Countdown to Brexit: 16 days – “Beyond Brexit: how to win friends and influence people”

Whilst MPs today hold their indicative votes today – a Parliamentary report analyses the governance arrangements for future UK-EU cooperation.

“Beyond Brexit: how to win friends and influence people” assumes that a ‘deal’ will ultimately be reached, and addresses the need to find new lines of communication and influence - that will be “even more acute in the event of a no-deal”.

Key findings

The report finds that: “paradoxically, the UK will need to devote significantly more resources to lobbying and engaging with the EU Institutions after Brexit, if it is to ensure an effective relationship with its most significant trading partner”. 

The principal formal means of inter-governmental dialogue after Brexit is a proposed ‘UK-EU Joint Committee’.  Key success factors for the Committee include: the frequency of meetings; its remit; the need for senior representation; a mutual commitment to dialogue; and effective accountability for the significant powers it will exercise.

The report outlines Parliament's role in scrutinising: those EU laws that will continue to apply to the UK; the formal governance mechanisms including the Joint Committee; and the future relationship negotiations.  

The Committee stresses the vital importance of maintaining inter-parliamentary dialogue with the European Parliament; the national parliaments of EU countries; and the devolved legislatures.

Once the UK is no longer in the European Union it immediately stops participation in the many EU’s institutions.  Given the commitment of both sides to establishing an “ambitious, broad, deep and flexible” future partnership - both the UK and the EU need to take steps to re-establish effective channels of communication and cooperation after the fraught Brexit negotiations.

The Committee identifies three key elements to this future relationship:

  1. First, the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration contain governance mechanisms to provide a structure for future dialogue that is likely to persist in any deal that is agreed.  The Joint Committee, and the Specialised Committees that report to it, will be the principal ‘formal’ means of UK-EU inter-governmental dialogue after Brexit takes effect.  Their effectiveness will depend on the frequency of their meetings, the flexibility of their remit, senior political representation on both sides, and a mutual commitment to effective communication, appropriate powers, and full accountability.

  2. Second, there are ‘less-formal’ means by which the UK may seek to exercise influence on the EU institutions and Member States.  These include UK interaction with EU agencies, UK participation in EU programmes and other areas of cooperation, the evolving role of the UK Representation to the EU, the work of other Brussels-based UK offices and organisations, the role of the devolved administrations, and strong bilateral dialogue with EU Member States.

  3. Third, the UK Parliament has a key role.  This has four components:

    • Parliament should continue to scrutinise EU legislative proposals;.

    • It should engage with and examine the work of the governance and institutional mechanisms established under the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration;

    • It should monitor and scrutinise the negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship;

    • It should engage in enhanced ‘inter-parliamentary dialogue’ with the European Parliament, EU Member State national parliaments, and the devolved legislatures.

Post-Brexit, the UK will inhabit a different world.  It will need to adapt quickly and work harder and more strategically to make use of all available tools to maximise its voice in Brussels and beyond. This will require a long-term commitment of time, financial and human resources.

The current uncertainty is acute - but one way or another, and sooner or later - it will end.  Government, Parliament and the EU all need to think carefully and start preparing now for what follows.

Background – Summary findings and recommendations

Governance of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration

  • Under the Withdrawal Agreement, there is a “sudden removal of the UK’s institutional privileges” given that all EU law will apply to the UK during this period.  The UK will inevitably have less influence over the EU institutions and their deliberations during the transition period.  It is “incumbent on the Government to take advantage of those limited opportunities that remain” to maximise the UK’s influence with the EU institutions.

  • The new governance mechanisms envisaged under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland would mark a significant development in the inter-institutional structure governing relations between Northern Ireland and Ireland.  These structures are among the most well-defined of the inter-institutional mechanisms set out in the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.  They will also be supported by particularly intensive dialogue.  The Joint Consultative Working Group will meet monthly.

  • The Government’s commitment to ensure that the Northern Ireland Executive will have a role in relation to the Specialised Committee within the Joint Consultative Working Group is “welcome”.  The Committee urges the Government to go further and consider how large and small businesses, employee representatives and civic groups can contribute to the work of the new structures - and in particular the work of the Joint Consultative Working Group.

  • The Committee’s earlier report on devolution highlighted the “delicate equilibrium” established by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement - and urged all sides not to weaken this equilibrium or the confidence of both unionist and nationalist communities in the political process.  “We note with concern the perceptions of a lack of democratic accountability within the new inter-institutional structures envisaged under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland”.

