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EU (Future Relationship) Bill

30th December 2020

I was sorry, along with scores of other MPs, not to be called to speak on this vital but all too short debate.

However, with the deal on the Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU agreed, I think the vast majority of people across the continent, let alone Britain and indeed myself, heaved a sigh of relief. The practical and GDP negative implications of no deal were ultimately the greatest driver for a deal for both parties.

As a member of the Brexit Select Committee in the last Parliament, I constantly heard EU representatives and twice Mr. Barnier say that the UK could have either a Canada deal or a Norway deal, but no deal a la carte. In the event we very much got out own tailored deal with tariff and quota free trade at no cost to the UK. Given the timing, circumstances and red lines involved, I think this is a fair albeit limited deal and I shall vote for it to be approved.

However, this deal can only be seen as a work in progress rather than finality. There will be enormous administrative changes required to police the newly imposed non-tariff or regulatory burdens. Starting with 50,000 new customs officials and organising 260 million new customs declarations annually.

Given the likely upset bedding in challenges next year, I find it bizarre that the government intends to extend the recess by a week – MPs and Committees need to be here and on the case. Moreover, now that we are out of the EU forging our own path – how does it look and what example does it give for MP’s to extend their holiday?

I also foresee urgent demands for deals to be made with the EU in other areas vital for the 80% of our economy hardly catered for in this deal – namely services, tech development, media business, creative sectors and mutual recognition of professional qualifications. These sectors are where our future lies and must not be seen as the poor relations of manufacturing. Let me add to the list, data adequacy regulations allowing for the transfer of personal data from the EU and also a fair and tailored equivalence regime for our financial services.

Regulation that is wrong or that is excessive or duplicated will drag down our economy. This deal does not adequately deal with regulation. There are EU regulatory bodies and schemes where either the UK should apply to join them because we have no interest in divergence. Aircraft regulator EASA for example. Or alternatively where we should create strong links as non-members of the EU regulatory body to minimise cost and time wasting for companies wishing to be regulated in the UK and the EU. One example would be the European Firearms Pass that allows EU citizens and those of some non-EU countries to freely move their sporting guns around Europe. With one document in the same language it provides faster, more certainty and also more security and we have nothing to lose and much to gain by re-joining the EFP system.

Also a work in progress is how we scrutinise our relationship with the EU on an ongoing basis. Given that roughly half our trade is still with the EU and given also the significant potential penalties that could arise from divergence we will need to review to what extent we need to spend more on diplomatic and lobbying services to monitor what is going on in Brussels. Also to attempt to sway, from the outside, decisions on regulations to the advantage of the UK. In Switzerland, for instance, every new law has to have a statement saying to what extent there is divergence from EU law. Of course, our exporters will still be just as affected by new EU regulations even if the UK does not initiate the divergence – so this issue will not just go away.

Under this TCA deal there will be a Partnership Council supervised jointly by an EU Commissioner and a UK Minister and with a moving secretariat between Brussels and the UK. Their deliberations can be in secret and their decisions will bind both parties.

Ministers will need to explain how this Committee will report within UK government and also how parliamentary scrutiny of this Committee will work?
If Brexit was about returning sovereignty to the UK, then giving up national powers to secretive committees should only be exercised with caution and proper scrutiny arrangements.

This leads me on to wider scrutiny questions of trade deals. Many have complained that there is too little time to scrutinise this deal before its signature and the Lords Constitution Committee yesterday has requested the Bill be subject to post legislative scrutiny. I agree – but let’s be clear that under our existing rules, UK legislators have no right to a vote on trade deals before they are signed, in a way that EU, US, Japan legislators do have such a right.

Whilst we can argue that this deal is unique, the reality is that most Free Trade Agreements end up being finalised at the eleventh hour. This means that if we want to have certainty for proper scrutiny for future deals, we need to legislate to ensure that proper and timely scrutiny processes are applied. The current system is random and inadequate and our opportunity to change this exists in the Trade Bill shortly to return to the House.

Jonathan Djanogly

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