65.Given that EU policy will continue to affect the UK post-Transition Period, many commentators, such as Dr Davor Jančić, Queen Mary University of London, have suggested that Parliament will need “more not less presence in Brussels” and, as the Institute for Government argue, “Parliamentarians should not take a step back from engaging with Europe”. In evidence to us Dr Sara Hagemann noted that “Parliament’s role becomes even more important as the UK is no longer part of decision-making within the EU”.
66.In Professor Simon Usherwood’s view, anything that reduces the British presence in and around EU institutions and policy-making communities raises the chances of inadvertent problems arising. He pointed out that there are a whole range of areas where the EU is going to make decisions and choices that will have material effects on the UK, so the more the UK can be kept in mind as those things are happening, the better chance there is of doing that in a less problematic way. He went on to say that “doing more is always advantageous just because of the dense network of relationships and dynamics that are going on. Weight and consistency across the board is what really matters.”
67.Professor Usherwood also points out that the EU is an intensely lobbied body, with an awful lot of interests trying to have their voices heard, and that the visibility of what might be important to the UK has already dropped in the EU because of the UK’s removal from the formal institutions. The Institute for Government has found however that “other third countries agree that ministerial and parliamentary engagement is a vital way of influencing Brussels. And senior parliamentarians can often be a useful proxy for the Government to discuss difficult issues when ministerial engagement is too sensitive.” Professor Cygan notes that the role of Parliament will need to change from being an actor which is trying to influence the process to one which is potentially just a lobbyist; it is going to be a fundamental change, and the modus operandi is going to have to change.
68.The importance of ongoing UK-EU parliamentary dialogue was referenced in the Political Declaration, agreed between the UK and the EU in October 2019, which stated:
The Parties support the establishment of a dialogue between the European Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom, where they see fit, in order for the legislatures to share views and expertise on issues related to the future relationship.
69.In July 2020 this Committee—along with our equivalent committee in the House of Lords—wrote to the Speakers of both Houses and to the Government to ask that, as part of the negotiations, there be an agreement on the formal framework for the institutional arrangements necessary to support effective inter-parliamentary dialogue between the UK and EU from the start of 2021. This was because the Government’s position until that point had been to support interparliamentary dialogue in principle, but that the establishment of such dialogue is a matter for Parliament, not the Government. This Committee acknowledged the point of constitutional principle, but noted that the Government alone represented the UK in the negotiations, not Parliament.
70.The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster responded in August 2020 and told us he was in favour of parliamentarians working together, and encouraged inter-parliamentary dialogue. He confirmed he had carefully considered the recent correspondence on this issue and was “happy to confirm that in negotiations with the EU we will seek to include provision that would allow for inter-parliamentary dialogue, recognising your position that much of the detail of its operation is properly a matter for Parliament and can follow later, if this reflects the view of Parliament.”
71.As promised by the Government, within the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement both parties agreed the following in relation to future parliamentary cooperation:
The European Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom may establish a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly consisting of Members of the European Parliament and of Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, as a forum to exchange views on the partnership.
Upon its establishment, the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly:
(a) may request relevant information regarding the implementation of this Agreement [the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement] and any supplementing agreement from the Partnership Council, which shall then supply that Assembly with the requested information;
(b) shall be informed of the decisions and recommendations of the Partnership Council; and
(c) may make recommendations to the Partnership Council.
72.The European Parliament currently has a few models for managing interparliamentary relations with third countries, one of which is the Assembly model proposed in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. All models involve the creation of a European Parliament ‘standing delegation’ to that country. The Assembly model involves representatives from more than two parliaments convening in regular, formal meetings.
73.The UK may have left the EU, but it is still in Europe, and our cultural and economic ties continue to be important. We support the creation of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, as provided for in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. We urge the Government and the parliamentary authorities to set up the Assembly as quickly as possible; there are issues that need to be discussed now.
74.We recommend that the Parliamentary authorities should provide the resources necessary to facilitate the UK branch of the Assembly (which should include representation from both Houses), including a dedicated secretariat.
76.Dr Jančić has said that even though British parliamentarians will not have the right to vote within European interparliamentary forums, they will be an important asset in terms of putting matters on the EU agenda or proposing ideas for policy development that could resonate with EU colleagues and allow the UK Parliament to exercise a degree of indirect influence after Brexit. He encouraged Parliament to set out “a clear agenda of international engagement” with other national parliaments to help “realise the goal of constructing a global Britain” and to reinvent Westminster as “a leader and engine for global parliamentary diplomacy”. Professor Armstrong agreed, urging Parliament to engage in more “upstream” activity, contributing to EU consultation and evaluation processes which precede new legislative proposals and are open to non-EU actors.
