It cannot be right that British citizens should be handed over so casually
Blair should intervene and put this unjust and one-sided treaty [2003 Extradition Treaty] on hold
The only way to ease the strains in the relations between England and Scotland, and strengthen the Union, is to end the injustice by which Scottish MPs can vote on English laws, whereas English MPs cannot vote on many provisions affecting Scotland. And it would certainly ease transatlantic tensions if people thought we were no longer being pushed around in our extradition arrangements
America defends its citizens, so why don’t we defend ours?
Look here, Blair, which country do you think you are running anyway?
When the people of Britain choose a government, they assume that their government will regard their security as its number one priority. They assume that if a foreign power should try to treat British citizens unfairly, then the government will intervene. They assume that the government will think it a sacred trust to protect British citizens.
They assume that a government can be relied upon to negotiate treaties that preserve the liberties of British people, and prevent them from being arbitrarily hoicked off to face trial in foreign jurisdictions.
That is why the Labour Government is failing in its primary function – to look after the people – in allowing Britons to be sent for trial in America, without requiring the Americans to produce any prima facie evidence, when we have no corresponding rights over suspects that we want to extradite from America.
The Government knows it is failing in this duty. As yesterday’s open letter in this newspaper showed, many distinguished folk in the City are scandalised and appalled at what is going on. The Government has completely failed to win the argument, mainly because they no longer make any effort to win the argument. If Tony Blair’s performance in the Commons was anything to go by, the Government’s tactic is just to stick their fingers in their ears and go la la la. Failing that, they try to bamboozle us with falsehoods.
At some time in the next few days, my constituent David Bermingham and his fellow alleged NatWest fraudsters will receive a call from the extradition squad, who are in possession of their passports. The men will be told to go to Gatwick and catch a certain flight, in the knowledge that if they should fail to show at the airport, they will be arrested and put on the flight anyway. On the flight, they will be attended by two US marshals. They will arrive in Newark, where they will be fitted out in Guantanamo-style boiler suits, handcuffs and leg-irons.
They will then be conveyed by bus for two days to Houston, Texas, where they will be welcomed to a federal penitentiary that is likely to be their home for two years. Surrounded by all the drug-crazed convenience-store robbers and psychokillers who have escaped Dubya’s death row, they will try to secure bail and to prepare their cases. This will be difficult, since if there was a fraud against NatWest, it took place in this country and against the interests of a UK bank.
Insofar as there is a case to defend, the evidence is all on this side of the Atlantic. You would therefore expect the case to be heard in this country, and yet no UK authority has shown the slightest interest in prosecuting any of the three. Not the police, not the CPS, not the Serious Fraud Office.
In fact the only reason they are going for trial in America is that their actions are said to have some bearing on the Enron affair, and since the Americans are going through one of their periodic Salem witch trials of white-collar criminals, it was thought that their testimony would be useful. Just give us these guys, would you? said the Americans, and the UK authorities have responded with a pliancy of a boneless wonder. Yes, sir, no, sir, three bags full, sir. Have three suspects.
Have as many as you like. After you, Claude. You should not suppose that this procedure is either extraordinary or unusual. Also on that flight will be five other UK citizens, part of the regular transatlantic shuttle of 40 British suspects that we send over to the US every year.
And guess how many suspects the Americans send over here, on average, for trial in Britain? Just under three a year. That’s right. America is a country of getting on for 300 million. Britain has a population of 60 million. And yet we produce far more extraditable suspects than America.
How can that be? Easy. It’s because we allow the Americans to give their citizens privileges and protections that we do not give our own.
Yesterday Mr Blair seriously misled (I will not say lied to) the House of Commons. He said that Britain and America had the same evidentiary requirements in extradition cases, when he knows that to be total tosh.
The critical difference is that if we want to extradite someone from America, then there is a hearing before a judge magistrate at which the evidence can be assessed and the accused can make his or her case.
There is no such protection in the UK. As soon as the Americans provide “information” – a simple statement of the accusation – we accept that there is a case to answer, and whoosh, it’s off on the plane to Newark and the leg-irons. It cannot be right that British citizens should be handed over so casually, when there are still many IRA suspects at large in America, whom we have sought for decades, who will never be handed over because of the Irish-American lobby. It cannot be right that we should continue to observe the 2003 extradition treaty, signed by David Blunkett in the aftermath of the World Trade Centre bombings, when pressure from the Irish lobby means that the Americans will almost certainly never ratify it themselves.
Blair should intervene and put this unjust and one-sided treaty on hold, not just for the protection of UK citizens but for the good of America. We have seen how the US is now declining in trust and popularity in this country, and one of the reasons is that people sense a lack of reciprocity in the relationship.
There must be symmetry. There must be balance. The only way to ease the strains in the relations between England and Scotland, and strengthen the Union, is to end the injustice by which Scottish MPs can vote on English laws, whereas English MPs cannot vote on many provisions affecting Scotland. And it would certainly ease transatlantic tensions if people thought we were no longer being pushed around in our extradition arrangements, and that sauce for the NatWest goose was sauce for the IRA gander.