There is no evidence against Adamescu, but that doesn’t matter under the EAW – because British judges cannot look at the evidence, or lack of it, even if they wanted to.

Human rights campaigners have described the conviction in 2014 of Alexander’s father, Dan Adamescu, on the same charges in the same case as a “show trial” which violated the presumption of innocence – but that doesn’t matter under the EAW, because the foundation of “mutual trust and recognition” means British judges must have blind faith in the justice systems of other countries.

Even when evidence mounts that the case against Adamescu is a politically motivated stitch-up by an unreformed communistic state, British judges must look the other way, required to believe that EU member states always act with integrity and in accordance with the law. It would be laughable if the consequences of the UK continuing with an EAW-lite extradition system weren’t so serious.

The Government says it wants to introduce “further safeguards” into this “new” system, but the ones we really need – like asking judges to look at the evidence against the accused (a prima facie case), and not sending people to countries with corrupt justice systems and medieval prisons – are incompatible with its plan.

We need to do this thing properly, and drop the idea of an EU-wide extradition agreement.

What we need instead is a series of bilateral agreements which acknowledge the varying quality of justice systems in EU member states and introduce a diplomatic check in the process, as is already the case with extraditions to non-EU countries.

I set out exactly how this would work in my report The future of extradition from the UK: Protecting fundamental rights, recently published by Due Process. There’s a lot at stake here. The Romanian state has already killed Dan Adamescu, and has its sights set on his son.

Innocent people going on holiday to EU countries are at risk of having their lives turned upside down, like Symeou’s was. And even those who stay at home, minding their own business and never setting foot in a particular country, are at risk of accusations and convictions under the EAW, like Arapi.

Johnson won the election last year with a commitment to take us out of the clutches of the EU, and unless that includes abandoning the idea of a dangerous EAW-lite system, he will have failed.

Robert Sutton: Top Tories on Twitter. Case Study 5) Steve Baker

3 Jul

Rob Sutton is an incoming junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School.

Number 14 on the Top Tories on Twitter list: Steve Baker

A prominent Eurosceptic in a seat which narrowly voted to remain, Baker’s majority has fallen during recent elections. From a high of 28.9 per cent in 2015, it dropped to 7.7 per cent in 2019. But the verve with which he has pursued his cause has not eased, and he completed his second tenure as chairman of the European Research Group in February.

Baker previously held a junior ministerial position in the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) but resigned shortly after David Davis stepped down as Secretary of State.

During the Conservative leadership contest he briefly considered running and received some positive press, but ultimately threw his weight behind Boris Johnson. When offered the opportunity to return to DExEU as part of the Johnson government, he turned it down.

The backbenches suit him well, and he has used his prominent position to drive support for Johnson’s deal. An influential voice and well respected, Baker is highly principled, putting his beliefs ahead of short-term career opportunism. But his singular mission has failed to win over many of his constituents. He also needs to find a way to stay relevant as we move to the lengthy process of renegotiating our place in the world.

He balances his tweets between popular sentiment and nuanced discussions. He’ll certainly have plenty to discuss in the coming years, but it is uncertain whether he and other prominent Eurosceptic backbenchers will continue to wield the same clout. But given our unprecedented opportunity to reshape our role on the global stage, there will be plenty of time to craft a positive, unifying message.