David Cameron is in for a rough ride from backbenchers over the controversial European Arrest Warrant (EWA).

Britain has to decide before 1 December whether to opt back in to the system, which allows EU countries to extradite suspects quickly at the request of other member states.

Conservative backbenchers are unhappy, saying the EWA is flawed and rejoining it will effectively hand over control of extradition to the European Court of Justice.

The home secretary, Theresa May, argues that Britain benefits from the EWA and says she has made improvements to extradition law to prevent countries using it for trivial offences and stop extradited Britons languishing for :

What, if anything, has the EAW done for us – and is the criticism justified?


Extraditions from Britain

Any EU state can issue an EAW for a crime carried out in its territory carrying a maximum penalty of at least one year in prison.

If another member state finds the suspect, it must arrest them and begin extradition proceedings.

Some states issue more warrants to Britain than others:


Poland issues more warrants by far than any other country for suspects living in the UK.

This doesn’t mean Poles are more likely to break the law than anyone else. They are the biggest group of foreign citizens in the UK and the Polish authorities are more keen on issuing warrants than any other country.

The vast majority of the people being sought by the Polish authorities are Polish nationals.

But that’s not true of every country:


The Germans might be in the top ten countries seeking the most extraditions from Britain, but most of the people they are looking for are not German citizens.

And a considerable number of Brits are being sought by prosecutors in various countries.

What kind of crimes are we talking about?


Less serious offences like theft and fraud make up a huge amount of the caseload. Warrants for crimes like murder and rape are relatively unusual on the whole.

But this pattern doesn’t hold true for suspects of every nationality. In fact…


…UK nationals tend to be wanted for carrying out more serious crimes in Europe, drug trafficking chief among them.

Now let’s turn this round and look at extraditions TO Britain from elsewhere in Europe.


Britain extradites more suspects from Spain than any other country to stand trial here.

The chances are that most of those people will not be Spanish but British expatriates/fugitives:


What kind of crimes does Britain issue arrest warrants for?


The crimes are more serious, compared to the requests Britain receives. British prosecutors rarely seek to extradite suspects for theft.

So what do we learn?

It’s true to say – as Theresa May has – that almost 250 people variously accused of murder, rape and child sex offences are no longer at large in this country because of the EWA.

On the other hand, there is some evidence that some Poland in particular may be making excessive use of warrants to bring back people accused of relatively minor crimes.

It seems that there is some truth to certain stereotypes about criminals. British villains really do flee to the sun when seeking to evade the law.

Presumably drug trafficking – evidently a bit of a British speciality – is lucrative enough to finance a flit to Spain.

Reading this in Poland? Thinking about stealing something? Don’t. They’ll hunt you down.