Plenary vote on EU-UK Agreement in limbo pending Brexit deal assurances

Despite approval from the Foreign Affairs and International Trade committees, the European Parliament has decided not to set a date for the final vote until the UK fully implements the Withdrawal Agreement.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

16 Apr 2021

MEPs say they want further assurances that all aspects of the Brexit deal are implemented in full, including the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

This comes ahead of the final plenary vote on the UK-EU trade deal that has now taken its first step of the consent procedure at committee level.

The deal was approved by Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Trade committees on Thursday, moving one step closer to ratification by the entire Parliament. The vote took place amid a backdrop of tensions in Northern Ireland.

The agreement has been provisionally applied since 1 January and will lapse on 30 April. For it to enter into force permanently, it requires MEP consent. A date for that is yet to be set.

On Thursday, Parliament’s Conference of Presidents decided not to set a plenary date for the final vote “in order to emphasise that the UK side needs to fully implement the Withdrawal Agreement before doing so”.

But the Renew Europe group are among those demanding further assurances before final approval is given, saying, “We expect the UK to enhance its efforts to properly implement its commitments. We pay special attention to the protection of European fishermen’s rights as agreed. Conditions must be met before the consent procedure is completed.”

“Even if Brexit is a historic mistake, the Agreement is a good one. After time for scrutiny, we are satisfied that it includes strong level playing field provisions and limits the negative consequences of Brexit” Andreas Schieder (AFET, S&D, AT)

The agreement sets the rules of the future relationship between the EU and the UK and the two committees agreed to the proposal by rapporteurs Andreas Schieder (AFET, S&D, AT) and Christophe Hansen (INTA, EPP, LU) by 108 votes in favour, one against and four abstentions.

After the vote, Schieder, co-rapporteur on the EU-UK Agreement (foreign affairs), said: “Even if Brexit is a historic mistake, the Agreement is a good one. After time for scrutiny, we are satisfied that it includes strong level playing field provisions and limits the negative consequences of Brexit by protecting workers, consumers, the environment, and businesses.”

“Nonetheless, we need to stay extremely vigilant to ensure the agreement is fully respected, particularly given recent unilateral breaches of the Withdrawal Agreement by the UK Government.”

“Before scheduling the plenary vote, we look forward to receiving assurances of good faith on the proper implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and specifically on the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

“We are hopeful the meeting on Thursday between vice-president Šefčovič and [UK negotiator] David Frost will signal a move towards finding workable solutions that result in the UK Government implementing the Northern Ireland protocol in full.”

Hansen noted, “Economic Brexit at the beginning of this year has caused real disruption. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement, however imperfect it may be, has worked to cushion the worst impact.”

“Ratifying it in Parliament after intensive scrutiny increases legal certainty for companies now operating in a difficult environment and solidifies and preserves the unprecedented safeguards ensuring a level playing field, so painstakingly obtained.”

“Moreover, greenlighting the agreement also means expanding our arsenal of legal tools and leverage to continue pressing for a full and pragmatic implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, importance of which was underscored by recent events in Northern Ireland.”

Further comment on the outcome of the vote came from Dacian Cioloş, leader of Renew Europe, who said: “We remain deeply concerned about the UK’s decision to unilaterally delay the full implementation of its legal obligations... The ratification of the agreement on our future relationship and the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement are interlinked.”

“Of course, we hope this Agreement is just the building blocks of an even stronger future partnership with the UK, but this depends on the UK Government fully implementing all aspects of the Agreement and fully respecting it going forward” Paolo de Castro (INTA, S&D, IT)

Elsewhere, French deputy Nathalie Loiseau, Renew Europe member of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, commented, "The European Parliament’s role in overseeing the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), if ratified, is essential. This is a democratic imperative. From fishing to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, vigilance and proper parliamentary scrutiny is necessary to ensure the UK fully delivers on its commitments.”

From the Socialist side, Paolo de Castro, S&D negotiator on the International Trade committee, said: “We fully support this Agreement because it limits the hardship that businesses and citizens will face with Brexit, in particular when it comes to trade, and because it ensures a relationship based on fair trade and high standards, avoiding social, environmental and regulatory dumping.”

“Of course, we hope this Agreement is just the building blocks of an even stronger future partnership with the UK, but this depends on the UK Government fully implementing all aspects of the Agreement and fully respecting it going forward.”

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