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UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement

Volume 811: debated on Thursday 29 April 2021


Asked by

To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) what progress Her Majesty’s Government have made towards making arrangements for the (1) scrutiny, and (2) implementation, of (a) the United Kingdom and European Union Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and (b) the Partnership Council.

My Lords, I begin by welcoming the positive vote by the European Parliament yesterday to give its consent to the trade and co-operation agreement. This puts our relationship with the European Union on a fully firm footing for the future. We can now move on to making this new relationship work and Parliament will have an important role in that, of course. We are committed to facilitating parliamentary scrutiny of this new relationship, just as we do with other international agreements.

May I give a rather belated welcome to the Minister? I have been otherwise preoccupied for a little bit. Given that the deal is now ratified, will he now start setting up the civil society forum that is also part of the scrutiny and implementation of the deal? Equally urgently, given that seafood and meat exporters to the EU face substantial new non-tariff barriers with red tape and border checks, will he ensure that reducing that drastic outcome from the deal is a high priority for the Partnership Council, of which he is co-chair?

My Lords, the answer is yes as regards the civil society forum. We are considering how it should be established and will provide an update in due course. We are engaging with civil society in the usual way on TCA implementation matters. As regards seafood and, indeed, food and drink exports of all kinds, we are very much supportive of businesses’ efforts to deal with the situation that has arisen after we left the EU. We put forward a fund of £20 million for small and medium-sized enterprises to help them with this issue and are doing everything we can to support them.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests in the register. The noble Lord will be aware of the multiple difficulties now facing professionals in the creative industries who wish to work in Europe. If he needs reminding of the issue, perhaps I may recommend an excellent article in yesterday’s Times, under the headline “Our actors and musicians need help with Brexit red tape”. The Prime Minister indicated to the Liaison Committee on 24 March that he wanted the Government to help so, in that spirit, as we move into the next phase of our relationship with the EU, will the Government now negotiate with the EU a bespoke visa-waiver agreement for our brilliant creative industries?

My Lords, the Government are hugely supportive of our world-class creative industries, which contribute so much to the economy and to our national life. We put forward in the negotiation ambitious solutions to the issues that they faced. Unfortunately, the EU was not willing to reach agreement on them. We are now working energetically to see if we can work with our European friends bilaterally, with the aim of reducing the most difficult barriers to travel.

My Lords, will the Government share and discuss with parliamentarians in both Houses their plans, priorities and timetable for widening and deepening co-operation with the EU, whether on matters including mobility for professionals such as musicians—as has been mentioned—co-ordination on foreign policy issues, or easing red tape on food and seafood exports, as requested in a report today from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place?

My Lords, it is inevitable that there will be quite a large number of issues to be dealt with as a result of the new relationship between us and the European Union. The noble Baroness lists some of them. We will, of course, seek to deal with some of those issues in the Partnership Council as we go forward. We raised many of them during the negotiations but it was not possible to reach agreement.

My Lords, in welcoming the ratification of the trade and co-operation agreement this week, does my noble friend, like me, find it profoundly disappointing to be lectured once again by the President of the European Commission about commitments in what is an integral part of this United Kingdom? Does he agree that the time has now come for the Commission to engage in constructive dialogue and negotiation, rather than issuing threats, to ensure that the protocol does not work to the disadvantage of our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland?

My Lords, I of course agree with my noble friend. Northern Ireland is fully part of this United Kingdom, as the protocol makes clear. I agree that the best way forward would be for the Commission to continue the dialogue that it has begun with us in the hope that we can enable the protocol to be operated in a proportionate and pragmatic way. Those discussions are under way and there is some momentum in them but, unfortunately, significant differences remain and we will need to work those through in the weeks to come.

My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. I should like to explore with the Minister the issue of equivalence in food production standards, which have not changed since we left the European Union. Can we now assume that trade will be freed up as a consequence of yesterday’s decision?

My Lords, we made clear during the negotiations, and continue to make clear, that we would be ready to agree an arrangement with the EU based on equivalence. We believe that our standards of food security and biosecurity more generally are certainly equivalent. The EU was not willing to negotiate that issue last year but we remain open to discussing that this year if it would like to change its position.

My Lords, in the Minister’s responsibilities for oversight of domestic transition readiness, why have so many UK government departments, including his own, not fully completed and published the common frameworks that make up the new UK internal market? It is now four months since the end of the transition period with the EU internal market, and businesses, regulators and, most importantly, consumers wish to know exactly what is happening.

My Lords, the noble Baroness draws attention to an important issue that is central to how we operate the single market of the United Kingdom. We are in the middle of the process to which she refers but I will look into the matter and, if necessary, write to her.

Does the Minister agree that the parliamentary partnership assembly provided for in the TCA could play a critical role in ensuring that parliamentarians at Westminster and Stormont can engage with the European Parliament, which remains a co-legislator in Northern Ireland on single market issues? Given their power of initiative in both Houses, will the Government take the lead in ensuring that this partnership assembly is established as a matter of urgency, as recommended by the House of Lords EU Committee?

My Lords, we are of course very supportive of the dialogue between this Parliament and the European Parliament. We supported these provisions in the TCA. I am aware that discussions are taking place between parliamentarians here and Members of the European Parliament in Brussels. I look forward to briefing the House in due course on how those discussions will be taken forward; it is important that they now move forward quickly.

My Lords, on Tuesday, the European Commission issued a statement as part of the European Parliament TCA ratification process, with the Commission’s TCA scrutiny undertakings to Parliament. The statement said that

“the Commission will ensure that the European Parliament is immediately and fully informed of the activities of the Partnership Council, the Trade Partnership Committee, the Trade Specialised Committees and the other Specialised Committees established by the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement”.

It went on:

“The information concerns the briefing and debriefing before and after meetings of the joint bodies as well as sharing all documents pertaining to meetings of these joint bodies”.

When will the Government commit to equivalent arrangements for this House?

My Lords, I am aware that officials from my department are in discussion with officials from the noble Lord’s committee. Our intention is that our proposals for scrutiny arrangements for the partnership council will mirror those for the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee as far as possible. This includes routine oral and written updates to committees, ministerial Written Statements before and after meetings, and the sharing of provisional agendas. We will also share meeting agendas for the specialised committees. Of course, this is a broad agreement, and many Ministers and committees will be involved in its scrutiny. We wish to take that forward in the most constructive way possible.