Wed. May 18th, 2022

Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Ellis addresses UK and EU Parliamentarians at the inaugural meeting of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly

Introduction

I am delighted to be here at this inaugural meeting of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, which of course couldn’t come at a more critical moment for European democracy.

This forum is an important part of the governance that supports the new UK-EU relationship, but it is also a link between democratic representatives and the people that we serve. I hope that the following couple of days will provide an opportunity for Parliamentarians across the English Channel to exchange ideas on how we can get the most out of our new relationship – to the benefit of course of our respective citizens and businesses. Ukraine

Because right now, in Europe, as we all know, there is another parliament which has continued to meet even as rockets and artillery shells fall around it.

And today, members of Ukraine’s Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, are representing fellow Ukrainians and carrying out the functions of Ukrainian democracy.

They have continued to meet throughout Russia’s illegal invasion, even as Russian troops occupied the outskirts of the capital Kiev, even as their members trained to use weapons to defend their city. So it is all the more vital that our collective support for Ukraine – parliament to parliament, has been included on the PPA’s agenda.

The European Parliament’s resolution on the 1st of March, calling for defensive weapons for Ukraine and punitive sanctions against Moscow, led the call on many of your governments to act. The UK Parliament has also been united in support of our action on Ukraine, and the UK has worked closely with the EU to take that action, including:

  • six waves of punitive sanctions against the Russian economy, cutting off funding for its war effort;
  • military, humanitarian and economic assistance for Ukraine; and
  • measures to reduce our reliance on Russian hydrocarbons.

These are significant steps, but we must be prepared to go further. And the UK will be working with our international partners to ensure freedom and democracy are strengthened through a network of economic and security partnerships around and across the globe.

Trade and Cooperation Agreement

While Putin has sought to sow division among Western alliances, the war in Ukraine has instead drawn the UK and EU together. That is welcome after the inevitable strains which the change in constitutional relationship brought since 2016. We see the EU as an essential partner in a global alliance of shared values – and we want success for the Union and we hope the EU wants that for us too.

And our Trade and Cooperation Agreement has now been operating for a year and a half. And our economic relationship is generally working well. The TCA – the world’s largest zero-tariff, zero-quota FTA – is helping businesses adjust to the new commercial environment.

And the governance of the TCA is running smoothly. The Partnership Council, and all of the Specialised Committees, successfully convened last year. And through these channels, we have ensured effective implementation of the agreement and we’ve engaged in technical discussions on matters ranging from intellectual property to road transport.

And where we have identified issues regarding compliance for example, or opportunities to reduce unnecessary barriers to trade – such as EU import restrictions on SPS products or the VAT and debt protocol – we have used these committees to formally register our concerns.

And some positive steps have also been taken by both sides outside of the structures of the TCA. Data adequacy decisions have been adopted for example.

We have concluded bilateral aviation agreements on all-cargo rights with 19 EU Member States.

And the UK as COP president continues to engage closely with Commission Executive Vice-President Timmermans on climate change priorities.

And while these positive steps are welcome, we have also faced some challenges on the TCA. And it’s right to say that two stand out in particular.

We are deeply disappointed that the EU countries continue to delay formalising the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe (and Copernicus, Euratom Research and Training). There is no practical reason for this delay – the EU is not fulfilling the commitments they made when the TCA was agreed. It is frankly disheartening that a number of countries have now successfully associated to Horizon, including for example Israel and Kosovo, while the EU continues to delay the UK association. And this is purely political – the EU have drawn links to the Northern Ireland Protocol, an entirely separate issue. And the EU’s approach is putting long term collaboration – on what are shared challenges – at risk.

Now we have done literally everything that is required on our side – all that is required is for the EU to complete its formal processes, and to give its delegates in the Specialised Committee a mandate to agree to adopt draft Protocols that were agreed under the TCA. The UK stands ready to become a significant financial contributor to Horizon, and that would be for the benefit of UK and EU scientists, researchers and business alike – and it is the EU which is preventing this.