  • The Committee notes the Government’s assurances and commitments to Northern Ireland and its integral place in the United Kingdom.  They “urge all sides to engage in continued dialogue to ensure that the new institutions secure the democratic legitimacy that they will need if they are to function effectively”.   They underline the “urgent need to re-establish the power-sharing institutions of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive”.

  • The Committee welcomes the proposal to establish a Specialised Committee on the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus.

  • They call on the UK Government to confirm that the Government of Gibraltar will fully participate in - and where appropriate lead - the work of the Specialised Committee on Gibraltar and associated coordinating committees.

  • Further details are needed on the structure and governance of the negotiations on the future relationship - although the Political Declaration proposes specific strands on: an economic partnership, a security partnership, institutional and other horizontal arrangements.

  • The commitment to a high-level conference at least every six months is welcome.  However, it is unclear who will lead the UK negotiations on the future relationship.  The EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, will lead the Commission’s future relationship negotiating team.

  • The proposals are noted for intergovernmental dialogue at summit, ministerial, official and technical level as part of the governance of the future UK-EU relationship.

  • The effectiveness of the Joint Committees envisaged under the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, and the bodies that will report to them, will depend on:

  • Frequency of meetings; Remit; Senior representation; Commitment to dialogue; Powers; and Accountability.

 Other inter-institutional mechanisms

  • The UK has made a significant - and in many areas leading - contribution to the work of EU agencies during the period of its EU membership.  This contribution will stop following Brexit.  While we welcome the commitments to future UK participation in and cooperation with certain EU agencies, the terms of such engagement are ill-defined.  It is questionable whether the extent of UK participation that is envisaged will be sufficient to ensure that UK interests are represented and fully taken into account.

  • The Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration set out a complex but imprecise picture of potential future UK-EU cooperation across a range of policy areas.  Without this detail, it is uncertain they will be sufficient to serve the UK’s national interest.

  • There is a commitment to continued UK-EU cooperation including: the G7, the G20, NATO and the United Nations, in relation to climate change, sustainable development, cross-border pollution, public health and consumer protection, financial stability, the fight against trade protectionism, and the promotion of international peace and security. The UK must gear up to continue to make a strong contribution to international dialogue in these arenas.

  • The UK is presently has a team that influences the EU institutions and Member States – the ‘UK Representation to the EU’  (UKRep).  Post-Brexit, UKRep will need to refocus to “no longer being in the room, and losing the benefits of automatic access to information and the formal and informal dialogue with the EU institutions and Member States that membership brings”.  UKRep’s new status as a third country mission will present a different set of diplomatic challenges.  The experience of other third countries suggests that the UK Government will: “paradoxically, need to enhance its diplomatic presence in Brussels post-Brexit, and ensure that its officials are equipped with a different set of skills”.

  • The ability to exert influence post-Brexit must not be limited to the UK Government.

  • The UK must establish a network of Brussels-based UK offices for organisations as a means of sharing expertise and seeking to coordinate their work.

  • The UK Government should assume overall responsibility for formal inter-institutional dialogue with the EU institutions as set out under the Withdrawal Agreement. The devolved administrations must be involved whenever their interests - or competences and technical expertise could be brought to bear.

  • Devolved administrations must be integral to negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship. The devolved administrations need to reciprocate by playing a constructive role in the negotiations in the interests both of their own nations and regions, and of the UK as a whole.

  • The Government must ensure that it continues to take into account and represent the interests of Gibraltar, the other Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies in relation to the negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship.

  • The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s must revitalise bilateral links with EU Member States – increasing resourcing of diplomatic missions across Member State capitals.

  • UK-Irish relations are too important to be put at risk by Brexit.  The Committee welcomes the commitment of both the UK and Irish Governments to developing that relationship post-Brexit, and to considering proposals for regular ministerial and official-level exchanges, including regular inter-governmental meetings.

  • The UK-Ireland bilateral relationship is uniquely close.  There could be merit in applying aspects of this model to other key bilateral relationships with EU Member States.

Inter-parliamentary relations and the role of Parliament

  • Under the terms of Withdrawal Agreement, if Parliament votes to accept it - during the transition period the UK will continue to be bound by EU laws - including new laws as they come into force.  UK Ministers will no longer be able to vote on new EU laws, but some form of continuing parliamentary scrutiny of those laws will be essential to maintain transparency - and to draw significant changes to the attention of Parliament and the wider public prior to their implementation in domestic law. 

