MEPs ‘regret’ being unable to scrutinise Brexit deal before it came into force

Monday’s debate by members of Parliament’s trade committee was the first time MEPs have discussed the EU-UK trade and partnership agreement since its announcement on Christmas Eve.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

12 Jan 2021

Several deputies who took part in the debate welcomed the achievements of the Brexit agreement but also pledged “detailed scrutiny” of the deal before they agree to give their consent.

MEPs expressed relief that a “cliff edge of a no-deal” was avoided, adding that this would have “brought a disaster for citizens and companies.”

Several deputies, including Finnish Greens member Heidi Hautala said the outcome was “more satisfactory” than expected.

Co-rapporteur on the consent procedure, Luxembourg EPP MEP Christophe Hansen told the meeting, “This was first time we were organising a divorce not a wedding as we usually do for trade agreements.”

Liesje Schreinemacher, a Dutch Renew Europe member, welcomed, in particular, the inclusion of standards in environmental protection, climate change and the labour area, saying that “these cannot be undercut.”

Trade committee chair, German Socialist Bernd Lange, hailed the first sustainability chapter in EU trade deals that offers sanctions.

MEPs said the “divergence not convergence” free trade agreement would guarantee tariff-free access to the UK market while protecting the single market.

“The trade agreement has been provisionally applied since 1 January. For it to enter into force permanently, it needs the consent of Parliament”

Nevertheless, they expressed their regret at the fact that Parliament did not have time to scrutinise the deal before it went into provisional application.

Hansen said, “This was a strategy by the UK to get last-minute concessions, and not to have their parliament get to have a proper say. We would have preferred a proper ratification.”

Members also regretted the UK not participating in the Erasmus+ programme, the lack of a deeper agreement on financial services, and the failure to agree a regime on future Geographical Indications to protect European products.

Belgian Socialist Kathleen Van Brempt said the committee will now “scrutinise thoroughly” the agreement including its “loose ends” instead of “mere rubber-stamping.”

Most committee members insisted that democratically elected institutions like Parliament must have a role in the implementation and monitoring of the agreement or the selection of arbitration panel members.

Belgian ECR deputy Geert Bourgeois stressed the importance of the future role of an interparliamentary body in maintaining dialogue, while German GUE member Helmut Scholz called for a role of trade unions and NGOs in the arbitration of fair competition violations.

The trade committee will discuss the agreement together with the committee on foreign affairs on 14 January.

The two committees will eventually vote on the consent proposal and an accompanying resolution prepared by the two rapporteurs, Christophe Hansen and Dutch Socialist Kati Piri at the end of February or in March.

The trade agreement has been provisionally applied since 1 January. For it to enter into force permanently, it needs the consent of Parliament.

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