77.Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska argues that, in order to maximise its influence over EU decision-making, the UK should follow the example set by Norway of intensifying bilateral contacts with individual EU Member States and strengthening its presence in EU capitals holding (or due to hold) the presidency of the Council.
78.The importance of maintaining a presence in EU interparliamentary forums has been noted. For example, the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for European Affairs (COSAC), the Interparliamentary Conference for CFSP-CSDP, the Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group on Europol and Eurojust, and a wide range of more informal interparliamentary meetings on specific policy issues of common interest. In Professor Cygan’s view “attendance at COSAC could be a worthwhile strategy for Parliament to pursue, especially […] in the context of the Northern Ireland Protocol. It would also allow the UK Parliament to exert its ‘soft power’ more directly to national parliaments in the EU-27.” According to Professor Armstrong, “what is important about that is creating a flow of information and level of contact that allows scrutiny to operate effectively, because it means that you do not have to wait for somebody else to provide you with information.”
79.Another important factor—as emphasised by Dr Hannah White—is ensuring that serious thought is given to facilitating how the devolved administrations will be able to play a role in UK parliamentary engagement with the EU’s institutions. It is important that UK-wide views are represented in future discussions with the EU.
80.The EU’s current ‘Guidelines for Interparliamentary Cooperation’, state that one of the main objectives of interparliamentary cooperation is “to promote cooperation with parliaments from third countries.” Non-Member State parliaments, including those of Iceland, Norway and Turkey regularly request and receive invitations to attend COSAC and other interparliamentary events. That said, invitations to interparliamentary conferences and meetings are not automatic for non-Member States, with different criteria applying to different events. At the Virtual COSAC on 30 November 2020, Gunter Krichbaum, Co-Chair of COSAC, advised that non-Member State countries would be welcome to attend COSAC in future but only when there was a sufficiently strong thematic link between the agenda and the parliament’s concerns.
81.On the question of whether the EU would welcome continued UK engagement, Dr Hagemann told us she was “very sure that other national representations and the EU institutions will welcome a British presence in Brussels and will see Britain as a key ally in many policy areas.” In addition, Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska has pointed out that in 2017, the majority of committees responsible for European affairs in the EU Member States indicated their willingness to continue to invite Westminster representatives to inter-parliamentary conferences post-Brexit. She argues that “the UK Parliament should exploit this support to request participation in these inter-parliamentary forums”.
82.Many submitters of written evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee noted the importance of “having eyes and ears on the ground” in Brussels, predominantly through the UK’s National Parliament Office (NPO) based there. Dr Hagemann agreed with this, telling us in relation to the NPO that she would recommend that the UK tries to be as well represented in Brussels as possible, and maintains the current level of representation when outside the EU. Professor Cygan is also of the view that Parliament “would benefit from a well-resourced UK Parliamentary representation in Brussels that would enable Parliament to have direct contacts with EU institutions and allow it to go ‘upstream’ in the EU decision-making process.” This was because it “could help Parliament identify, as early as possible, legislative proposals that may be of relevance to the UK.” Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska also agrees noting that the work of the NPO becomes even more important after Brexit due to its ability to provide useful insights into EU positions.
83.In terms of whether the EU would be willing continue to ‘host’ the NPO in Brussels post-Transition Period, aside from the fact that this facility is already provided to Norway (and it is not an EU Member State), Klaus Welle, Secretary General of the European Parliament, wrote to the Clerks of both Houses on 22 December 2020 indicating that the European Parliament is indeed content to offer continued hosting of the Commons and the Lords in the European Parliament, including office accommodation, subject to appropriate practical arrangements in light of the evolving relations between the EU and the UK.
84.To ensure the UK’s interests continue to be represented across the continent, the UK Parliament should increase its bilateral and multilateral efforts to engage informally with the EU’s institutions and Member States. Particular attention should be paid to intensifying bilateral relationships with the parliaments of EU Member States holding (or due to hold) the presidency of the Council. The Government should facilitate this, as necessary. Engagement mechanisms should include representation from the devolved administrations. The House of Commons authorities should provide the resources necessary to achieve this heightened engagement, including continuing to fund the National Parliament Office—Parliament’s physical ‘eyes and ears’—in Brussels.
85.Parliament should participate in European inter-parliamentary forums and events where possible, even if only with observer/non-voting status. It should look to engage with COSAC and other interparliamentary conferences. The access to information and soft power gained from such forums will aid Parliament’s ability to scrutinise and influence. The Government should also set out its plans for its future (post-UKREP) diplomatic representation in Brussels, and in doing so should explain how this new body will work with Parliament, for example by briefing members of committees and the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly when they are visiting Brussels on parliamentary business.
