Skip to main content

UK–EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement: Meetings of Bodies

Volume 812: debated on Thursday 27 May 2021


Asked by

To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) which of the 24 bodies set up under the United Kingdom–European Union Trade and Cooperation Agreement met in May; and how many are anticipated to have met by the end of June.

My Lords, now that the trade and co-operation agreement has been ratified, its committees and other bodies can indeed begin their work. None has met so far, but we will agree the date for the first meeting of each of those bodies with the EU shortly. We expect most to meet before the summer break. We also expect to fix a date for the first partnership council meeting, which is likely to be in the first half of June.

My Lords, the TCA will be six months old at the end of June, and to hear of the lack of activity is dispiriting. Its multi-layered governance structure is incredibly important to getting the parties to iron out the problems, and to discussing the next layer down of the detail of the new relationship. Can the Minister tell the House by when all the bodies will have members appointed, and will he commit to publishing monthly basic statistics on the number of meetings taking place, to demonstrate activity?

My Lords, I agree that it is extremely important that all the bodies created under the trade and co-operation agreement should meet and work effectively. I can assure the noble Lord that there has been no lack of activity between me and my EU opposite numbers and our teams during this period, but I agree that it will produce stability when the committees are working properly. We will do everything we can to ensure that there is good transparency about meetings and what is discussed.

My Lords, when the Minister resumes partnership meetings with the EU, presumably the Northern Ireland protocol will be at the top of the agenda. Can he tell us what his response is to the remark by the President of the European Commission on Monday, that the protocol is the

“only possible solution to ensure peace and stability in Northern Ireland while protecting the integrity of the EU single market”?

As the co-architect of the protocol, does he accept responsibility for its consequences, which were widely predicted, and which now seem to trouble him, too, so much?

My Lords, the question of the Northern Ireland protocol will, I am sure, be on the agenda of the joint committee when that meets, which should be at approximately the same time—in the first half of June. We have noted the comments of the Commission president earlier this week. The protocol relies on the support of all communities in Northern Ireland, so it is disappointing that there was not more recognition by her of the impact that its operation is having there—but we continue the discussions and hope to be able to find pragmatic solutions.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many noble Lords are rather relieved that this plethora of committees remains inoperative? They are wholly disproportionate to a trade agreement, and we do not see the need for them, or for the expense of the caravan of secretariats that they will no doubt bring with them. Does my noble friend agree to make it an objective of British government policy in his current discussions that their number and scope of activity be radically reduced?

My Lords, I share my noble friend’s distaste for bureaucracy in all its forms, even though I have spent most of my life working in one. It is, unfortunately, a characteristic of international relations nowadays that there is a substantial bureaucratic component, and we have to work with that. I hope that the various committees that have been created will help us to resolve problems. I can reassure my noble friends that the bureaucracy is, at least, much less than when we were a member of the European Union.

My Lords, is it the Government’s objective, nevertheless, to get the full panoply of relations and committees working well, as we have to manage a very wide agenda of continuing close relations with the European Union? Do the Government have it in mind that they could take the Swiss option, as it were, and break the series of complex negotiations and treaties that they have with the EU—which, as he will know, the Swiss have just done?

The noble Lord is right, in that the trade and co-operation agreement is an extremely broad treaty, with a very wide agenda. That is why it requires so many committees to make it work. I can reassure him that it is certainly our objective to make sure that the committees work, and that they meet, if at all possible, before the summer break. We have already exchanged with the EU lists of chairs of the committees, and I am confident that we will move forward fairly quickly on all this.

Does my noble friend agree that if the trade specialised committee on SPS measures had been set up and had actually met, we might be in a better place as regards cross-border trade issues between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and between the UK and the EU? Will he endeavour to ensure that it meets at least once before the end of June, to resolve these issues?

My Lords, unfortunately, I am not sure that I agree with my noble friend that we would be in a significantly different position if that committee had met. There have been quite a lot of discussions on SPS issues in various contexts over the past few months, although the committee has not met formally, and we have not managed to find constructive agreements on that subject—although we keep trying. I am confident that the committee will meet before the summer break, and of course we continue to discuss these matters extensively with the EU.

My Lords, in negotiating the TCA, the UK Government succeeded in putting the UK’s extradition arrangements with the EU on a similar unbalanced footing to those with the US. We continue to extradite to the EU, but 20 EU countries will not extradite directly here. Are negotiations going on to try to rectify that?

My Lords, extradition arrangements were indeed the subject of quite a large part of the negotiations, and in our view—the Government’s view—the agreement that we reached with the EU deals with many of the defects that were present in the earlier European arrest warrant system. It is part of the standard way in which extradition arrangements work that member states can, in certain circumstances, refuse to extradite their own nationals, and some member states have made that clear. We continue to discuss this issue with the Commission and all the member states concerned.

My Lords, the multi-layered governance structure mentioned by the noble Earl is not the only thing that needs to be set up under the TCA. The civil society forum and the domestic advisory group are vital channels into Government, and the partnership council decisions. The UK cannot by itself set up the joint forum, but it can—and surely should—establish a domestic advisory group to feed into the forum. Can the Minister, who is responsible for getting this going, tell us the date when that will happen, and assure us that preparations go a little beyond what he referred to in his Written Answer to me this week—just to

“engage with business and civil society”?

I think it is time for action now.

My Lords, the TCA provides for a civil society forum. It has to be balanced between UK and EU business and civil society groups to discuss the implementation of the agreement. We are in touch with the EU about how this will work. We will work very much to facilitate its first meeting this year. We are engaging actively with business and civil society domestically, and I am happy to write to the noble Baroness about the detail of where that has got to.

Is the noble Lord making any progress on negotiating a new deal for the creative sector on touring in Europe? While he is thinking of a plausible answer to that, can he tell us whether, when he decided to reject the EU’s generous offer in the negotiations and throw touring musicians under a bus, he anticipated, is surprised by, or accepts any responsibility at all for the humiliation of our country scoring zero—nul points—in the Eurovision Song Contest?

My Lords, I am happy to accept responsibility for many things but I do not think I can reasonably accept that I affected the result on Saturday night. As regards creatives, of course we work to support all our creative industries in the situation that now prevails under the TCA. We made proposals in the negotiations that would have largely solved the difficulties faced by our great creative industries. The proposals made by the EU would not have done so, so we would be in this situation. We are now working as hard as we possibly can with the member states to establish the facts about visas and to support our industry in moving forward.