Making social science accessible

02 May 2023

UK-EU Relations

Lord Kinnoull, Chair of the House of Lords European Affairs Committee, outlines the findings of a new report from the committee on the relationship between the UK and the EU.

The UK’s relationship with the EU has been far from perfect since the Trade and Cooperation Agreement came into force. For much of the past two years relations have been characterised by tension and mistrust. However, the recent change in atmosphere, following the Windsor Framework agreement and close cooperation in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, provides a window of opportunity for a reset that must not be wasted.

In this context, the House of Lords European Affairs Committee has published a new report that considers how the UK-EU relationship should be developed from here to the mutual benefit of both parties. This is the final product of a major inquiry, during which we heard oral evidence from over 40 witnesses and received around 60 written submissions.

We focused on four core themes that we identified as especially salient:

  • The overall political, diplomatic and institutional relationship;
  • the foreign policy, security and defence relationship;
  • cooperation on energy security and climate change; and
  • mobility of people.

The overall political, diplomatic and institutional relationship

We have heard consistent evidence of the need to strengthen communication, between the UK and the EU but also internally within the UK (for example, with the devolved governments). This is essential if trust is to rebuilt.

We recommend a considerable increase in activity within existing structures, including the Partnership Council and the TCA Specialised Committees. As our report sets out, much of the TCA structure has been doing little due to the Northern Ireland Protocol impasse. These committees now need to spring into action so that mutually beneficial tweaks to the arrangements can be discussed.

We also recommend that there should be regular UK-EU summits as a focus for political and diplomatic engagement, in the same way that the EU has regular summits with other international partners such as Canada, Japan and the United States. The government should propose holding the first such event in the UK.

The nascent European Political Community will provide additional opportunities for the UK to engage positively with European partners on matters of common interest. The inaugural summit in Prague was productive and we look forward to future summits, including that due to be held in the UK in 2024.

The foreign policy, security and defence relationship

The Political Declaration of October 2019, published alongside the Withdrawal Agreement, referred to establishment of a ‘broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership’. However, there were not ultimately any provisions for cooperation on external relations in the TCA, with the government explaining that it preferred an ad hoc approach following the 2019 general election.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has since demonstrated the scale of shared challenges and the value of close cooperation in this area. In light of this, we conclude that the time has come for more structured cooperation arrangements. One suggestion in our report is that there should be provisions to enable the UK Foreign Secretary to engage with the EU Foreign Affairs Council at least twice per year.

We identify cooperation on the implementation and enforcement of sanctions as an area in which there would be particular benefits to be had from a more structured relationship. Although cooperation on Russian sanctions is often referred to as a success, more formal arrangements may help to ensure that momentum is maintained.

We welcome the government’s recent decision to participate in the PESCO ‘Military Mobility’ project. Future opportunities for defence cooperation with the EU that are complementary to NATO should be considered as they arise.

Energy security and climate change

The evidence that we heard highlighted the mutual dependence of the UK and the EU in energy security, especially in the context of current challenges.

We recommend that an agreement should be reached to guarantee energy flows in both directions in a critical supply shortage. The UK and the EU should also work together closely on installing additional interconnectors, which will be pivotal to achieving respective decarbonisation targets. As part of this the North Seas Energy Cooperation structure is something that we recommend the UK plays a full part in.

Witnesses to our inquiry emphasised that there would be substantial mutual benefits to linking the respective UK and EU Emissions Trading Schemes. One reason for doing this, among several, would be to mitigate the potential impact on UK exporters of the EU’s planned Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM).

Mobility of people

Our committee has been struck by the disproportionate impact of post-Brexit barriers to the mobility of people between the UK and the EU on younger people.

The UK already has successful youth mobility schemes with partner countries around the world, including India, Australia and Canada. These allow young people to travel and work for a limited period within a host country. We urge the UK government to discuss a similar arrangement with the EU constructively.

We also call on the government to explore adding a reciprocal element to the Turing student exchange scheme, to allow students from the EU (and the rest of the world) to come on placements in the UK. Turing has proved a broadly successful programme, but there is an opportunity for expansion and improvement. The Taith scheme in Wales is an example of how a reciprocal scheme can work post-Brexit.

Cross-border school visits between the UK and EU have fallen dramatically. Such visits have great value as a means of exposing children to different cultures. At the heart of the problem is the requirement that every school child travelling from the EU has their own passport. Many only have identity cards. We therefore call on the government to reintroduce a youth group travel scheme that would not require pupils travelling on school visits from any EU country to carry individual passports.

More generally, the complexity of post-Brexit rules are proving to be a barrier to business and professional travel between the UK and the EU, in both directions. We urge the government to simplify guidance and ensure it is regularly updated.

By Lord Kinnoull, Chair of the House of Lords European Affairs Committee.

You can read the full report ‘The future UK-EU relationship’ here.

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