My Lords, the date for the second meeting of the Partnership Council has yet to be confirmed. The first Partnership Council met on 9 June last year; it marked an important milestone in standing up the trade and co-operation agreement governance structures. The agenda for the next meeting will be agreed with our EU counterparts. We will push hard to ensure that priority issues for the UK are discussed and our interests are protected.
If this means that the Minister has replaced the noble Lord, Lord Frost, I welcome him to his new position; he is saying, “No fear”, so I thank him at least for answering the Question today. As we have passed the authority in both Houses to establish the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, the membership of which is due to be announced very shortly, can he give us an undertaking that our Foreign Secretary, as co-chair of the Partnership Council, will report both before and after meetings of the council to the newly established Parliamentary Partnership Assembly?
I will certainly convey the noble Baroness’s message to the Foreign Secretary; I cannot make an undertaking on her behalf, but it certainly seems in the spirit of the approach she has taken of involving both Houses and maximum transparency.
My Lords, technically the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly will cover only the trade and co-operation agreement, yet some of the key issues between the UK and the EU are within the withdrawal agreement—not least Northern Ireland and, most importantly to MPs and Members of this House, UK and EU citizens’ rights. Will the Government sympathetically support the assembly extending its remit to the withdrawal agreement and those key areas?
My Lords, our relationship with the European Union hinges in many respects on issues yet to be resolved. The noble Lord mentioned two of them. Resolving issues around the Northern Ireland border is an absolute priority for the Government; likewise, issues around friction-free visa travel within the European Union and changes to border requirements are high on the agenda. His priorities are very much in sync with those of the Foreign Secretary.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the experience of the first year of operation of this council has shown that the very passive and rather negative approach to it—doing the least possible and having only the one statutory meeting required—has not so far delivered any very useful outcomes? Would it not be better if the new British chair of the council showed a more proactive policy towards it and, when items are to come up on the Partnership Council, started to shape up what decisions that might come out of it would be to our benefit?
My Lords, I am not sure I agree that we have taken an insufficiently proactive approach, but I certainly think the new Foreign Secretary has brought a particular level of energy to the task. The first meeting last year saw frank but constructive discussions on the TCA implementation; yes, a number of areas of disagreement were identified, but the process launched the governance and committee structures of the TCA and our commitment to dialogue and co-operation. I think it achieved the first goals that were set out.
My Lords, will my noble friend take this opportunity to update the House on meetings of specialist committees between the UK and the EU, particularly in areas such as fisheries, which are so key to our ongoing and future relationship with the EU in these policy areas?
I will try in due course to provide answers relating to other specialist committees, as the noble Baroness mentioned, but on fishing licences our approach has been and remains fully in line with our TCA obligations. We have said throughout the process that we have issued licences where we have received evidence of an entitlement. It is worth pointing out that the UK has issued over 1,800 licences to EU vessels seeking to fish in our waters.
My Lords, at the meeting of the Partnership Council on 9 June, sanitary and phytosanitary measures were discussed. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government intend to seek what is often called a veterinary agreement and whether there is any progress on that?
I am not able to give the noble Baroness any kind of detailed update on those discussions. I do not believe there is an update to provide, other than that those discussions continue. If there is more to provide, I will do so in writing.
My Lords, on 16 December, in answer to a question from my noble friend Lord Hannay, the noble Lord, Lord Frost, indicated that performing artists would be discussed at the next meeting. Little has been done to resolve the huge concerns of musicians touring in Europe; cabotage, for instance, has to be discussed at the TCA level. Will this be put on the agenda?
My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting the music sector to adapt to our new arrangements. We worked with DCMS to speak to EU member states about the importance of touring; 21 of them have confirmed that they offer visa and work permit-free routes for performers and other creative professionals. This includes most of the biggest touring markets, including Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
My Lords, before we left Euratom, EU representatives used to carry out external checks on the way in which we monitored emissions from UK nuclear sites. That no longer happens. It has not been replaced by another system. Can the Minister say, or find out, when the Partnership Council will discuss our post-Euratom radioactive substances status, an important policy area which intersects, as he will know, with the trade and co-operation agreement?
My Lords, much of the work the noble Baroness describes was conducted on the back of UK experience and expertise, neither of which have gone. On the precise relationship we will have with Euratom going forward, those discussions continue but I will see whether I can provide more of an update to her in due course.
My Lords, Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently highlighted that trade with the EU has declined sharply since 2019. Based on OBR figures, the prediction is that this reduction in trade post Brexit will reduce productivity in this country by 4%. What action will the Government take to address this? Will they finally admit that the promised benefits of the UK leaving the single market have not been realised?
My Lords, a number of factors—not least a Covid lockdown across Europe and businesses adjusting to our new trading relationship—have made inevitable the dip in exports to the EU that the noble Baroness describes. However, the Office for National Statistics has cautioned that it is impossible to identify the underlying causes, at least at this point, and that we should be careful not to extrapolate. In answer to the second part of her question, I say that the Department for International Trade will continue to work with businesses and business groups across all sectors and the whole country to make the export support service work as well as possible for businesses. As we set out in the 2025 UK Border Strategy, our ambition is to create the most effective border in the world.
Will my noble friend use the next meeting of the Partnership Council to point out to the European Union that Northern Ireland is now the only part of Europe in which laws are made for its people without any democratic mandate or input from them and that this situation is incompatible with its own EU Charter of Fundamental Rights?
My noble friend makes a hugely important point. I reiterate that our overall aim is to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol to resolve the undoubtedly significant issues that people in businesses in Northern Ireland face daily. The EU has recognised that the current arrangements do not work. Any solution must be underpinned by the commitments made in the Good Friday agreement.
My Lords, we have not yet heard from a non-affiliated Member, so we will do so now.
My Lords, it is hard to know how effective the partnership is, given that we have only had one of those meetings. We have another meeting at some point this year. It has not been scheduled yet, but we certainly expect it to happen. It would be easier to answer that question on the back of the results of that meeting.