As published in the Daily Mail
Do business with the US from Britain, and you risk ending up in an American jail. That is not a theory or a political argument – it’s a fact.
On Thursday morning, one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs got on a plane to fly to San Francisco. When he arrived, he was imprisoned. As I write, it is not clear when he will be released.
Dr Mike Lynch is not guilty of anything, even in the US system. He is merely accused by American prosecutors of a fraud he denies. That accusation was enough to see him extradited to the US, and to be stripped of his freedom on arrival while he awaits a trail.
The same thing could happen to any other British businessperson who has even the slightest commercial connection to the States.
The extradition treaty between the US and UK negotiated by Tony Blair was sold to Parliament as a measure to deal with terrorists, murderers and paedophiles. Instead, it is being used to pursue traders, bankers and businesspeople – alleged white collar criminals.
It means an entrepreneur who falls out with an American company – as Dr Lynch did when he sold his business to the tech firm HP – can be seized from our shores.
The Home Secretary has precious little power to resist. But when British courts summoned Anne Sacoolas to face justice for causing the death of Harry Dunn by careless driving, they were refused.
Too often, the Treaty creates a one-way street, with Briton after Briton heading into US custody. That has consequences for us all.
I share my Conservative colleagues’ ambitions to make the UK the best place on earth to build businesses. But ask yourself why brilliant founders of new high-tech companies should look to this country when being based here carries such risks?
If you are the creator of the next Google, or wonder-vaccine, your greatest hope is that your firm gets bought up by a major American company. It will most likely take American investment. If you are based in the UK and any of those deals go sour, you could find yourself in a US jail, just like Dr Lynch. Once you’re there you can expect a very different sort of justice from the sort you would get in the UK.
American plea-bargaining means being threatened with 30 years in a maximum security prison unless you admit guilt in exchange for a shorter sentence. Unsurprisingly, most people do a deal.
That’s not the deal for French citizens in France, or Germans in Germany. Neither nation renders up its own people to US authorities like the British do.
The globally mobile entrepreneurs the UK Government is so keen to attract to this country, and to list their businesses here, have a very good reason to look elsewhere. We cannot continue like this. There should be two urgent amendments to our extradition rulebook. Firstly, the UK should not consent to deport its citizens to the US for non-violent crimes.
Secondly, where an extradition request is made, the Americans should have to present a prima facie case against the accused to the British courts. At the moment, there is no such requirement.
Failing to act on this will hurt the UK. If we don’t change the law, we can kiss goodbye to launches of new high-tech businesses on the London Stock Exchange.