Committee seeks cross-Committee verdict on implications of EU negotiating mandate and sets out approach to post-Brexit scrutiny
12 March 2020
The European Scrutiny Committee has decided to use its new statutory power to consult Select Committees on the EU’s mandate for negotiating a new partnership with the UK, following its first meeting of the new Parliament. The purpose of the consultation is to determine whether the EU’s negotiating mandate touches on matters “of vital national interest to the United Kingdom.”
At its first meeting of the new Parliament, the Committee also agreed how it intends to refocus its scrutiny of EU documents following the UK’s departure from the EU. The Committee’s priorities are outlined by returning chair Sir William Cash in a letter to Michael Gove, Minister for the Cabinet Office.
Committee writes to departmental counterparts seeking input on EU negotiating directives
Both the UK and EU have published their intended approaches to the future relationship negotiations, which began in Brussels last week. The EU’s approach, set out in the negotiating mandate agreed by the EU Council on 25 February, has been deposited for scrutiny. Scrutiny of proposed EU policies and laws will continue at least until 31 December 2020, the date on which the post-exit transition period during which EU laws will still apply to the UK is expected to end.
At its meeting on Wednesday 11 March, ESC considered the EU’s negotiating position, and agreed to invite Select Committees across the House to provide their views on its implications for the UK’s vital national interest in the areas of policy for which they are responsible.
Under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, if ESC considers that EU legislation (or proposed EU legislation) – such as the Council Decision establishing the EU’s negotiating position – “raises a matter of vital national interest”, it can require Ministers to arrange a debate and vote in the Commons within 14 days of the Committee’s recommendation being published.
Before taking this step, the Committee must consult Select Committees which it considers have an interest. Given the complex, cross-cutting nature of the negotiations, the ESC believes that the policy insights and expertise of the Select Committees it is consulting will be invaluable in helping it fulfil its statutory function under the 2018 Act.
Chair confirms priorities for post-Brexit scrutiny in letter to Michael Gove
Separately, ESC has agreed an approach to its scrutiny work of developments in EU policy and law during the post-Brexit transition period, as set out by Committee chair Sir William Cash in a letter to Michael Gove, the Minister responsible for coordinating UK-EU relations through the Cabinet Office. This is a continuation of the Committee’s core role of assessing the legal and political importance of draft EU legislation and other EU documents deposited in Parliament by the Government. However, the letter emphasises the need for this process to reflect the new, post-Brexit legal and political context.
In scrutinising the relevance of EU legal and political developments for the UK, the Committee will focus on three priority areas:
- New EU legislation that is likely to take effect during the post-Brexit transitional period, when the UK must apply EU rules without having a say in their making. This will help the Committee fulfil its new statutory role under Section 13A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which stipulates that if ESC believes a piece of EU legislation “raises a matter of vital national interest” during transition, it can require Ministers to arrange for it to be debated in the House of Commons.
- Developments in EU law and policy that will, or are likely to, affect the UK under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. It will take a particular interest in changes to EU rules covered by the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, which means EU law will apply in Northern Ireland in certain areas beyond the end of the transition period. As part of this the Committee will also monitor the work of the UK-EU Joint Committee set up under the Withdrawal Agreement, on which Mr Gove will represent the UK Government.
- Any changes to the EU’s policy with particular longer-term relevance for the UK as an independent economic and political partner, such as the EU’s approach to relations with non-Member States in matters such as trade, security and climate change. EU policy in those areas will have a knock-on effect on the terms of any UK-EU agreements under the future relationship.
In due course, the Committee will also consider the need, if any, for continued scrutiny of EU developments beyond the end of the transition period, and what role ESC may play.
The letter seeks confirmation from Mr Gove that the Government is ready to provide the necessary co-operation and information for ESC to scrutinise EU-related developments effectively during the transition period, and beyond. A copy is attached.