Now, the greatest challenges we face, like tackling global pandemics, reaching net-zero or finding new sources of energy, they all require cooperation across our borders.

Whatever our other disagreements, holding back the ability of UK and EU scientists to work together benefits no one and sends an unfortunate message about the politicisation of cooperation, which risks making it harder frankly for third countries to rely on cooperation with the Union. So we continue to press the EU to resolve this issue, but have been clear that we cannot wait forever; we will be ready to deliver domestic alternatives. Now the second area, we need to accelerate the development of new efficient electricity trading arrangements which were due to come into force last month. The UK has set out its significant concern about these delays and remain clear that we expect this work to proceed at pace. Efficient electricity trading will catalyse the development of renewables in the North Sea – supporting our shared net zero ambitions and plans to reduce reliance on Russian hydrocarbons.

So I welcome the fact that both of these points will be considered by the PPA over the coming two days. And Her Majesty’s Government will consider carefully any recommendations this forum may wish to put to the Partnership Council.

Withdrawal Agreement

Now the UK and EU have worked closely together on implementing the Withdrawal Agreement since 2020 of course, and there have been positive examples of good cooperation, including on agreements related to the Sovereign Base Area in Cyprus and in Gibraltar.

Citizens’ Rights continue to be a priority for the UK Government. We take our obligations very seriously and we have implemented the arrangements we agreed under the Withdrawal Agreement and we have done so in good faith. The EU Settlement Scheme has been an overwhelming success, with over 6.5 million applications and almost 5.8 million grants of status made so far. The Government’s approach to the Settlement Scheme is long standing and there is no ‘legal uncertainty’ for EU citizens in the UK. Whilst cooperation with the EU has been constructive, the UK continues to hold some concerns. Outstanding issues include ongoing reports of UK nationals facing difficulties accessing their rights in declaratory Member States, non-compliant resident processes, insufficient safeguards and a lack of detail on appeals processes. These issues are having a concrete impact on the lives of UK nationals in Member States, and we call on the EU to take proactive and immediate action to resolve those issues.

On Northern Ireland, our overriding priority has been, and continues to be, preserving peace and stability. The situation as it stands, following the election, is clearly undermining the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and creating an unacceptable situation in Northern Ireland.

Peace in Northern Ireland is based on respect between all communities, and it’s based on the consent of those communities – current arrangements with the EU are undermining that. We will not allow this to continue, we must fix the domestic impact of the Protocol, we must stabilise the situation in Northern Ireland and form an Executive – thereby protecting the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.

The current situation with the Protocol is not working – it has created a two tier system where people in Northern Ireland are not treated the same way as everyone else in the UK.

I want to take this opportunity to be clear about a few things. Firstly, we have never actually proposed scrapping the Protocol and we do not intend to – because there will always have to be a treaty governing the UK-EU relationship in respect of Northern Ireland. However we do need to see significant changes to it. We believe in the founding objectives of the protocol – to protect the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, to ensure Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the UK and the UK internal market, and to provide assurance to the EU that the single market is protected. But clearly, in its current form, the Protocol is not delivering on those internal objectives.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, we have engaged in negotiations with the European Union in good faith. Vice President Šefčovič has tried to find solutions within the narrow mandate he has been given. But I regret to say that it is our clear view that the European Union’s proposals would take us backwards from where we are today. It’s therefore hugely disappointing that the EU have confirmed that they will never change their mandate, and because of that, the situation is now very serious.

We have gone out of our way to ensure none of our proposals risk undermining the integrity of either the EU or the UK’s single market. We have created new systems to provide the EU with commercial data they have been asking for – giving them confidence no goods are being smuggled into either market.

And we will continue to talk with the EU, but we will not let that stand in the way of protecting peace and stability in Northern Ireland. As both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made clear, we will take action to protect the Belfast Good Friday Agreement if solutions cannot be found.

