Boris Johnson MP: Extradition Treaty should be renegotiated or scrapped

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Commenting during yesterday’s emergency debate on the UK-US Extradition Treaty, Boris Johnson MP said:

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): I begin by saying how much I share the views of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) and by reminding him of the many times we have shared platforms in defence of our respective constituents.

Mr. Khan: I exclude completely from previous remarks the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) who has become a friend–with a small f–and who has been consistent in his concern about the issue before us.

Mr. Johnson: I am grateful. I think all of us agree, on both sides, that this issue has nothing to do with what kind of person may be involved or what kind of constituent presents himself or herself before us. It is an issue of justice and reciprocity, and that is why it is arousing such strong passions across the country. We are all starting to see those feelings expressed in our e-mail in-boxes, and the Minister should be aware of them, as I am sure he increasingly is.

The feeling prompting the rage and fury that surrounds this issue, and which has actuated many comments in the debate, is, I am afraid to say, a certain anti-Americanism. On that, I agree with the Government: anti-American points are sometimes scored in this debate, and that is a great shame. It is sad and regrettable, and it is all the more reason why the best and kindest thing we could do for the special relationship, for which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) has laboured so long and on which he has spoken so eloquently, is to remove injustice and asymmetry and to restore confidence in the British people that their extradition arrangements with America are fair to them.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I thoroughly agree, but does my hon. Friend not also agree that the Americans could send an even more positive message about the importance of the special relationship not only by offering reciprocity but by returning to Britain some of the IRA murderers who live freely in the United States at the moment?

Mr. Johnson: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point; that is the very reason why the Senate has, as has repeatedly been said, been so tardy in ratifying the treaty, and why, indeed, I think it highly unlikely that it will ratify it.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD) rose–

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD) rose–

Mr. Johnson: I should give way with pleasure, although I really ought to rattle on.

David Howarth rose–

Mr. Johnson: Go on.

David Howarth: The hon. Gentleman’s point about ratification of the treaty seems to contradict in part what he said before. Because the treaty is inherently unequal, it might be a very good thing that the Senate will not ratify it. What we should do is go for a new treaty that is more equal.

Mr. Johnson: The point is well made. The problem of the absence of reciprocity was, of course, introduced by the 2003 treaty, which replaced–

John Hemming: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Johnson: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall try to address the point made by his colleague.

The absence of reciprocity was introduced by the signing of the treaty, which we enacted in the Extradition Act 2003. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe rightly used the verb–or adjective–poodle. It was a poodle-like act of– [Interruption.] It is, indeed, a noun. It is also, however, a verb: to poodle is a verb–we poodled.

We poodled in implementing the treaty before the Americans had even ratified it, thereby–the point the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) was trying to make–negating the symmetry that pre-existed in the 1972 extradition treaty, which involved a rough parity. We have reached consensus that that parity was not totally perfect, but it certainly was not as asymmetrical and imbalanced as the arrangements into which the Government have entered now.

The plain fact is–the Minister must accept it, as the point has been made to him beyond peradventure–that the United States does not now have to supply prima facie evidence. The key difference therefore is that a British national can be supramagnetically suctioned to America without any scrutiny of the evidence, as, on Thursday, the three are about to be, whereas the Americans would never allow that to happen to any of their nationals. That is the fundamental problem. We are failing to protect our nationals.

John Hemming: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are a lot of odd things about this situation, not least the word “reciprocal” and the fact that we have had demonstrations without the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway), but also the fact that if an offence had been committed under UK law, it would have been tried within the UK? If an offence has been committed, it was committed within the UK, but because it is not charged in the UK, people are to be extradited.

Mr. Johnson: The hon. Gentleman certainly shows that he has been following the debate keenly and is dead right.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am not sure of that.

Mr. Johnson: I sought to be generous to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) in order to prevent further interventions from the Liberal Democrats.

The Prime Minister and the Solicitor-General have told us that the three suspects, whom they brought into the debate, would have been extradited anyway under the terms of the 1972 arrangements. I am not at all sure that they can possibly know that. I am not at all sure that they have any right to say that in this House.

The propositions that have been put, and which have obviously persuaded the Solicitor-General–who calls the men the “Enron three”–of their potential culpability, have never been tested in a court or a judicial proceeding in this country. That procedure would have taken place under the previous arrangements, and that is the procedure that has been wiped out by the Government’s poodle-like acquiescence in the treaty. The Solicitor-General is clutching at the Dispatch Box as if he wants to intervene; perhaps he does not, so I shall move on.

