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MPs launch EU trade agreement bodies’ inquiry

21 June 2021

A cross-party group of MPs have set up an inquiry into powerful new bodies set up to manage the UK-EU trade deal and to examine the Government’s approach to maximising its influence on them.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) bodies, including the ministerial-level ‘Partnership Council’ and civil servant-led ‘Specialised Committees’, are talk shops designed to iron out wrinkles in the deal that might arise as the UK pursues its own independent trading future. They will consider important parts of the deal such as road haulage, air travel and fishing rights. Some of these bodies have the power to change the detail of the deal itself which would potentially impact on businesses and consumers across the UK.

The European Scrutiny Committee inquiry will effectively map out the structures and powers of these bodies, assess their impact on UK law and Parliamentary sovereignty and evaluate their transparency. MPs are calling for businesses that will likely be impacted by decisions to be made in the TCA bodies to tell the Committee of their concerns and experiences, to date, of trying to engage with the Government on its plans for their functioning.

Tensions have risen between the UK and EU since the end of the post-Brexit transition period at the start of the year and trust appears to be in short supply. The EU accuse the UK of not fully implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol, meanwhile the UK Government feel that the EU is failing in its commitment to ensure that any impact on NI is minimal. Last week, the Government’s chief EU negotiator, Lord David Frost, said that all options were being considered after being asked by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee if the Government would withdraw from commitments made in the original divorce settlement – called the Withdrawal Agreement - if solutions could not be found.

Although such bodies appear in other trade agreements, those in the TCA are of particular importance given the size of the European Union as a trading partner. As of 2019, before the pandemic hit and the end of the transition period, UK-EU trade was worth £668bn, accounting for 43% of all UK exports (£294bn) and 52% of imports (£374bn). Any changes in the rules that govern this trade by these bodies could cost the economy millions of pounds and potentially push firms into further hardship. The Food and Drink Federation reported last week that food and drink exports to the EU in the first three months of the year had crashed by 47% compared to the same period in 2020, citing in part the new post-Brexit trade arrangements with the EU.

The European Scrutiny Committee is responsible for scanning new and proposed EU laws and policies for the impact they might have on the UK, revealing potential issues and alerting these to the Government and Parliament for appropriate action to be taken.

European Scrutiny Committee Chairman Sir William Cash said,

“Up to now, we have little idea how these bodies created by the trade deal operate behind the scenes. Given the impact of the decisions they can make, it is critical that the UK Government has the right tools to influence them effectively. Tensions are high and solutions to outstanding issues, particularly on Northern Ireland, need to be delicately managed and directly play into the UK’s new trading relationship with the EU. For example, it is clear that the EU takes a different view on the interpretation and application of the Northern Ireland Protocol. A better understanding of the approaches of the UK Government, the EU, and the thoughts of affected stakeholders, would allow all concerned to make the most of our clean break from the EU and the opportunities that it offers.”

Scope of the Inquiry

If you are likely to be effected by the decisions of the bodies created by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement or have experience trying to have your voice heard on the issues covered by them, then the Committee wants to hear from you. Please send your submissions addressing any of the following issues to before 31 July 2021.

  • What are the most important powers of the Partnership Council and the different Specialised Committees and what could the practical impact of the exercise of these powers be?
  • How could the implementation of the TCA and the actions of the UK/EU joint bodies impact the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol annexed to the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement?
  • What structures does the TCA provide to develop or deepen areas of cooperation such as mutual recognition of professional qualifications?
  • What are the key features of the dispute resolution procedures provided for in the TCA, and what are the likely legal and policy implications of these for the UK? How closely do they follow precedent in other trade agreements and do they raise any concerns with respect to the UK’s regulatory autonomy?
  • How, ideally, should the transparency requirements around the meetings of UK/EU joint bodies, as set out in the TCA, be implemented both ahead of meetings and afterwards? How satisfactory are the requirements as currently set out in the Agreement?
  • How could the UK/EU TCA institutions be utilised by the UK and EU to raise and, where possible, address, concerns about legal and policy developments on the other side which are of importance to them respectively (e.g. for the UK, changes in EU regulation in key areas like financial services, pharmaceuticals and energy)?
  • What should the Government’s approach to representing the UK in meetings of the TCA’s joint bodies be? Should the Devolved Administrations be involved in discussions that relate to devolved competences? How should the Government ensure cross-departmental and cross-sectoral coordination of its positions in the various bodies established by the TCA?
  • How is the EU approaching the implementation of the TCA and the work of the joint UK/EU bodies, and what are the potential implications of its approach?

Further information

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