EU Committee Report: Beyond Brexit: How to Win Friends and Influence People

The House of Lords EU Committee’s report on the UK’s influence on the EU after Brexit will be debated on 12 May 2020.

The House of Lords European Union Committee report, Beyond Brexit: How To Win Friends and Influence People, considered how the long-term relationship between the UK and the EU would be conducted following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The report was published in March 2019, following agreement between Theresa May’s Government and the EU of a draft withdrawal agreement and political declaration. At that point, the terms of the UK’s withdrawal had yet to be formally approved and the Government had faced a number of defeats in the House of Commons on its withdrawal agreement.

The committee concluded that the UK would lose influence in the EU as it would no longer participate in EU institutions. However, it noted EU law would continue to apply to the UK during the transition period to be established by the withdrawal agreement. The committee recommended the government take advantage of alternative methods of exerting influence on the EU both during and after the transition period. It identified the following three avenues through which the UK might be able to exert influence:

  • Through new “inter-institutional” bodies to be established under the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. This would include a joint committee and specialised committees established to govern implementation of the withdrawal agreement and act as forums for discussion between the UK and EU. The specialised committees would be formed to consider specific issues, including the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The political declaration also said that a separate joint committee on the future relationship between the UK and the EU should be established.
  • Through less formal arenas, such as UK interaction with EU agencies, UK participation in EU programmes and the UK’s diplomatic representation to the EU.
  • Through parliamentary scrutiny of these new UK-EU inter-institutional relations and through an interparliamentary dialogue with the European Parliament, EU member state parliaments, and the devolved legislatures.

The committee made a series of other recommendations. For example, the committee argued senior ministers should represent the UK on the joint committees established during and after the transition period. It asked the Government to clarify which senior ministerial postholder would be the lead UK representative on the joint committee on the withdrawal agreement. It argued the joint committee should meet more frequently than the once a year minimum set out in the withdrawal agreement. The committee also raised concerns regarding the transparency of the work of the joint committee on the withdrawal agreement and the specialised committees, arguing there were no provisions to ensure UK parliamentary oversight.

The Government’s response to the committee’s report was delayed. It was eventually published in January 2020. Writing to the Chairman of the EU Committee, the Earl of Kinnoull, the then Secretary of State for Leaving the EU, Steve Barclay, explained the Government did not want to respond to the report until it had secured its revised withdrawal agreement. The revised withdrawal agreement and political declaration were agreed between the UK and the EU in October 2019. The revised withdrawal agreement was formally ratified by both sides in January 2020. The revised withdrawal agreement also established a joint committee on the withdrawal agreement and specialised committees. Similarly, the creation of a joint committee on the implementation and operation of the future relationship was included in the revised political declaration.

In its response to the committee’s report, the Government said it would continue to promote UK interests in the EU during the transition period. On the issue of how frequently the joint committee on the withdrawal agreement would meet, the Government said it would meet as often as was required by the parties. It noted the withdrawal agreement said that, while there would be a minimum of one meeting a year, either party could request a meeting within 30 days. On the issues of representation and parliamentary scrutiny, the Government said it had committed to the UK co-chair of the joint committee being a minister and that minister would be accountable to Parliament. The joint committee would be co-chaired on behalf of the UK by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove. In a letter to a group of chairs of the House of Commons committees on 24 March 2020, Mr Gove said he intended to lay a written statement ahead of each meeting of the joint committee. He also said he would consider making an oral statement after each meeting on a “case by case” basis. 

Regarding the establishment of a separate joint committee on the future relationship, the Government said in its response to the committee the structure and operation of such a committee would depend on the nature of the future relationship negotiated with the EU.

Since the publication of the Government’s response to the committee’s report, the following developments have taken place: