This EU document is politically important because:
1.1As the UK is no longer part of internal EU discussions on draft EU laws, nor has a vote on them, the Withdrawal Agreement establishes a Joint Consultative Working Group (JCWG) to ensure—among other tasks—that there is a channel of communication between the EU and UK on planned EU Acts with which Northern Ireland must align.
1.2We considered this draft Council Decision concerning the adoption of the JCWG’s Rules of Procedure at our meeting of 4 November 2020 and published a Report in which we set out further details of the role of the JCWG and the proposed Rules.
1.3Following our consideration, we to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP) raising queries concerning what constitutes a “planned EU Act” and the extent to which the JCWG might become a forum for debate, given the Government’s assertion in its (EM) that the JCWG would give the UK a “formal opportunity to influence the development of EU law”. We went on to seek clarification of the commitment to engaging with us and others to design “governance arrangements” for the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol and looked forward to official-level discussions on those arrangements. Concerning the Rules of Procedure, we asked the Government to commit to working with the Commission to ensure that agendas are made public in advance of meetings and to ensure that minutes of the meetings are consistently published. Finally, we welcomed detail from the Government on the mechanisms that are in place across Government to monitor ongoing EU law developments.
1.4In her to our letter, the Paymaster General (Rt Hon. Penny Mordaunt MP) confirms that the Council has adopted the Decision on the Rules of Procedure. The Government, she says, will work with the Commission to progress the establishment of the JCWG as a working body, including the modalities of its operation, and to arrange a date for the first meeting of the Group. She adds that the JCWG is the technical working-level group which allows the UK and the EU to discuss all aspects of implementation of the Protocol. The full detail of how that operates is yet to be determined.
1.5The Minister goes on to confirm that the commitment to work with us and others on the design of the governance arrangements includes the domestic parliamentary scrutiny of the Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol.
1.6Concerning the terms of transparency of the JCWG, as set out in the proposed Rules of Procedure, the Minister explains that it will be for the UK and EU co-chairs of the Group to agree any publication of the agenda or the summary of the minutes. The Minister adds that the JCWG will not be a decision-making body and says that the Government must consider how to ensure “proportionate future scrutiny arrangements” around the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement could work as a whole once the transition period is over.
1.7Regarding mechanisms to monitor ongoing EU law developments across Government, the Minister indicates that, during the transition period, the Cabinet Office has maintained responsibility for monitoring the publication of, and coordinating scrutiny on, new EU proposals. The arrangements to follow the end of the transition period will be determined in due course, and the Minister will ask officials to meet with our officials to discuss this further.
1.8Since we wrote to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and since the Paymaster General responded, we have to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, attaching a on future EU-related scrutiny, noting the urgency of developing robust mechanisms for future parliamentary scrutiny of EU law and policy that will impact the UK after the end of the transition period.
1.9While the Paymaster-General’s response to us fails to address adequately any of the queries that we raised, we shall pursue our concerns through our engagement on wider EU-related scrutiny matters.
1.10We are reporting the Paymaster General’s response to the House for information and drawing it to the attention of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
1 Proposal for a Council Decision on the position to be taken on behalf of the EU in the Joint Consultative Working Group established by the Agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU and the European Atomic Energy Community as regards the adoption of its rules of procedure; , COM(20) 636; Legal base: Art 50(2) TFEU and Article 218(9) TFEU, QMV; Department: Cabinet Office; Devolved Administrations; ESC number: 41569.
2 Twenty-seventh Report HC 229–xxiii (2019–21), (4 November 2020).