The deal between the UK and the EU has not put an end to their talks. As negotiations will continue on a number of fronts, UK-EU parliamentary cooperation will be essential to ensure that citizens’ interests are taken into account. The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) sets out that the European Parliament and the UK Parliament may establish a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA) that would provide a forum for exchanges of views. It is still unclear whether and when a PPA will be created. As the TCA suggests, its establishment appears to be voluntary and at the discretion of the legislatures from both sides. So far, the parliamentary dimension within the overarching governance of the TCA has remained at an embryonic stage, leaving many questions unanswered. Yet the PPA would not be the only channel for parliamentary cooperation and other formats could develop.
To address these questions and outstanding issues, the Institute for the Study of European Laws (ISEL) at City Law School organised a webinar on ‘Post-Brexit UK-EU Parliamentary Cooperation: Whose representation?’ on 4 March 2021. The event was moderated by Professor Elaine Fahey, Jean Monnet Chair in Law & Transatlantic Relations at City, University of London, and gathered eminent speakers from the UK Parliament, the EU institutions and academia. This blog post reports and summarises the contributions, with a view to providing legal, political, diplomatic and institutional perspectives on the future of UK-EU parliamentary cooperation.
The first speaker, Dr. Davor Jančić, Senior Lecturer in Law at Queen Mary University of London, covered the national, bilateral and global aspects of parliamentary cooperation. Starting with the UK national perspective, Dr. Jančić argued that despite the guarantees on Britain’s right to regulate, the framework for regulatory alignment within the TCA means that the possibility to impose unilateral rebalancing measures would affect the UK Parliament’s freedom to act. In other words, the extent to which the UK Parliament will be able to fully exercise its sovereign legislative supremacy will to some extent depend on the use, or the possibility to use, the retaliation mechanism. A second point in relation to the UK level was the reform of parliamentary scrutiny, particularly relevant for the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and possible future amendments of the TCA, as well as for future international agreements with non-EU countries. A crucial element in this context would be the establishment of mechanisms for mutual regulatory impacts and continued access to information, to assess how EU law may affect UK law, and vice versa. As far as the bilateral level was concerned, Jančić referred to the governance structure of the TCA, especially warning against the far-reaching powers of the Partnership Council (PC), which include the possibility for it to take decisions and change the terms of the UK-EU relationship over time. At this level, it will be important to maintain transparency. The UK Parliament will have to think about other avenues of influence besides the PPA, such as by establishing a presence in Brussels and through participation in the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC), as well as by establishing bilateral relationships with national parliaments. On the global level, Dr. Jančić stressed how Brexit highlighted the importance of Parliament’s engagement with the wider world and the challenge of organising treaty scrutiny.
The second speaker was Claude Moraes, former Labour MEP for London and former chair of the EP LIBE Committee, and Research Associate at the City Law School. Claude Moraes emphasised how the the slogan of “taking back control” had materialised in the executive taking control, in the form of powers assigned to the Partnership Council established by the TCA. Given how powerful the PC is going to be, it will be crucial that scrutiny mechanisms are set in place. Claude Moraes expressed doubts about the future UK parliamentary scrutiny arrangements. On the EU parliamentary side, Claude Moraes was confident that the European Parliament would take action and strive to to scrutinise the work of the PC. For the PPA to exercise influence and effective scrutiny, it will be crucial for Parliamentarians to want to make it work and to focus on the decisions that the PC will take. There is no shortage of successful models of inter-parliamentary cooperation that the PPA should take inspiration from: from COSAC, to the Norway model, and above all the Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group (JPSG) on Europol. A successful PPA will also help to foster trust, which will be pivotal if the UK wants to be a global player.
The third speaker was Susanne Oberhauser, Head of European Parliament Liaison Office in the UK, who focused respectively on the European Parliament’s scrutiny powers at the implementation stage and on the future shape of joint scrutiny via the PPA. Susanne Oberhauser reported that a recurrent concern of the European Parliament in its examination of the TCA was to be able to exercise its institutional prerogatives at all stages of the implementation of the TCA. To this end, it posed a number of requests to the European Commission, demanding information, participation and consultation rights, particularly in relation to the work of the PC. As far as UK-EU joint scrutiny was concerned, Susanne Oberhauser stressed that the establishment of the PPA remained at the discretion of the parliaments on the two sides. The PPA could draw from a panoply of models, mostly to be found in Association Agreements with countries with which the EU seeks closer partnership and cooperation. An important aspect of the PPA, specific to the UK-EU relationship, was the demand from the European Parliament that the scope of the PPA included the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the possibility to take joint initiatives to promote close relations. Many technicalities of the PPA are yet to be determined, such as the composition, the relationship with national and devolved parliaments, the frequency of meetings and so on. Susanne Oberhauser was clear that establishment of the PPA will be crucial for democratic scrutiny in light of the dynamic and evolving nature of the TCA.
The fourth and final speaker was Lord Peter Ricketts, Crossbench Life peer and Chair of the EU Justice and Security Sub-Committee, who focused on on the changes about to take effect as a result of Brexit and on the latest developments on the UK Parliament side regarding the scrutiny of the TCA. Lord Ricketts recalled that all EU committees would disappear and would be replaced by a new structure, the EU Affairs Committee, taking the lead in the scrutiny of the PC and the governance areas of the TCA. The new body will have a sub-committee, which will focus on the Northern Ireland Protocol and in particular on the impact of EU law on the UK. Later in the discussion, Lord Ricketts expressed his concern about the Government’s approach to the devolved administrations, which will have to shout loudly for them to be heard by the Government. Regarding the PPA more specifically, Lord Rickett stressed the value of a forum that could invoke public opinion and public concerns, even in the absence of formal legislative function. For his part, Lord Ricketts reported on the enthusiasm in the House of Lords for the prospects of the PPA and for inter-parliamentary cooperation more broadly. Now that the UK has no longer access to the established EU-wide mechanisms, Lord Ricketts observed, dealing with EU counterparts and maintain a network of cooperation is going to be increasingly vital. This is the more so against a context where the TCA leaves many issues outside, which will be of great relevance for the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
Many questions remain on the future shape of the PPA and other formats of parliamentary scrutiny, domestically as well as bilaterally. The speakers at the webinar shed light on some of the key issues at stake that will require special attention going forward, as the UK-EU relationship evolves.
Isabella Mancini holds a PhD from City Law School, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 Network on EU Trade and Investment Policy, and recently completed a traineeship at the European Parliament Liaison Office in London. As of July, Isabella will be a Lecturer at Brunel University of London.
Link to the event https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMqiPriMmpU
For more information about research related to Brexit and EU Law, visit the City Law School Institute for the Study of European Law (ISEL) and its Jean Monnet Chair activities and events.
See also the latest blog, by Eva Pander Maat, on The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) as a building block of an ever-evolving relationship