86.Absent any formal interparliamentary mechanisms, the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit was set up by the Chairs and Conveners of Committees scrutinising Brexit-related issues in the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, House of Commons and House of Lords. It is intended to provide a forum to discuss the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and collective scrutiny of that process in legislatures across the UK. It held its first meeting on 12 October 2017. The intention was to establish a setting for discussion of common issues between the devolved legislatures and the two Houses, including implications for the future of the devolution settlements. It has met quarterly in the period to now, with officials-only meetings taking place since the covid-19 lockdowns.
87.In the view of UK in a Changing Europe:
The Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit […] has demonstrated how informal networks can provide a way to manage coordination on issues which cut across the UK Parliament and devolved legislatures’ interests. Something similar should be the absolute minimum required in future.
88.They go on to say that:
It is in the spirit of information exchange and knowledge building that the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit has thrived. Reflecting this, it does not undertake any formal scrutiny and meets in private—including with Ministers. It has started to develop something of a common voice for parliaments—through sending letters to UK Government Ministers highlighting areas of joint concern.
89.Now that the Transition Period has ended and Brexit is done, there is uncertainty about the future of the Forum, and UK interparliamentary relations more generally. Whilst there is a general consensus that there will be a need for interparliamentary dialogue on post-Brexit issues such as scrutiny of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, common frameworks, the UK Internal Market Act and the Northern Ireland Protocol, no decision has been taken on how this should be established or what changes should occur to the Forum.
90.In 2019, the Liaison Committee inquiry into select committee effectiveness concluded that they:
noted […] the demand for greater [UK] interparliamentary working, which should be an aim whatever the nature of the UK’s future relationship with the EU turns out to be. Successive reports since devolution have lamented the lack of attention given to this aspect the new constitutional settlement. But this idea will continue to languish unfulfilled if some proper resources are not dedicated to it. Neither will it work if it is seen as a purely Westminster-driven initiative. We recommend that the Clerk of the House negotiate with the chief executives of the devolved legislatures to establish a jointly-owned “shadow” secretariat of a UK-wide co-ordinating body to undertake feasibility studies and prepare options for the establishment of an effective, but not over-formalised, UK interparliamentary body based around the committees of each UK legislature.
91.We agree with the Liaison Committee that there should be an effective, but not over-formalised, UK interparliamentary body based around the committees of each UK legislature. As part of its work this new forum would cover important post-Transition topics such as the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, common frameworks, the UK Internal Market Act and the Northern Ireland Protocol. However, until such a body is created, the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit should continue its work, under a new name which reflects that Brexit is done. The UK Parliament should work with the other UK administrations to identify the Forum’s priorities.
114 Dr Davor Jančić, Queen Mary University of London () para 35
122 Oral evidence taken before the European Scrutiny Committee on 16 October 2019, HC (2019) 17, [Kelvin Hopkins]
123 HM Government, Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, 19 October 2019, para 125
124 Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, Letter to Speakers regarding interparliamentary relations with the European Parliament (21 July 2020)
125 Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, Letter to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster regarding interparliamentary relations with the European Parliament (21 July 2020)
126 For example: Oral evidence taken on 27 April 2020, HC (2019–21) 203, [Seema Malhotra]
127 HM Government (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Letter to the Speaker House of Commons regarding interparliamentary relations with the European Parliament (14 August 2020), p 1
128 HM Government (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Letter to the Speaker House of Commons regarding interparliamentary relations with the European Parliament (14 August 2020), p 1
130 Dr Davor Jančić, Queen Mary University of London () para 37
131 Dr Davor Jančić, Queen Mary University of London () para 35
132 Dr Davor Jančić, Queen Mary University of London () para 44
133 Kenneth Armstrong () para 33
134 Centre for European Reform (Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska), Westminster’s (continuous) oversight of European affairs post-Brexit (April 2019), p 6
135 Professor Adam Cygan () para 16
136 Oral evidence taken before the European Scrutiny Committee on 4 September 2019, HC (2017–19) 2493, [Mr Fysh]
138 Conference of Speakers of the European Union Parliaments, Guidelines for Inter-parliamentary Cooperation in the European Union (June 2008), p 3
140 Centre for European Reform (Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska), Westminster’s (continuous) oversight of European affairs post-Brexit (April 2019), p 9
141 Centre for European Reform (Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska), Westminster’s (continuous) oversight of European affairs post-Brexit (April 2019), p 9
142 For example: Oral evidence taken before the European Scrutiny Committee on 16 October 2019, HC (2019) 17, [Kelvin Hopkins]
144 Professor Adam Cygan () para 5
145 Professor Adam Cygan () para 5
146 Centre for European Reform (Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska), Westminster’s (continuous) oversight of European affairs post-Brexit (April 2019), p 9
148 The Scottish Parliament, ‘’, accessed 3 January 2021
152 Liaison Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2017–19, The effectiveness and influence of the select committee system, HC 1860, para 294