Conclusion

From the Palace of Westminster to the Verkhovna Rada – many parliament buildings across Europe, ladies and gentlemen, have been repaired or rebuilt from damage in wartime. This building here stands as a testament to the peace Europe has largely enjoyed for most of our lifetimes.

As that peace is threatened by Putin, and it is all the more vital that parliamentarians work together in defence of our shared democratic values.

Whilst these past years have not been easy for UK-EU cooperation – perhaps unavoidably so – I think these recent months have been a reminder that there is a bigger picture. And in that geopolitical bigger picture the UK and EU are not only natural, but we’re essential partners.

We will, of course, have differences of view, as we do today on the Northern Ireland Protocol, where we are asking the Union as friends and allies to understand our primary responsibility to protect the peace and stability of our country. But there is far more that does and should unite us.

And I very much hope that this inaugural meeting of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly can make progress on these issues, and show that we elected representatives can be the driving force of a new era of UK-EU partnership. To benefit all of the people we proudly represent. Thank you very much.

Published 12 May 2022

Source – UK Government: Speech: Address to the Inaugural UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly

 


Remarks by Vice President Šefčovič at the first meeting of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly

Brussels, 12 May 2022

Honourable Chair Loiseau,

Honourable Chair Heald,

Honourable Minister Ellis,

Honourable Members of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly,

Let me start by echoing the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, and pay tribute to the legacy of the late Right Honourable Lord PLUMB and his commitment to European democracy, having even been President of this House.

Honourable Members,

I am very glad to be here today at the first meeting of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.

The establishment of a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly was something that we pushed for very strongly during negotiations on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and so I am indeed delighted to see it become operational.

Allow me to start by looking at the overall picture of EU-UK relations.

We are partners with shared values and must continue working together to tackle global challenges, not least Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Our objective is to have a stable and positive EU-UK relationship based on the international agreements we both agreed, signed and ratified.

And we must be frank – given the current position of the UK government on the Protocol, we are not where I would like our relations to be.

Let us recall that we have first settled the EU-UK separation via the Withdrawal Agreement – of which the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is an integral part – and then agreed the framework for our future partnership – the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

No future partnership without an orderly withdrawal.

This policy has guided us since 2016 – and we have always had full support from this House and from all Member States for this approach.

These two agreements were ratified by parliaments in both the EU and the UK.

The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is the only solution that “squares the circle” between Brexit – at least the form of Brexit chosen by the UK – and the situation on the Island of Ireland.

This solution was agreed with the UK government.

Its implementation is a priority and precondition for a constructive bilateral relationship.

Trust and confidence are built by adhering to international obligations.

For an understanding to be reached on the implementation of the Protocol between the EU and the UK, there are two necessary components.

First, the EU and the UK must work together to address the practical problems that the Protocol creates in Northern Ireland due to Brexit.

We all know that the implementation of the Protocol has not been without challenges.

On our side, we have always sought practical and durable solutions to legitimate issues raised by people and businesses in Northern Ireland, all within the framework of the Protocol.

Amongst others, the EU have solved the medicines issue in record time.

The EU has proposed an express lane for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, for goods that will be consumed there. We have proposed to dramatically simplify these processes, for instance insisting on the minimum customs data that we need so as to assess whether the goods actually stay in Northern Ireland.

These ideas are unprecedented.

They are testament to the EU’s commitment to certainty and predictability in Northern Ireland.

Our UK counterparts have however not met us halfway.

And that brings me to a second component without which all the solutions in the world will be insufficient: the political will to make the Protocol work.

From the moment the Withdrawal Agreement was ratified, we have seen the first internal market bill, unilateral grace periods, the Command paper, and now, in all likelihood a second internal market bill.

At the same time, the UK is yet to deliver on all its fundamental obligations under the Protocol – such as providing us with access to IT databases, not only on paper but also in practice, so that the EU can protect its single market.