That is the injustice at the core of this debate, and that is why we should suspend the treaty, undesignate America as a category 2 country, and do justice by our people. Anyone who seeks evidence of the imbalance and asymmetry in our arrangements with America may look at the numbers. Look at the numbers going from this country to America, which had, last time I looked, a population approaching 300 million, and the number that America is sending to us. More than 40 a year go to America–

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Forty-five.
Mr. Johnson: My hon. Friend says 45. And two or three a year come from America. I make no comment on the respective criminalities of the two populations, but that seems extraordinary. I see the Solicitor-General reaching for the statistics; he should apprise himself of the basic data. They are patently unreciprocal and asymmetrical.

I was interested earlier to hear a Labour Member–the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills)–say that all extradition treaties were asymmetrical. Did anyone catch that? He said that all extradition treaties were asymmetrical and that we should not complain about it. That seemed to be the gist of it. The fact is that he is, of course, as he was in much that he said, wrong. There is reciprocity in the Euro-warrant system, for instance. Among the many things that we do in common with our European friends is that we allow some measure of political decision making over whether or not a crime was committed in our jurisdiction.

If we want to get around the problem, and I know that the Solicitor-General does, we should implement the course I have urged on him in an early-day motion, signed by many Members on both sides of the House, which is to insert article 7 of the 1957 convention on extradition into our arrangements with America, so that a British authority may decide whether or not, in the interests of justice, the crime–if there was a crime–took place in this jurisdiction. That would be a clear and elegant solution to the problem.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe pointed out, that is a basic protection that the Irish give their citizens and the French give their citizens. Why cannot we give that protection to our citizens? I look forward to hearing the response of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan).

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): My hon. Friend makes a powerful and persuasive point. Is it not a case not only of justice being done but being seen to be done? If a matter has a direct nexus with this country, it is essential that that matter should be disposed of here so that we can send a clear message that if something is criminal and happens here, we will deal with it and that we will not rely on other authorities to deal with matters that we should be dealing with ourselves.

Mr. Johnson: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I am grateful to him. It is incredible: what comment are we sending to the outside world about the seriousness with which we take white-collar crime if the allegations that the Solicitor-General was happy to read out earlier are so trivial and footling that we take no account of them in this country but none the less think them serious enough to be tried in America? It is quite extraordinary.

The Government seem to have decided on a twin-track strategy in their manipulation of this growing public relations disaster. The Prime Minister comes to the House, as he did earlier, and says that he is very concerned about the fate of the NatWest three and their families. It is a measure of the complete chaos that the extradition treaty has wrought that he is obliged to dispatch senior Ministers around America to plead on behalf of individual cases. It is absolute chaos. That is the compassion that he wants to show on the one hand. However, he then sends his understrapper, the Solicitor-General, to the House, who repeats–very largely–the case against the three. He called them the Enron three as though to prejudge the matter.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): That is a smear.

Mr. Johnson: I do not necessarily dissent from that. If the torrent of allegations that the Solicitor-General read out against the three are so compelling, why cannot he put them on trial in this country? It is not too late for him to do that. He has the power at the stroke of a pen. Given the serious allegations that he has put before the House, he could command them to be arraigned before the courts in this country.

The Solicitor-General: I want to make it very clear that decisions about whether the matter is investigated are not made by Ministers; in this case, they are made by the Serious Fraud Office and the director of the Serious Fraud Office–an independent prosecuting service–who took the view that, because much of the evidence was in the United States and the alleged conspiracy was likely to have taken place there, if indeed it ever did, the matter would be better dealt with there. I remind him, too, that the district judge was also concerned that if there was an investigation here, it might in due course result in an abuse of process argument, because of the length of time such an investigation would take. It is appropriate to deal with the matter in the USA.

Mr. Johnson: I would say that I was grateful to the Solicitor-General, but I am not really. Lord Justice Laws himself was amazed that the UK authorities had sought to take no interest in this matter. Because there is no protection and no forum requirement inserted in the current Extradition Act–in the way that I propose and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe agrees that it should be inserted–and because Parliament has failed to protect its citizens in the way that it should, the three are being sucked off to America.

Mr. Hogg: May I suggest an elegant solution building on the solution of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)? The other place has passed certain amendments, which will come back to this House in October, the effect of which if passed will be to remove the United States from the fast-track procedure. Given that, the Government, pending a decision of this House, should pass the orders referred to by my right and learned. Friend, which would take the United States out of the class of a designated country, at which point the process of extradition would have to cease.