  • The UK Government has committed to provide the scrutiny Committees of both Houses of Parliament with relevant documentation and Explanatory Memoranda on new EU legislative proposals during the transition period.

  • The terms of the future UK-EU relationship will determine the extent to which it will be necessary to scrutinise EU legislation after the end of the transition period.  The Government has already committed, for instance, to providing Parliament with a mechanism to consider whether the UK should align with future EU employment and health and safety rules.

  • The Government has offered no detail on how it will be accountable to Parliament for the work of the Joint Committee and Specialised Committees.

  • A new mechanism should be adopted to enable either House of Parliament to require the Government to: a) raise concerns about specific EU legislative proposals which may have a detrimental impact on the UK; and b) place a particular issue on the agenda of the Joint Committee (or a Specialised Committee) for discussion.

  • In order to facilitate effective scrutiny, the Government should: a) ensure that meeting schedules and agendas are made available in sufficient time for Parliament to consider; b) formally deposit draft decisions, recommendations or proposed changes by the Joint Committee to the Withdrawal Agreement; and c) undertake that a Minister will appear in person before the Scrutiny Committees in advance of Joint Committee.

  • The Government has committed to ensure more effective oversight of the Government’s negotiating position as it develops - in particular through Parliamentary committees.  It must in turn take those views into account and respond in a timely manner to any formal recommendations made by committees.

  • The Government proposes a parliamentary engagement group on alternative arrangements to replace the backstop solution in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

  • The Political Declaration proposes a complex web of future UK interaction with EU agencies and programmes.  Effective and proportionate parliamentary scrutiny of these interactions will be vital.

    • The Political Declaration allows for the establishment of a dialogue between the European Parliament and the UK Parliament.  The Committee proposed the following five principles:

    • Of the two models set out under the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, a UK-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee would be preferable;

    • Such a mechanism should be established as soon as possible after UK withdrawal, and - assuming that both sides’ objective of concluding an Association Agreement is confirmed - the establishment of a Joint Parliamentary Committee should not wait for negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship to be completed;

    • The UK delegation should include equal representation of the two Houses;

    • In the case of the House of Lords delegation, we believe that there is a strong case for its membership to include representatives of any committee with responsibility for scrutiny of future UK-EU relations;

    • The House should consider mechanisms to engage the devolved legislatures in the work of the delegation.

  • Alongside formal mechanisms for inter-parliamentary dialogue, informal contact between MEPs and UK parliamentarians will be important in order to build the foundations for continuing bilateral Westminster-European Parliament dialogue in the years to come.

  • Bilateral inter-parliamentary dialogue will become even more important post-Brexit.

  • Given the scope and complexity of the forthcoming negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship, dialogue between the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures on the nature of that relationship should continue to be strengthened.

  • There will be an important role for Committees in scrutinising future UK-EU relations, particularly in the following areas:

    • Scrutiny of negotiations on the UK-EU future relationship;

    • Scrutiny of EU legislative proposals during the transition period (and possibly beyond);

    • Scrutiny of the formal UK-EU governance mechanisms set out in the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration; and

    • Enhanced inter-parliamentary dialogue within the EU with the European Parliament, EU national parliaments and (in the context of future UK-EU relations) the devolved legislatures.

  • A designated committee should scrutinise negotiations with third countries - and any agreements that emerge from those negotiations.  For instance extending scrutiny on International Trade once the UK is an EU ‘third country’.

  • There is a strong case for the European Union Committee - or a successor committee - to be appointed in the new parliamentary session with a remit to undertake all the EU-related scrutiny tasks that we have identified in a coordinated manner.

  • In the post-Brexit environment, the National Parliament Office in Brussels should be maintained.  We urge Parliament to take this issue forward in dialogue between the European Parliament, the House of Commons and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

  • There are still major uncertainties about post-Brexit UK-EU inter-institutional relations.  Many of the findings and conclusions of this report are made on the assumption of a deal being reached.  Should the current uncertainty about the outcome of the Brexit process persist, then these assumptions may shift.  Nevertheless, the risk of any further delay in determining and planning for the post-Brexit framework outweighs that of being overtaken by events.


John ShuttleworthComment