Lord Callanan, Minister of State for Exiting the European Union, has made the following statement:
I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) meeting in Brussels on Tuesday 20 March. The main items on the agenda were preparations for March European Council on 22 March and the European semester. Under any other business, the Commission provided an update on its dialogue with the Polish authorities over the rule of law in Poland.
A provisional report of the meeting and the conclusions adopted can be found on the Council of the European Union’s website at:
Preparation of the European Council on 22 March 2018
Ministers discussed draft council conclusions ahead of March European Council, which included: jobs, growth and competitiveness: trade; taxation; and external relations.
On jobs, growth and competitiveness, I supported calls for further ambition on the Single Market and Digital Single Market. Ministers also discussed climate action, social and economic issues and preparation for the EU-Western Balkans summit in May.
Discussions on trade focused primarily on recent US announcements on tariffs on steel and aluminium.
Deliberations on external relations included Turkey and the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March. I thanked member states for the solidarity and support shown and welcomed the inclusion of this item on the agenda at the March European Council. I informed Ministers that, at our invitation, experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had arrived in the UK on 19 March. I also called for a strong leader level statement which was clear on attribution and on building collective resilience.
The Commission updated Ministers on its ongoing dialogue with Poland regarding the rule of law and the triggering of Article 7 (1) of the Treaty of the European Union. Poland confirmed that it would submit its response to the Commission on 20 March. I intervened to stress the importance of continued dialogue between Poland and the Commission, with the best solution being one that is mutually agreed between them. I emphasised that the UK would not want to prejudge the outcome of that process. I reiterated that the UK places great importance on respect for the rule of law while recognising constitutional arrangements are primarily a matter for national governments, within the framework of international norms.