Mr. Johnson: As usual, my right hon. and learned Friend is bang on. It is a simple matter to undesignate America as a category 2 country, as Members on both sides of the House have said.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the logical corollary of the statement by the Attorney-General is that any crime involving an e-mail that is routed through a server in, say, California will fall within the jurisdiction of the United States? Does he not think that that is absolutely bizarre?

Mr. Johnson: The United States Government take a broad view of their legal jurisdiction. The United States has few limits to its ambitions in the context of where a crime is committed against the interests of the
United States. That is a matter for the United States. It is perfectly entitled to take that view, but it should be a matter for us–for this House and the Solicitor-General–to protect British citizens from injustice and the arrogance and abuse of power. I think that the Solicitor-General would agree that he is losing the argument.

Increasingly, the Government have shown that they are losing the argument by the panic-stricken measures that they are taking in dispatching Ministers off around America. I do not believe–as I think that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said earlier, and I wholly agree with him–that it is the will of the House or the country that these unjust arrangements should persist. Above all, and paradoxically, I do not even think that it is the will of America. It is increasingly a matter of embarrassment that unnecessary hostility and unease is being engendered in this country by this incompetently negotiated treaty. I urge the Solicitor-General to have the humility to think again.

14 thoughts on “Boris Johnson MP: Extradition Treaty should be renegotiated or scrapped”

  1. ‘It was a poodle-like act of– [Interruption.] It is, indeed, a noun. It is also, however, a verb: to poodle is a verb–we poodled.’

    Have standards of education slipped this low; that Boris has to explain basic grammar to our elected representatives?

  2. Impressive Boris, it’s good to see all parts of the house coming together over this one. Just maybe there’s a chance that the nation can be de-poodled…

  3. i do not pretend to have the full comprehension of parliamentary language, but it does rahter seem to me as though the solicitor general is more interested in towing the party line and seeing that we fall over ourselves to make sure that the americans are pleased with us than he is seeing that justice be done. in a job such as he has this should be grounds for him to be removed from his position, though it is a political appointment he does nevertheless have a duty to see that justice be done to our own citizens. i was heartened to hear the news that the lords had voted against allowing the three in question to be extradited but how can we hope to see a just outcome when all we get is this?

  4. Dear Boris,
    EXCELLENT speech I thought. Well done! You should definately be leader. What happened?

    BTW: although I have no critisim of the point of Sir neil C-wossnames speech (what was his name? asking about bail.) It occured to me that he IS the public face of the conservative party that is so disliked by people. When he read, was it Gladstone’s speech in latin? people started to lose the will the live. And wasn’t he implicated in the case in question? Hmm.

    (anyway, I can’t spell Disraeli, and I’ve just come out of hospital, help me out here chaps)

  5. Sorry, I meant what happened in the house after all the speeches? The debate ended then was the USA removed from sched 2 countries list or something? Have the 3 men gone to Texas or have we managed to keep them here??

  6. Stephen L.

    It’s one of those irregular verbs…

    I have a special relationship
    You’re a poodle
    He’s being shafted.

    I think I’ve been watching too much ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Yes Prime Minister’ of late… it’s as relevant now as ever (ID cards, relations with our European enemi… allies (as Sir Humphrey puts it), coverups, reforming the electoral system and so forth)

  7. Natwest Three

    The Lib Dems have started a campaign about the US/UK lopsided extradition treaty. Essentially the US can extradite a UK citizen without presenting probable cause. For the innocent, this can mean a multiple year trial (as well as expensive defence)…

  8. Steven L, it is always neccessary to explain when one is, as Boris is, making shit up. Can you imagine Parliament without such a requirement? It would be as incomprehensible as a Dungeons and Dragons convention led by Unix nerds, and make about as much sense.

  9. With all this gleeful talk of poodles (or poodling, or poodle-like), was I really the only one to be slightly taken aback by the construction ‘supramagnetically suctioned’?

    My dictionary must be out of date. Those are two words that are SO going to be inserted into my personal vocab from now on. Bravo, Boris.

    And bravo, too, for putting up a strong fight on behalf of the Natwest lot. Guilty as hell, I suspect, but we should definitely try them here.

  10. “We poodled in implementing the treaty before the Americans had even ratified it”

    poodle /v.
    v.t. Treat as a poodle; clip and shave the hair of. Also, overdress, dress up.
    v.i. Move or travel in a leisurely manner. colloq.

    I fear Mr Johnson has screwed up. To poodle does not mean to behave as a poodle.

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