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Committee reports on the future of the Channel Tunnel and support for fisheries

22 September 2020

In its latest report, the European Scrutiny Committee considers recent draft EU legislation and policy documents deposited in Parliament by the Government.

Each document is accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum from the relevant Minister. The Committee examines the legal and political significance of the document and where appropriate asks further questions of the Government about its implications. The Committee also has the power to recommend documents for debate.

In its latest report, the Committee highlights the importance of several documents, and how it intends to follow up with the Government. These include:

DFT – Brexit: the future operation of the Channel Tunnel

Important because:

  • The European Commission argues that to ensure the continued safe operation of the Channel Tunnel at the end of the transition period, the UK/France Treaty of Canterbury, which has governed the operation of the Tunnel since 1986, will need to be amended.
  • The EU documents propose that France should be allowed to negotiate changes to the Treaty of Canterbury directly with the UK, on three conditions:
    1. That any agreement includes a requirement for the UK/France joint authority—charged with managing the Tunnel—apply all relevant EU law on both the UK and French sides;
    2. If a future dispute over safety arises and necessitates the interpretation of EU law, the CJEU will be empowered to issue a binding ruling on the UK; and
    3. If the joint UK/France authority fails to comply with the decision, or in emergency circumstances, France will be able to take unilateral action to regain control of its section of the Tunnel.

Despite confirming its opposition to the proposals, the Government has yet to put forward suggestions for an alternative post-transition safety framework. If France and the UK are unable to reach a new agreement, the status quo will remain in force – raising concerns about the safe operation of the Tunnel after December 31 given that most EU law will no longer apply in the UK.

The Committee’s report assesses the implications of the proposed Council Decision and points out that if France wishes to conclude an agreement with the UK that does not meet the conditions set out above it would be prevented from doing so unless a fresh Council Decision was secured – creating considerable political and time constraints.

The importance of the Tunnel’s continued safe operation, together with the proposed ‘dynamic alignment’ requirement with EU law on the UK side of the Tunnel, gives these proposals clear legal and political importance. The Committee has therefore written to the Government urgently requesting further information on its alternative proposals for a future post-transition safety regime and for regular updates on negotiations with France.

DEFRA – Northern Ireland Protocol: illegal timber arrangements

Importan because:

  • Under the terms of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, Northern Ireland must continue to apply the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Licencing Regulation, and the EU Timber Regulation; which ensure legal timber imports into the EU.
  • The UK and EU disagree on how this should be applied, providing a timely example of how implementing the terms of the Protocol could see conflicting approaches across a range of areas.

In his letter to the Committee, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park reveals disagreement between the EU and the UK over how to guarantee the legality of timber imports into Northern Ireland from certain countries, and the Committee’s report analyses the EU’s and UK’s respective stances on how the terms of the Protocol should be applied in this particular case.

The Committee has written to the Minister requesting further information about the UK’s position, and whether its proposed approach would comply with its legal obligations under the terms of the Protocol.

DEFRA – COVID-19 response: EU support to the fisheries sector

Important because:

  • The Committee’s Thirteenth Report detailed legislation allowing EU fisheries funding to be re-directed in order to soften the impact on businesses of temporary halts in activity and the need to store unsold products. The UK is able to make use of this flexibility during the transition period.

In correspondence with the Committee, the Minister confirms that all the UK Administrations have taken advantage of the ability to re-direct funds and provides details of how each has chosen to do so.

Further information

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