Let me recall that this February we proposed an ambitious calendar to discuss again a whole range of topics in detail – to find practical solutions. However, there has been no engagement at all on these issues from the UK the last couple of months.

The UK has simply not taken the opportunity to explore fully with us the potential of the flexibilities the Commission has presented.

Honesty about what the UK signed up is needed. Honesty about the fact that the EU cannot solve all the problems created by Brexit and the type of Brexit that the UK government chose.

That is the reason for which the position of the EU has been consistent: we will not renegotiate the Protocol.

The EU is united in this position.

Unilateral action, effectively disapplying the Protocol, is not a solution for the way forward.

Only joint durable solutions will answer the needs of people and businesses in Northern Ireland and bring the long-term legal certainty and predictability they ask for.

The Commission stands ready to continue working in this vein – because our ultimate goal is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions. We urge the UK will do the same.

And hope you will repeat this message and bring it back home.

Let me now turn to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which has been in force now for more than one year.

In 2021, we held initial meetings of the joint bodies under the TCA, including the Partnership Council and 19 committees.

I co-chaired the first meeting of the Partnership Council last June, which I remember took place in a constructive and collaborative atmosphere.

The past year has also seen the establishment of the EU’s Domestic Advisory Group, which consists of NGOs, business and employers’ organisations, and trade unions from across the EU.

This group has already met three times to discuss the implementation of the agreement.

And last week, the Partnership Council adopted by written procedure the operational guidelines for the Civil Society Forum.

We expect the first meeting of the Civil Society Forum to take place in June or early July, bringing together different civil society actors from across the EU and UK.

The establishment of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly means that all bodies foreseen in the TCA’s institutional framework are now up and running.

On substance, we have been closely following the implementation of the entire agreement,

from law enforcement and judicial cooperation to energy and social security coordination.

The areas of fisheries and the level playing field have required particular attention.

I think it is worthwhile underlining once again that the TCA is not – and can never be – a replacement for EU membership.

The UK chose to leave the Single Market, the Customs Union, and all EU policies.

As a result, trade is no longer as frictionless and dynamic as before.

The Commission has nevertheless been working, and will continue to work, to support the people and businesses most affected by Brexit across the EU.

Money from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve – which amounts to more than €5 billion – has already started to flow to the regions and sectors where it is needed most, helping businesses, workers and local communities.

Honourable Chairs,

Honourable Members,

To finish, let me thank you for your efforts to connect parliamentarians from the EU and the UK.

Notwithstanding the UK’s withdrawal, I am convinced that a stable and positive relationship, based on the international agreements we both signed and ratified, is in our mutual interest.

You have an important role to play in this.

At a time when Western unity is so important, we need cooperation and actions that strengthen this unity, not weaken it.

I look forward to hearing your views and I am happy to answer any questions you might have.

Thank you.

Source – EU Commission 

 


Statement by Vice President Šefčovič on the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland

I just held a phone call with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland. It continues to be of serious concern that the UK government intends to embark on the path of unilateral action.

This is despite a series of wide-ranging and impactful solutions proposed by the EU, based on our intensive engagement with all representatives in Northern Ireland. These proposals would substantially improve the way the Protocol is implemented. Most recently, in February, we proposed to the UK government an ambitious calendar for intensive discussions on the outstanding practical issues raised by people and businesses in Northern Ireland. We have made clear that there is still potential to be explored in our proposals. We are still awaiting the response from the UK side.

I am convinced that only joint solutions will work. Unilateral action, effectively disapplying an international agreement such as the Protocol, is simply not acceptable. This would undermine trust between the EU and UK as well as compromise our ultimate objective – to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions, while ensuring legal certainty and predictability for the people and businesses in Northern Ireland. Such unilateral action will also undermine the conditions which are essential for Northern Ireland to continue to have access to the EU single market for goods.

The EU and the UK are partners facing the same global challenges where upholding the rule of law and living up to international obligations is a necessity. Working side-by-side in a constructive manner is of utmost importance.

Source – EU Commission