Parliamentary scrutiny and approval of the Withdrawal Agreement and negotiations on a future relationship

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The conclusion of a Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU27 and its accompanying Political Declaration on the framework for a future relationship will initiate a series of proceedings in Parliament which will need to be concluded by 29 March 2019, the date on which, under the terms of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, the UK becomes a third country. Even under the most optimistic scenario of full agreement at the October Council, Parliament will have barely more than fve months to consider a motion to approve both documents (the “meaningful vote”), to complete consideration of the Withdrawal and Implementation Bill, and of any delegated legislation and any other primary legislation required by exit day, and to complete procedures required under the Constitutional Reform and Governance act 2010 for treaty ratifcation. This Committee’s scrutiny of the deal will be important to the “meaningful vote”. The Secretary of State has committed to give evidence to us following the October Council and we would expect a similar commitment if fnal agreement is deferred to the December Council or an even later date. We will expect the Secretary of State to be prepared to give evidence to us as soon as practicable afer the Council at which any agreement is reached. We recommend the Government allow suficient time between the Secretary of State appearing before us to give evidence and the scheduling of the “meaningful vote” to ensure that we have the opportunity to report to the House, as appropriate, on the fnal deal. We note that the Institute for Government suggested that parliamentarians should be given two weeks at the very least to consider the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration before the debate is held. However, we recognise this timetable would need to be condensed in certain circumstances. The debate on the motion for approval of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration will be one of the most signifcant parliamentary debates in a generation. We note the precedent of fve days spent debating the motion to approve the UK’s decision to join the then European Communities in 1971. Five days would therefore be the minimum time that would be appropriate on this occasion. Notwithstanding the constraints of the Article 50 process, which sets out the procedures for a country exiting the EU rather than a country establishing a new relationship, the House of Commons will expect a high level of detail in the Political Declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement if it is to be able to give its approval to both. We call on the Government to seek the inclusion of the Political Declaration as an annex to the Withdrawal Agreement in order to give its contentes greater force. The section on the fnancial settlement in the text of the draf Withdrawal Agreement published afer the March Council was highlighted in green, indicating that it had been agreed in principle by both sides. Te UK’s agreement to pay the financial settlement estimated at between £35 billion and £39 billion will be legally binding under international law once the Withdrawal Agreement is ratifed by all parties concerned. The Withdrawal Agreement will be considered by the UK Parliament alongside a non-binding Political Declaration. A legally binding agreement on the UK’s future relationship can only be agreed once the UK is a third country. If the UK Government wishes to make the payment of the fnancial settlement conditional on reaching a binding agreement on the future relationship, it would need to secure the agreement of the EU27 to inserting text to this effect in the Withdrawal Agreement. We note that the Government has not yet secured a clause in the Withdrawal Agreement linking the fnancial settlement to the satisfactory conclusion of negotiations on the framework for the future relationship. We cal on the Government to confrm whether the inclusion of such a clause is one of its negotiating objectives. On the basis of the existing text of the Withdrawal Agreement the UK will leave the institutions of the EU on 29 March 2019 and continue in the transition / implementation period until no later than 31 December 2020. This leaves only 21 months to translate the Political Declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement into the legal text for any agreement or agreements on the future relationship, and for the ratifcation process to be sufciently completed for key provisions to enter into force. The European Parliament elections in May 2019 and the subsequent establishment of a new Commission will substantially reduce the time available for meaningful negotiations to around 15 to 16 months. There is a possibility that this will not prove sufcient. Therefore, the Government should seek to secure a simple mechanism in the Withdrawal Agreement for the extension of the transition / implementation period if required. Once we leave the EU, the UK Parliament will lose the role it had in scrutinising EU external agreements, including trade agreements, through the European scrutiny processes in each House. Parliamentary scrutiny will be restricted instead to the provisions in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRAG) relating to ratifcation of treaties. CRAG provisions are inadequate, denying Parliament the right to information during negotiations, and not even guaranteeing a debate or vote on a treaty before it is ratifed. The Government must ensure that the UK Parliament is given a meaningful vote on the fnal text of the agreements with the EU that will comprise the future UK-EU relationship. The Government must also commit to scheduling a vote in Parliament if a resolution is tabled against any of the future relationship agreements during the 21-day CRAG process. The UK’s future trade agreement with the EU and negotiations on trade with nonEU states will have signifcant impacts on devolved policy areas and interests. As we said in our First Report, there needs to be cooperative, participative mechanisms for joint working between the UK Government and the devolved administrations to ensure that devolved interests are properly considered when entering into and developing new international agreements. We also asked the government to set out whether it is considering formal structures for inter-governmental relations, including any arbitration system for disputes, so that the views of the devolved governments can be heard. The Government should set out in detail the processes by which the views of the devolved governments and parliaments will be fed into the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU and on future trade agreements with non-EU states. The Government should also commit to seeking the views of the devolved parliaments as part of the process of seeking approval for the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. The negotiations on our future relationship with the EU will be a monumental task, touching a wide range of aspects of the political and economic future of this country. It is not yet clear whether changes will be made to the machinery of Government
to accomplish this task. However, were the Department for Exiting the European Union to be abolished and this Committee to lose its role, adding the scrutiny of these negotiations to the workload of another existing committee would not be adequate. To ensure the right level of scrutiny of these historic negotiations and an effective role for Parliament in seeking the best outcome for the UK, there must continue to be a dedicated select committee on EU exit during the transition / implementation period to scrutinise and hold the Government to account in negotiating the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Keywords: 
Brexit
Country of publication: 
United Kingdom
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Publication date: 
