LONDON Britain will pull out of a raft of European Union law-and-order legislation, the government said on Monday, in a move likely to please an influential anti-EU wing of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party.
The laws include cross-border measures such as the European arrest warrant and databases to share criminal records, which have the backing of Cameron's pro-EU Liberal Democrat coalition partners but are viewed with suspicion by many in his own party.
Britain has until June 2014 to drop more than 130 EU justice measures under a deal agreed under the European Union's Lisbon Treaty in 2007.
"The government's current thinking is that we will opt out of all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice measures," interior minister Theresa May told parliament.
After formally opting out of the legislation, Britain would ask the EU to allow it to opt back into any individual measures it wants to adopt, May added.
However, agreement would first have to be reached with the Liberal Democrats, and a vote taken in parliament before a formal announcement was made, May said.
"Discussions are ongoing within government and therefore no formal notification can be given to the (EU) council until we have reached agreement on the measures we wish to opt back into," she said.
The Lib Dems say they will not approve the mass opt-out until there is agreement with the Conservatives on which measures to retain.
"Until we have got a lot more clarity and agreement on those things that we are going to opt back into, we can't say for definite we are going to opt out," a senior Liberal Democrat source said.
The Lib Dems want to keep measures like the European arrest warrant, which speeds up extradition proceedings between member states.
It had become an essential tool in tackling cross border organised crime in Europe, Lib Dem lawmaker Julian Huppert said, adding that he hoped the government would change its mind on the opt out.
"Over 700 criminals have been brought back to the UK to face justice, accused of robberies, murders, rapes, child sexual offences and more," he said.
"We benefit very significantly from the cooperation we have with the rest of Europe. To jeopardise that by opting out and possibly trying to opt back into some of it with no guarantees that we would be allowed to, strikes me as a mistake," he added.
(Reporting by Matt Falloon and Tim Castle; Editing by Michael Roddy)