Sat. Nov 26th, 2022

Brussels, 7 November 2022

Honourable Chair Loiseau, dear Nathalie,

Honourable Chair Heald, dear Oliver,

Right Honourable Minister Docherty, dear Leo,

Distinguished Members,

It is a pleasure to be here today, for the second meeting of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.

It has been six eventful months since we met for the first time – to inaugurate this Assembly, designed to connect parliamentarians from the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Europe as a whole finds itself at an historical turning point.

In the face of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, we need to collectively defend our values, including by maintaining our joint steadfast support for Ukraine.

Just the newest example on our part, the Commission will this week propose a substantial financial package of up to 18 billion euros in total to help cover Ukraine’s financing needs in 2023.

This comes on top of some 22 billion euros already provided by the EU, Member States and European financial institutions.

The strong economic headwinds, with rising energy and food prices as well as inflation across Europe, surely give another reason for strengthening our EU-UK collaboration.

As I have said on numerous occasions, the European Union seeks to have a strategic, enduring and mutually beneficial partnership with the United Kingdom – in full respect of our international agreements, notably the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

They were not only negotiated together, agreed, and ratified, but they also embody trust.

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And it is precisely a spirit of partnership and trust that the EU seeks in its engagement with our UK counterparts across the board – and the need for this spirit is perhaps most evident when it comes to the outstanding issues around the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

From the very beginning, the EU has shown genuine understanding for the practical difficulties on the ground, flagged to us by Northern Irish stakeholders.

This has not changed.

My team and I remain committed to working constructively and intensively on joint solutions, as only those can create the legal certainty and predictability that people and businesses in Northern Ireland need and deserve.

Here, I want to appreciate the contribution of my counterpart, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, with whom we restarted EU-UK engagement on the joint way forward at the end of September.

This is important, as the UK had not engaged in any meaningful discussions with us since February.

I believe that our respective positions are not worlds apart if we genuinely explore the EU’s robust proposals, aimed at simplifying and facilitating trade between east and west, while ensuring no hard border between north and south on the island of Ireland.

Just to give you an example: a lot has been said about “a UK’s green lane” versus “an EU’s express lane”.

The issue here boils down to “no checks” versus “minimum checks”, stemming from Brexit itself. Because we must acknowledge that Brexit did fundamentally alter trade on the island of Ireland.

Once goods enter Northern Ireland, there are no further checks whether – and if so, when – these goods continue to the EU’s Single Market.

But I want to ensure that the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is as seamless as possible, with almost all checks and controls effectively invisible – for instance, checking electronic data, while goods are sailing on a ferry from Great Britain and before they reach Northern Ireland.

That is, of course, if we have real-time and workable access to necessary IT databases, together with a minimum set of necessary data available to make an analysis of the risks possible and credible.

I am convinced that where there’s a will, there’s a way to find these joint solutions for the benefit of people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

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This is surely the moment to abandon recourse to unilateral action, such as the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, set to disapply core elements of the Protocol.

If this Bill were to become law, the UK government would put Northern Ireland’s unique access to the EU market of 450 million consumers at risk.

Is the UK government truly prepared to deprive Northern Ireland of this opportunity?

On top of it, unilaterally disapplying core parts of the Protocol would also have serious consequences for our trade relationship under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement – due to its fundamental link with the Withdrawal Agreement.

I have already mentioned today’s challenging times, marked by soaring energy prices and the high cost of living.

Any additional or persistent uncertainty is not going to help.

Instead, Northern Ireland could and should be fully exploiting its unique position of having access to both the UK’s internal and the EU’s Single Market – “the best of two worlds”, a magnet for business opportunities and foreign investment.

Moreover, in a couple of months, we will mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.

While appreciating the achievements of the past 25 years in terms of peace in Northern Ireland, I wish we could jointly look ahead and make the next 25 years about both peace and prosperity there.

All this should galvanize us into resolute action during what I see as a clear window of opportunity.

For my part, I will do my utmost to exploit it – also given the EU’s unwavering commitment to the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.

This landmark agreement remains the bedrock of our action, with the Protocol protecting the hard-earned gains of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

After all, the European Union is at heart a peace project itself.

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Turning to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which forms a good basis for a strategic relationship: I am glad to say that its nearly two-year implementation is going well.

Practically all institutional arrangements required by the TCA are in place.

Meetings of most of the Committees have already taken place this year, with some still to take place this November and December.

The EU Domestic Advisory Group, consisting of NGOs, business and employers’ organisations as well as trade unions from across the EU, has met several times to discuss the implementation of the agreement.

The Civil Society Forum, bringing together various civil society actors from both the EU and the UK, has also met for the first time.

On substance, we have been closely following the implementation of the entire agreement – from law enforcement and judicial cooperation to fisheries and energy. Monitoring the commitments related to level playing field has required particular attention.

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

Leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union has consequences. As a result, trade is no longer as frictionless and dynamic as before, resulting in additional cost for both UK and EU businesses.

This new reality may be regretted but needs to be accepted.

Looking ahead, the UK is entitled to diverge from the EU, if it wishes to do so. But more divergence will carry even more cost and will further deepen the barriers to trade between the EU and the UK.

As I have said before, more divergence means more friction and less trade – simple as that. And again, this in times of severe economic strains.

Having said that, I believe that we have a mutual interest in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement working well, for our mutual benefit.

After all, the European Union is the UK’s biggest trading partner, while the United Kingdom is the EU’s third biggest trading partner.

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Honourable Chairs,

Dear Minister,

Distinguished Members,

Last October, we saw an inaugural meeting of the European Political Community that brought together leaders from the EU and our close European partners, including the United Kingdom.

We indeed must use all our energy to build the kind of cooperation we need in today’s world.

Respecting our mutually agreed agreements – centred around trust – is an intrinsic part of it.

Many thanks for your attention.

I am now looking forward to hearing your views – especially in this House of Commons, which has seen so many lively debates on EU-UK relations.  And I am, of course, happy to answer your questions.

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