FAIR’S FAIR?: With bias, the devil is often in the detail. A sharp-eared listener noticed on his rather congested drive back from London to his home in County Durham that on Radio 4’s PM BBC correspondents were doing some alleged ‘fact-checking’ in response to queries from listeners about aspects of EU operations. One wanted to know about the European Arrest Warrant. Now that’s a subject that has not figured much so far in the EU referendum debate, if at all – the last references to it on the BBC website via its own search engine are mainly from 2014, when David Cameron – in line with his usual posturing over Brussels – first suggested that the UK might withdraw from EAW arrangements and then a few months later, accepted without a murmur or a fight, all its provisions. Since then, zip. So how did PM handle this? Correspondent Norman Smith declared:
Well, the European Arrest Warrant is basically a scheme to enable villains to be picked up wherever they are in the EU, if they do a runner from one country to another, so if you have a villain in Paris who goes and mug someone and goes and steals their jewellery and then does a runner to London, the French gendarmerie can ring up the Old Bill and say, ‘Would you mind picking him up, putting him on a train back to Paris, and we’ll bung him in jug here.’ The problem with it, or perceived problem with it is the view that we’re very good and very diligent and very honest about kicking out foreign villains and everyone else isn’t so good at it. Actually, when you look at the figures, it seems to me to be fair’s fair, because, just looking at the figures here, between 2009 and 2016, we kicked out around 7,500 foreign villains and got back around 800 British villains, which is about 10% in comparison, which is roughly about what the UK is population is as a proportion of the whole EU. So, it seems to be, by and large, the European Arrest Warrant seems to be operating on a fairly fair basis.
So according to the BBC and Smith, fair’s fair, and that’s it. No reference to concerns such as those expressed, for example, in this Daily Telegraph editorial, that Britons are being unfairly imprisoned abroad without due process by legal systems such as those in Bulgaria and Romania which are primitive and unfair. Instead, a simple focus on numbers which, according to Smith, showed that the UK has kicked out 7,500 EU-based villains since 2009 and in return have got 800 back – in line, according to Smith, with what would be expected because the UK’s population is around one tenth of that of the EU.
Closer inspection suggests a very different interpretation is possible. Smith got his statistics from the National Crime Agency, and while he gave the basic figures for actual extraditions, he made no reference at all to another rather important statistic – that in the fiscal year 2015/16 (presumably ending in April 2016, so bang up to date) there were a total of 14,279 requests for the extradition of Britons from the other 27 EU countries, whereas the UK made only 241 requests. The UK population is around one twelfth (8%) of the total of 508m in EU countries, and yet the total number of EAW requests made by the UK was only one sixtieth of the EAW total.
Now of course, requests are not the same as actual extraditions, and the number of ‘surrenders’ (1,271 to the rest of the EU, 112 to the UK) was more closely in line with the EU/UK population ratio. But offset against that is that all of the 14,279 EAW requests coming to the UK have to be investigated and dealt with. The individuals involved are spoken to, investigated, and often put in great fear of ending up in foreign jails. The Daily Telegraph editorial indicated that at least £27m each year is being spent by the Home Office in processing applications. That’s likely to be the tip of the iceberg and is a hefty price to pay,
Another dimension here is that the NCA figures cover only UK/EU interactions under the EAW. As with so many aspects of EU operations – which are shrouded in bureaucratic obfuscation – research by News-watch has drawn a blank in finding up-to-date figures for EU-wide statistics. The newest figures available relate to 2009. Then, across the EU as a whole, 15,827 EAW extradition requests were made, and 4,431 were executed; of that total, the UK made 220 requests and 80 were executed. The NCA figures for the same year are that EU countries made 3,826 requests for extradition from the UK, and 673 (c.20%) of these were actually executed. So put another way, almost a quarter of all extradition requests under the EAW were made to the UK. The UK, for its part made only 1.5% of EAW applications, around a third of which were successful.
All this is by necessity rather a complex analysis but it shows that Smith’s ‘fair’s fair’ claim is to put it mildly, open to debate. Britain spends millions enforcing the EAW. Each extradition costs, if the Daily Telegraph figures are accurate, in the order of a minimum of quarter of a million pounds. The UK is bombarded by requests from other EU countries for EAW extraditions at a far higher level that can be accounted for by differences in population. The UK does not accept the majority of these, but proportionately, far more UK citizens are extradited to the EU from the UK than are extradited from the EU to the UK.
