The Committee looks at the significance of EU proposals and decides whether to clear the document from scrutiny or withhold clearance and ask questions of the Government. The Committee also has the power to recommend documents for debate.
The Committee is now looking at documents in the light of the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU. Issues are explored in greater detail in report chapters and, where appropriate, in the summaries below. The Committee notes that in the current week the following issues and questions have arisen in documents or in correspondence with Ministers:
The Commission published two draft negotiating mandates on a) the elimination of tariffs on industrial goods and b) facilitating conformity assessment between the EU and US on 18 January 2019. These new, more targeted trade discussions must be considered in the context of escalating trade tensions between these two major trading blocs since 1 June 2018 (notably in relation to the US imposition of additional steel and aluminium duties on EU imports and the threat of 25% tariffs on cars and car parts from the EU) and reflect the EU-US Joint Statement of 25 July 2018.
At its meeting on 27 February 2019, we noted that the Minister considers the mandates “are in the UK’s interests” and that the agreements would not apply to the UK in the case of no deal but would apply if adopted during any negotiated transition period. However, we considered that the Minister provided insufficient detail on the expected coverage of the mandates and their Brexit implications. In response to our questions, the Minister:
Given the uncertainty around the timetabling of the vote in the Council and possible further changes to the proposed texts in the interim, we grant the Minister a time-limited scrutiny waiver (until 29 March 2019) to support the mandates, on the condition that: a) the scope of the mandates does not deviate significantly from the information shared by the Minister and b) the Minister continues to keep us updated on the negotiations and the outcome of any vote in the Council.
Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; but scrutiny waiver granted until 29 March 2019; drawn to the attention of the Committee on Exiting the European Union, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the International Trade Committee
The European Commission has proposed a Regulation establishing a new European Labour Authority (ELA) to take over various existing EU-level functions related to the free movement of labour, such as coordination of social security and cooperation to tackle undeclared work. The impetus for the creation of the ELA stems from the growth in labour mobility within the EU, prompting concerns that individuals and businesses may be ill-informed about their rights and obligations under existing EU laws and national authorities may lack the mechanisms needed to underpin effective cross-border cooperation. The broad objective of the ELA would be to ensure fair labour mobility within the internal market but it would have no direct regulatory or enforcement powers, nor would it be able to direct national authorities. Instead, it would play a supporting and coordinating role. The Government is satisfied that the ELA would not encroach on areas in which Member States are competent to act or interfere with national employment and social laws and is keen to vote in favour of the proposed Regulation when it is brought to the Council for formal adoption. The European Scrutiny Committee agrees to grant a scrutiny waiver but asks the Government for further information on the possibilities for UK engagement with the ELA post-exit under the various outcomes envisaged in the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement.
Not cleared from scrutiny; scrutiny waiver granted; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee
The European Commission has proposed changes to the EU Visa Regulation to include the UK in the list of third countries whose nationals would not require an entry visa for short stays within the Schengen area once the UK has left the EU and any post-exit transition/implementation period has ended. As the proposal forms part of the Schengen rule book in which the UK does not participate, the UK will have no vote when it is brought to the Council for formal adoption. The Government reiterates its intention to maintain reciprocal arrangements enabling citizens to travel freely between the EU and the UK, without a visa, for tourism and temporary business activity but describes as “unacceptable” language agreed by Member States’ Ambassadors to the EU (COREPER) describing Gibraltar as “a colony of the British Crown”. The European Scrutiny Committee supports the Government’s efforts to seek replacement wording. As, however, the UK has no vote, and it is clearly in the UK’s interest to ensure visa-free access to the Schengen area for its nationals and British overseas citizens, the Committee agrees to clear the proposed Regulation from scrutiny whilst asking to be informed of the outcome of negotiations and of any Council Minute Statement made by the UK.
Cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Committee on Exiting the European Union, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee
The proposed Regulation, one in a series of contingency measures put forward by the Commission to prepare for a “no deal” Brexit, would ensure that individuals (and the institutions sending and hosting them) who are taking part in an Erasmus-funded activity can complete their learning and receive any academic or other credits earned during their stay abroad, provided the activities being funded have started “at the latest” by exit day. The Government is keen to avoid disruption for those participating in Erasmus activities at the time of the UK’s exit from the EU and recognises that the proposed Regulation would provide certainty, but notes it is not as extensive as the guarantee the Government has given to underwrite the funding of Erasmus until the end of 2020. The proposal is expected to be put forward for adoption at the General Affairs Council on 19 March. As it would provide reassurance for Erasmus participants studying or working abroad if there is a no deal exit, the European Scrutiny Committee agrees to grant a scrutiny waiver to enable the Government to support its adoption but requests further information on the Government’s longer-terms plans for cooperation with the EU on student exchanges and other forms of learning mobility.
Not cleared from scrutiny; scrutiny waiver granted; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Education Committee
This proposed overhaul of EU fisheries technical measures such as fishing gear restrictions has finally been agreed, including a ban on the controversial practice of electric pulse fishing from 2021. Now that the ban has been agreed, the Committee clears the proposal from scrutiny. We note that, under all Brexit scenarios other than “no-deal”, the UK would be required to apply the legislation. In a no-deal scenario, the UK might choose to replicate some or all of the legislation and UK vessels fishing in EU waters would need to apply these EU rules.
Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
The Nagoya Protocol is an international agreement designed both to improve access to genetic resources and to ensure that the benefits derived from such resources are shared with the originating country. While widely supported, practical implementation is challenging and can be extremely burdensome for users. We seek clarification about the efforts being made by the Government to support implementation, looking forward also to the post-Brexit environment when the Government will need to offer some of the support currently provided by the European Commission. On Brexit, the Minister appears to be unaware about a continuing domestic reporting obligation agreed under one of the Brexit Statutory Instruments. The Committee is disturbed by this and so asks for detail about the agreed obligations.
Cleared from scrutiny; further information requested
The Commission’s revision of the framework applicable to the re-use of public information recasts the existing regime in the aim of increasing current levels of re-use and adapting the status quo to the digital economy. The Minister from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Margot James MP) informs us that “the UK has achieved the substance of the negotiating objectives outlined in my previous letter”, including the Government’s primary objective of seeking a further temporary derogation for Public Sector Bodies (PSBs) from the requirements relating to high value datasets. These changes mean that the Committee’s previously expressed concerns about the potential impact on the Met Office and the Ordnance Survey have been completely addressed, as the UK will have a 2 year derogation from the application of any implementing acts on high value datasets, which will in turn not be able to be adopted until the 2 year period for implementing the Directive has elapsed—taking the timescales for UK compliance far beyond those of UK membership of the EU, even if the transition period were to be extended to the maximum extent permitted. On this basis, the Minister concluded that “the compromise text is acceptable to the UK” and requested clearance to support its adoption if the UK is still in Council at the time when the vote takes place. The Committee cleared the file from scrutiny.
Cleared from scrutiny
The Committee has considered the European Commission’s request for the UK to continue contributing to the EU budget in 2019 even in a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario, to avoid a shortfall in the EU’s finances this year roughly equal to the UK’s estimated £6 billion net contribution. In return for the multi-billion-pound payments, UK entities would remain eligible to receive—and bid for—EU funding in 2019. Although Cabinet Ministers have repeatedly indicated that the Government believes the UK’s legacy financial obligations vis-à-vis the EU would last beyond the UK’s withdrawal even if there is no exit agreement, the Treasury’s Explanatory Memorandum on the proposal provides no indication of the Government’s position on the EU’s offer. The Committee has therefore retained the Commission proposal under scrutiny and has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to clarify the UK’s position as soon as possible.
Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Committee on Exiting the European Union, the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Committee
The Commission’s proposal would extend the validity of certain safety certificates covering the ‘Channel Tunnel Fixed Link’ for 3 months in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit (where the draft Withdrawal Agreement is not ratified either by the EU or the UK). As an initiative of the EU-27, the intended effect of the proposal—to ensure the continued operation of the Channel Tunnel—would be dependent upon the UK maintaining ‘identical’ safety standards and procedures to those provided for by EU law. The Minister with charge over the proposal wrote to the Committee on 7 March 2019—a week after he submitted an Explanatory Memorandum on the proposal—with further information on the progress of working group negotiations and requesting clearance of the file from scrutiny or a waiver ahead of adoption on 18 or 19 March. The Minister notes changes to the scope of the draft Regulation to include rail safety certificates, train driver licences and operator licences and amendments to its territorial application to include the island of Ireland (as well as the UK/France). These changes are not explained in any detail nor is an assessment made of their potential implications for UK transport law and policy. As a consequence, the Committee does not believe it appropriate to clear the proposal from scrutiny or grant a waiver. On the substance of the proposal, the draft Regulation currently provides for authorisations to be revoked if EU standards are not complied with. This provision suffers from a number of deficiencies, including: the lack of a time limit for the delivery of information and documents to national safety authorities; a clear procedure for the revocation of authorisations; and the absence of checks on the Commission’s role. We ask the Government to clarify its understanding of this provision. This is especially important in light of the potential implications it could have for private businesses (i.e. Eurotunnel). The Committee also seeks further information on any meetings the Government has had with Eurotunnel—the main stakeholder affected by the proposal—and on the amendments that would be required to the current system for safety authorisations after the suggested 3 month extension.
Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; request for a waiver or clearance ahead of adoption rejected; drawn to the attention of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Transport Committee
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee: Joint Undertaking for ITER (Fusion for Energy) [Proposed Decision (C)]; European Labour Authority [Proposed Regulation (NC; scrutiny waiver granted)]; Commission Brexit preparedness: the Channel Tunnel [Proposed Regulation (NC)]
Committee on Exiting the EU: Brexit: UK contributions to the EU budget in 2019 in a ‘no deal’ scenario [Proposed Regulation (NC)]; Visa exemption for UK nationals travelling to the EU after Brexit [Proposed Regulation (C)]; Negotiating mandates for EU-US trade talks [Proposed Decisions (NC; scrutiny waiver granted)]
Education Committee: Brexit preparedness: UK participation in Erasmus in the event of a ‘no deal’ exit [Proposed Regulation (NC; scrutiny waiver granted)]
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee: Fisheries Conservation: Technical Measures [Proposed Regulation (C)]; Brexit-preparedness: Fisheries [Proposed Regulations (NC)]
Foreign Affairs Committee: Visa exemption for UK nationals travelling to the EU after Brexit [Proposed Regulation (C)]; Negotiating mandates for EU-US trade talks [Proposed Decisions (NC; scrutiny waiver granted)]
Home Affairs Committee: Visa exemption for UK nationals travelling to the EU after Brexit [Proposed Regulation (C)]
International Trade Committee: Negotiating mandates for EU-US trade talks [Proposed Decisions (NC; scrutiny waiver granted)]
Justice Committee: Visa exemption for UK nationals travelling to the EU after Brexit [Proposed Regulation (C)]
Public Accounts Committee: Brexit: UK contributions to the EU budget in 2019 in a ‘no deal’ scenario [Proposed Regulation (NC)]
Transport Committee: Commission Brexit preparedness: the Channel Tunnel [Proposed Regulation (NC)]
Treasury Committee: Brexit: UK contributions to the EU budget in 2019 in a ‘no deal’ scenario [Proposed Regulation (NC)]
Work and Pensions Committee: European Labour Authority [Proposed Regulation (NC; scrutiny waiver granted)]
Published: 19 March 2019