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Title Original Language: 
Parliamentary scrutiny and approval of the Withdrawal Agreement and negotiations on a future relationship
Abstract Original Language: 
The conclusion of a Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU27 and its accompanying Political Declaration on the framework for a future relationship will initiate a series of proceedings in Parliament which will need to be concluded by 29 March 2019, the date on which, under the terms of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, the UK becomes a third country. Even under the most optimistic scenario of full agreement at the October Council, Parliament will have barely more than fve months to consider a motion to approve both documents (the “meaningful vote”), to complete consideration of the Withdrawal and Implementation Bill, and of any delegated legislation and any other primary legislation required by exit day, and
to complete procedures required under the Constitutional Reform and Governance act 2010 for treaty ratifcation. This Committee’s scrutiny of the deal will be important to the “meaningful vote”. The Secretary of State has committed to give evidence to us following the October Council and we would expect a similar commitment if fnal agreement is deferred to the December Council or an even later date. We will expect the Secretary of State to be prepared to give evidence to us as soon as practicable afer the Council at which any agreement is reached. We recommend the Government allow suficient time between the Secretary of State appearing before us to give evidence and the scheduling of the “meaningful vote” to ensure that we have the opportunity to report to the House, as appropriate, on the fnal deal. We note that the Institute for Government suggested that parliamentarians should be given two weeks at the very least to consider the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration before the debate is held. However, we recognise this timetable would need to be condensed in certain circumstances. The debate on the motion for approval of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration will be one of the most signifcant parliamentary debates in a generation. We note the precedent of fve days spent debating the motion to approve the UK’s decision to join the then European Communities in 1971. Five days would therefore be the minimum time that would be appropriate on this occasion. Notwithstanding the constraints of the Article 50 process, which sets out the procedures for a country exiting the EU rather than a country establishing a new relationship, the House of Commons will expect a high level of detail in the Political Declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement if it is to be able to give its approval to both. We call on the Government to seek the inclusion of the Political Declaration as an annex to the Withdrawal Agreement in order to give its contentes greater force. The section on the fnancial settlement in the text of the draf Withdrawal Agreement published afer the March Council was highlighted in green, indicating that it had been agreed in principle by both sides. Te UK’s agreement to pay the financial settlement estimated at between £35 billion and £39 billion will be legally binding under international law once the Withdrawal Agreement is ratifed by all parties concerned. The Withdrawal Agreement will be considered by the UK Parliament alongside a non-binding Political Declaration. A legally binding agreement on the UK’s future relationship can only be agreed once the UK is a third country. If the UK Government wishes to make the payment of the fnancial settlement conditional on reaching a binding agreement on the future relationship, it would need to secure the agreement of the EU27 to inserting text to this effect in the Withdrawal Agreement. We note that the Government has not yet secured a clause
in the Withdrawal Agreement linking the fnancial settlement to the satisfactory conclusion of negotiations on the framework for the future relationship. We cal on the Government to confrm whether the inclusion of such a clause is one of its negotiating objectives. On the basis of the existing text of the Withdrawal Agreement the UK will leave the institutions of the EU on 29 March 2019 and continue in the transition / implementation period until no later than 31 December 2020. This leaves only 21 months to translate the Political Declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement into the legal text for any agreement or agreements on the future relationship, and for the ratifcation process to be sufciently completed for key provisions to enter into force. The European Parliament elections in May 2019 and the subsequent establishment of a new Commission will substantially reduce the time available for meaningful negotiations to around 15 to 16 months. There is a possibility that this will not prove sufcient. Therefore, the Government should seek to secure a simple mechanism in the Withdrawal Agreement for the extension of the transition / implementation period if required. Once we leave the EU, the UK Parliament will lose the role it had in scrutinising EU external agreements, including trade agreements, through the European scrutiny processes in each House. Parliamentary scrutiny will be restricted instead to the provisions in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRAG) relating to ratifcation of treaties. CRAG provisions are inadequate, denying Parliament the right to information during negotiations, and not even guaranteeing a debate or vote on a treaty before it is ratifed. The Government must ensure that the UK Parliament is given a meaningful vote on the fnal text of the agreements with the EU that will comprise the future UK-EU relationship. The Government must also commit to scheduling a vote in Parliament if a resolution is tabled against any of the future relationship agreements during the 21-day CRAG process. The UK’s future trade agreement with the EU and negotiations on trade with nonEU states will have signifcant impacts on devolved policy areas and interests. As we said in our First Report, there needs to be cooperative, participative mechanisms for joint working between the UK Government and the devolved administrations to ensure that devolved interests are properly considered when entering into and developing new international agreements. We also asked the government to set out whether it is considering formal structures for inter-governmental relations, including any arbitration system for disputes, so that the views of the devolved governments can be heard. The Government should set out in detail the processes by which the views of the devolved governments and parliaments will be fed into the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU and on future trade agreements with non-EU states. The Government should also commit to seeking the views of the devolved parliaments as part of the process of seeking approval for the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. The negotiations on our future relationship with the EU will be a monumental task, touching a wide range of aspects of the political and economic future of this country. It is not yet clear whether changes will be made to the machinery of Government
to accomplish this task. However, were the Department for Exiting the European Union to be abolished and this Committee to lose its role, adding the scrutiny of these negotiations to the workload of another existing committee would not be adequate. To ensure the right level of scrutiny of these historic negotiations and an effective role for Parliament in seeking the best outcome for the UK, there must continue to be a dedicated select committee on EU exit during the transition / implementation period to scrutinise and hold the Government to account in negotiating the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
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