MEPs and NGOs voice concern over post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement

This comes just ahead of the final ratification of the EU-UK TCA by the European Parliament on Tuesday.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

27 Apr 2021

Today MEPs are debating and will, later in the day, vote on a resolution assessing the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) and also the role of the Parliament in the Brexit process.

The move marks the final legal hurdle to be overcome in the long-running Brexit saga, stretching back over four years.

Following the 2016 EU Referendum and protracted talks, the EU and the UK concluded their negotiations and agreed on a partnership deal at the last minute in December 2020. This prevented a “disorderly Brexit” and settled future relations.

However, many MEPs, including trade committee chair Bernd Lange, complained that the European Parliament was not adequately involved. The Parliament is under considerable pressure to ratify the deal as soon as possible - despite some members’ concerns about a perceived lack of democratic control.

MEPs must sign off on the deal and this is expected his week, but Terry Reintke, a deputy leader of the Greens/EFA group, is among those who are still concerned about some parts of the agreement.

She told this website, “This deal is not good because Brexit is not good. Every single aspect of the agreement would have been easier and better with an EU membership. The situation is also complicated because we cannot be sure how trustworthy the UK government really is.”

“Still, this agreement can be a starting point reconstructing what we lost due to Brexit. An important next step would be a return to the Erasmus programme, giving back to people on both sides of the channel the opportunity to study and work in Europe and the UK.”

Group leader Philippe Lamberts said the Greens are seeking Parliament’s full involvement in the implementation of the trade deal and also full compliance with EU data protection laws.

“The UK government should not misinterpret this as a sign that we are letting our guard down. Unfortunately, the unilateral breaches of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol have affected important aspects of trust in our partnership” Andreas Schieder, S&D

The Belgian MEP said, “This agreement is unprecedented and, therefore, the scrutinising role of Parliament should reflect this.”

Despite such reservations he says that voting on the trade agreement this week is needed to avoid an “accidental no-deal.”

Further concern has been voiced by Socialist member Andreas Schieder who, speaking of the vote later on Tuesday, warned, “The UK government should not misinterpret this as a sign that we are letting our guard down.”

The Austrian MEP said, “Unfortunately, the unilateral breaches of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol have affected important aspects of trust in our partnership.”

“Solutions need to be found together and the good faith from the UK government needs to be restored. In ratifying the TCA we are strengthening our hand as its terms includes unambiguous measures, such as restricting market access, to enforce what both sides have agreed.”

An EPP spokesman told a briefing on Monday that there had been a perceived breakdown in trust between the EU and UK in recent weeks but said that his group hoped this could be repaired in time.

Elsewhere, 40 civil society organisations from the UK and the EU are calling for “stronger democratic oversight” of EU-UK trade relations.

They have demand stronger democratic control of the bodies anchored in the agreement and criticise the “insufficient” involvement of both the European Parliament and UK House of Commons during the ratification process.

“This agreement can be a starting point reconstructing what we lost due to Brexit. An important next step would be a return to the Erasmus programme, giving back to people on both sides of the channel the opportunity to study and work in Europe and the UK” Terry Reintke, Greens/EFA

In an open letter, the organisations call on the MEPs, when they debate and vote on the issue on Tuesday, to demand a greater role for parliaments. The letter was initiated by Forum Environment and Development and LobbyControl.

Max Bank, spokesperson for LobbyControl, said, “The parliaments have not been involved closely enough during the ratification of the trade and cooperation agreement between the EU and the UK. But now democratic deficits are also evident in the agreement itself. We therefore call for strengthening democratic control of trade relations on both sides of the English Channel.”

He added, “The Agreement provides for numerous new decision-making bodies. The most powerful body is the so-called ‘Partnership Council’, which consists of government officials from both the UK and the EU.”

“This council has the power to make changes to the trade agreement independently and can also create new committees to further implement the agreement. Among the committees in the agreement is a Special Trade Committee on Regulatory Affairs, which can initiate regulatory cooperation and invite lobbyists to its meetings at any time.”

“This aspect of the agreement has been widely criticised in past trade agreements, for example, in the EU-Canada agreement CETA or the TTIP negotiations with the United States. The EU-UK trade deal is thus referred to as a ‘living agreement’ as it can be adjusted at any time.”

“In this process, the Partnership Council and the new bodies associated with it remain outside of parliamentary control. While a so-called ‘Parliamentary Assembly’ is provided for members of the European and British parliaments, it is limited to make recommendations and cannot express any binding decisions.”

His comments are echoed by Nelly Grotefendt, spokesperson for Forum Environment and Development, who said, “If the agreement can be constantly changed, then the decision-making bodies provided for this purpose must also be subject to parliamentary control by the European and British parliaments. Otherwise, the negotiated deal may threaten to undermine democracy in both the UK and the EU.”

“We encourage MEPs to demand a stronger say for parliaments in the deal.”

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