What does this show? That in ‘fact checking’ mode, the BBC cannot be trusted, nor in its analysis of EU affairs, is it impartial. Yet again, it erred on the anti-Brexit side. Norman Smith’s fault here may have been that he too hastily looked at the basic NCA statistics without properly examining the framework , controversies and complexities of the EAW. But whatever the cause, he made sweeping conclusions that were highly simplistic and deeply misleading.
Transcript of Radio 4, ‘PM’ ‘News at Ten’ 17th May 2016, Listeners’ Questions, 5.52pm
EDDIE MAIR: For a third week, we’re setting aside time in the programme to talk about the EU. Not what pundits want to talk about, not what politicians want to talk about, but what PM listeners want to talk about. You are still welcome to send us your question, and our assistant political editor, Norman Smith and our Europe correspondent Chris Morris will do their best. Will start tonight with Alan Beamish, who asks about the European Arrest Warrant. How many UK citizens have been arrested and extradited to other EU’s states, compared with citizens of other EU states extradited to the UK? Norman Smith has the answer.
NORMAN SMITH: Well, the European Arrest Warrant is basically a scheme to enable villains to be picked up wherever they are in the EU, if they do a runner from one country to another, so if you have a villain in Paris who goes and mug someone and goes and steals their jewellery and then does a runner to London, the French gendarmerie can ring up the Old Bill and say, ‘Would you mind picking him up, putting him on a train back to Paris, and we’ll bung him in jug here.’ The problem with it, or perceived problem with it is the view that we’re very good and very diligent and very honest about kicking out foreign villains and everyone else isn’t so good at it. Actually, when you look at the figures, it seems to me to be fair’s fair, because, just looking at the figures here, between 2009 and 2016, we kicked out around 7,500 foreign villains and got back around 800 British villains, which is about 10% in comparison, which is roughly about what the UK is population is as a proportion of the whole EU. So, it seems to be, by and large, the European Arrest Warrant seems to be operating on a fairly fair basis.
EM: Liz Matthews says, can you please explain the difference between European Union, the European Commission and the European Council. Chris Morris can help you.
CHRIS MORRIS: Basically, Liz, the European Union is the name given to the grouping or partnership of the 28 member states. 28 European countries including the UK that all belong to the EU. The Commission and the Council are institutions that form part of the European Union and help to run it. The Commission is like a civil service or an executive body, it proposes new legislation, it draws up the EU’s annual budget, and it manages and supervises EU funding. At the top of the tree in the Commission are 28 national commissioners, one from each member state. The Commission’s president is officially nominated by national leaders and then elected for a five-year period by the European Parliament. Right now, the man in charge is Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxembourg. The European Council is different. It has its headquarters just across the street from the Commission, and the Council sets the overall direction and priorities of the EU. It’s formed by the individual heads of government of the 28 member states, so when David Cameron goes to Brussels for what we tend to call an EU summit, in official language, that’s a meeting of the European Council. Its president is elected for a 2½ year term by all those national leaders, and part of the role of the president of the Council is to represent the EU as a whole oversees. The current president is the former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. So, just to make it clear, if we vote to leave the EU, we’ll be leaving the European Commission and the European Council as well. But not, sadly some might say, the Eurovision Song contest.
EM: Titus Alexander says, ‘in the EU referendum debate, much is made of the cost of our EU membership, it would be interesting to put this in context with our membership of other global organisations, how many international bodies does the UK belong to, and what’s the cost in us participating in them?’ Norman Smith can help.
NS: Well, the answer to this is we belong to an awful lot of international bodies, an awful, awful lot. And some of them cost a lot and some of them don’t cost very much at all. So, if you look at something like the OECD, well, that costs us around £40 million a year, similarly, the World Health Organisation around £16 million a year. The UN – well, we contribute about £90 million to the UN’s regular budget each year, and a voluntary contribution of £2 billion goes towards the UN’s development and humanitarian operations. How does that compare with our contribution to the EU? Well roughly we contribute about £18 billion a year, but as we know, we get an awful lot back in terms of our rebate and money that goes to various deprived parts of the UK, which means, in total, we probably contribute about £8 billion-£9 billion. But I guess the difficulty with all this is your kind of comparing apples and pears, with the EU, clearly, we hope to get a lot out of our contribution to the EU in terms of access to the single market and that sort of thing, with contributions to the World Health Organisation and the UN, we’ll, we’re not really anticipating and getting much back, we’re trying to promote overseas aid and global development, so, the difficulty really is you’re comparing very, very different organisations.