New powers: Police officers from European countries could soon be able to spy on and arrest Britons in the UK
Ministers are ready to hand sweeping Big Brother powers to EU states so they can spy on British citizens.
Foreign police will be able to travel to the UK and take part in the arrest of Britons.
They will be able to place them under surveillance, bug telephone conversations, monitor bank accounts and demand fingerprints, DNA or blood samples.
Anyone who refuses to comply with a formal request for co-operation by a foreign-based force is likely to be arrested by UK officers.
The move will spark a damaging row with backbench Tory MPs opposed to giving such draconian powers to Brussels.
The Tories were opposed to the directive in opposition, saying it showed a ‘relish for surveillance and disdain for civil liberties’.
But ministers have made a dramatic U-turn since joining the pro-EU Lib Dems in government, and the wide-ranging powers are due to be approved later this week.
According to the campaign group Fair Trials International, under the new rules it would be possible, for example, for Spanish police investigating a murder in a nightclub to demand the ID of every British citizen who flew to the country in the month the offence took place.
They could also force the UK to search its DNA database – which contains nearly one million innocent people – and send samples belonging to anybody who was in Spain at the time.
This could leave an entirely innocent person facing an agonising battle to establish his or her innocence.
Tory MP Dominic Raab, who has campaigned against the power grab, said: ‘This sweeping directive would put serious operational strains on hard-pressed UK police forces.
‘There are scant safeguards to protect the personal information of law-abiding British citizens. These serious issues should be properly debated in Parliament before the UK decides to opt in.’
The new powers are known as the European Investigation Order (EIO), which is intended as a partner to the highly controversial European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
One of the major concerns about the EAW, to which Britain is signed up, is that it has been used to investigate the most minor misdemeanours, such as the ‘theft of a dessert’ in a Polish restaurant.
Now member states want to make it easier to gather evidence on another’s soil. The proposal requires an ‘opt in’, which means Britain could sit back and play no part in the new regime.
But Whitehall insiders say ministers have been persuaded it has many benefits. In particular, police say they will gain from the fact that the arrangements will be reciprocal, making it easier for them to track suspects overseas.
However the powers in the directive are available to prosecutors only. Britons under suspicion will not have any right to demand information from overseas police which could prove their innocence.
Whitehall, in Westminster, central London
Benefits: Whitehall insiders say ministers in Britain have been persuaded by the foreign police plan
The countries demanding the new powers include ex-Eastern Bloc states Bulgaria, Estonia and Slovenia, as well as Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and Austria.
Other nations, including Denmark, are believed to be ready to say no.
Fair Trials International has been leading demands for Britain to stay out of the EIO.
The group fears miscarriages of justice and civil liberties abuses and is also concerned about UK police being obliged to investigate matters which are not even crimes here, such as the Portuguese offence of criminal defamation.
Whitehall officials say UK police would be allowed to refuse these requests. It is the first time the coalition has had to consider a controversial EU directive.
The fact that ministers are actively opting in will cause great concern on the Tory benches. MPs point out that since the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, justice and Home Office matters are among the few areas over which we retain control of our own affairs.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Government is considering whether or not we should opt in to the European Investigation Order.
‘As we pledged in the coalition document, the Government will approach legislation in the area of criminal justice on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s security, protecting civil liberties and preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system.’
‘British FBI’ and elected police chiefs to aid war against crime
Plans for directly elected police commissioners and a new FBI-style agency to tackle serious crime will be unveiled by Home Secretary Theresa May today.
Voters will be allowed to elect powerful officials who will control multi-million-pound force budgets and can order chief constables to carry out their policies – or face the sack.
Mrs May hopes the reforms will free police from bureaucracy, making them ‘crime-fighters, not form-writers’.
But she faces fierce opposition from the Association of Chief Police Officers, whose president, Sir Hugh Orde, has previously warned that the new jobs could attract ‘retired coppers or lunatics’.
The idea will be to have the first elections as soon as possible. The commissioners will replace the current chairmen of local police authorities, who are simply appointed.
Mrs May will also announce radical plans to scrap the discredited Serious Organised Crime Agency and replace it with the National Crime Agency, a force to crack down on organised crime, drug-smuggling and people-trafficking.
Soca was launched four years ago but faced fierce criticism, amid revelations it had clawed back only £78million from crime bosses despite costing the taxpayer a staggering £1.2billion.
A Whitehall source said last night the NCA, which is expected to have a team of between 3,000 and 8,000 ‘agents’, had ‘been approved and has been designed specifically to become Britain’s very own FBI’.
The proposals, forming part of Lib-Con coalition’s Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, are set out in an internal document entitled Policing In The 21st Century.
Mrs May will also outline a major shake-up to ensure forces do not prevent police officers from carrying out their public duties, for instance jumping into a pond to rescue a drowning child, for fear of breaching health and safety regulations.
By James Slack
Last updated at 10:55 AM on 26th July 2010
Source: Daily Mail