Michael Matheson: Brexit may turn UK into criminal ‘safe haven’

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson. Picture: PA

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson. Picture: PA

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Scotland’s justice secretary has warned the UK risks becoming a “safe haven” for criminals if Brexit sees the dismantling of EU-wide security arrangements drawn up to tackle terrorism.

Michael Matheson issued the warning as economic experts lined up to tell MSPs that the “Herculean task” of re-negotiating trade deals post-Brexit would leave the country worse off.

The security and economic implications of Brexit were debated at Holyrood on a day that was dominated by EU withdrawal. The warnings will be stepped up today when the Scottish Government steps up its attacks on a hard Brexit by claiming that Scotland will lose billions of pounds in trade.

Mr Matheson voiced his security concerns when he suggested that secure and swift methods of dealing with criminals across the EU under the European Arrest Warrant scheme would be lost after Brexit unless successor arrangements were put in place.

In a statement to Holyrood, the justice secretary said the scheme, which was introduced in 2004 as part of the post 11 September anti-terrorism drive, was one way that being part of Europe made the country safer.

Mr Matheson revealed Scotland’s top prosecutor Lord Advocate James Wolffe is heading to Brussels for talks “to ensure that Scottish prosecution interests are protected”.

Mr Matheson said leaving the European Union would “put at risk a range of co-operation ... including police co-operation which assists in tackling organised crime”.

The justice secretary said: “Serious and organised criminals take no account of borders. An ability to pursue individuals who commit serious crime effectively, apprehend and bring them before the courts is vital.

“It is also important for the protection of the Scottish public that Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, does not risk becoming viewed as a safe haven by those seeking to escape justice.”

Although Prime Minister Theresa May had given the arrest warrant scheme her backing when she was Home Secretary, the justice secretary warned there were politicians who “actively oppose” it within the UK government.

Mr Matheson said: “We should be clear that if we leave the EU without putting successor arrangements in place the advantages of speed and streamlined process which the European Arrest Warrant provides – and which benefit all parties – will be lost.”

Earlier experts told Holyrood’s economy committee that Brexit trade negotiations would take decades and will require concessions from the UK because it is “not the country most other nations are lining up to trade with”.

Dr Matias Margulis, of Stirling University, said: “I just want to echo how much of a Herculean task it is going to be for the British government to not only renegotiate its trade relationship with the EU, but also with all the existing 50 countries the EU has ... preferential trading agreements with. What we are looking at, ata safe estimate, is several decades of just renegotiating the current access the UK currently enjoys.”

The Scottish Government will highlight a report published today by the NIESR economic think-tank says UK exports from the services sector could be cut by up to 60 per cent. The Scottish Government claims this would be equivalent to a £2.3 billion hit for Scotland. Scottish ministers also claim an up to 44 per cent decline in trade of goods identified by NIESR would cost Scotland another £3bn.

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