The future UK-EU relationship Contents

Chapter 2: The political, diplomatic and institutional relationship

The overall political relationship

18.Political relations between the UK and the EU have been strained over the period since the TCA came into effect on 31 December 2020.

The impact of the impasse over the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

19.The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland has been a major source of tension between the UK and the EU since the Withdrawal Agreement was signed in 2020. In January 2021, these tensions were exacerbated over access to supplies of COVID-19 vaccines. The European Commission initially announced that it may invoke provisions of the Protocol to prevent vaccines intended for Ireland from entering the UK through Northern Ireland.9 Although the Commission swiftly reversed its position following protests from the UK and Irish governments, some witnesses suggested that this episode was significant in setting an adversarial tone for UK-EU relations.10

20.The Commission subsequently initiated legal proceedings against the UK relating to the implementation of the Protocol.11 For its part the Government announced, in July 2021, that it wished to seek fresh talks with the EU to address “fundamental concerns” about the Protocol’s operation.12 In June 2022 the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which sought unilaterally to disapply parts of the Protocol, was introduced to Parliament by the Government.13 The Commission and individual Member States objected strongly to this legislation, which was widely interpreted within the EU as providing for a breach of the UK’s commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement.14

21.Witnesses with different political perspectives agreed that the dispute over the Protocol had cast a shadow over the wider UK-EU relationship for much of the past two years. Rt Hon Lord Frost, who had ministerial responsibility for UK-EU relations from March to December 2021 and was previously the Government’s lead negotiator with the EU, told us in October 2022 that “Northern Ireland is the major problem, and it is quite hard to see the relationship getting anywhere near where we want it to be until that is fixed”.15 Former European Commissioner, Rt Hon Lord Mandelson, described the Protocol as the “biggest barrier standing in the way” of improvements to the wider relationship.16 In a similar vein Rt Hon Lord Hague of Richmond, Foreign Secretary from 2010–14, characterised the impasse as “the biggest bit of grit, a big stone in fact, in the relationship”.17

22.Over the past two years we have frequently heard that this dispute has had a substantial impact on areas of potential UK-EU cooperation. We had identified numerous examples of such “collateral damage” by summer 2022.18 These included delays to the UK’s proposed association to Horizon Europe, delays to implementation of electricity trading arrangements envisaged in the TCA and the failure to agree a Memorandum of Understanding on financial services cooperation. UK in a Changing Europe characterised UK-EU relations on such issues as having been put in “cold storage”.19

23.The dispute over the Protocol led, at one stage, to restrictions on meetings between the Commission and UK interlocutors.20 In autumn 2022 the Bar Council told us that it had “become difficult to meet, let alone discuss substance” with EU officials.21 The British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels similarly reported difficulties maintaining a dialogue with the Commission, with meeting requests regularly declined.22

Other factors affecting the political relationship in 2021 and 2022

24.Some witnesses suggested that the wider dynamics of the political debate around Brexit in the UK had an impact on relations with the EU. Lord Mandelson argued that “sovereigntist game playing” had been a feature of the Government’s approach to relations with the EU since the TCA was agreed and that this had provided the EU with “excuses not to think constructively about the relationship it wants with the UK”.23 He went on to say that there had been a “lack of honesty about what Brexit means and the trade-offs it involves” in the UK.24 Similarly, the European and International Analysts Group suggested that the UK had been “confrontational” in post-Brexit dealings with the EU and that it had “prioritised its sovereignty concerns in a way that has prevented the emergence of compromises”.25

25.The EU’s approach to UK-EU relations was also criticised. The Bar Council indicated that the EU had taken a “rigid approach” to cooperation and that this had arguably been “exaggerated” in some areas, for instance blocking progress on UK association to Horizon Europe and accession to the Lugano Convention on cross-border judicial cooperation.26 Meanwhile, the European and International Analysts Group described the EU’s approach as “dogmatic” and said that it had “sometimes succumbed to a corrosive mistrust of UK motivation”.27

26.A common theme in the evidence that we gathered was to highlight distrust as a feature of the relationship in 2021 and 2022.28 Sylvie Bermann, a former French Ambassador to the UK, said that there had been “no trust between EU members, EU institutions and the UK”, putting this down to what she characterised as the UK’s “refusal to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol”.29 Dr Peter Ammon, a former German Ambassador to the UK, suggested that trust had been damaged by “political battles” between the UK and the EU, highlighting the introduction of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill as having had an especially severe impact on the EU’s trust in the UK.30 Lord Mandelson told us that building trust with the EU had not been prioritised by Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP as Prime Minister and that the Government’s approach to the Protocol had damaged the UK’s reputation as a “responsible international actor”.31 Lord Frost also acknowledged that there had been a “failure of trust”, though he argued that “both sides are to some extent responsible”.32

27.Witnesses variously characterised the state of UK-EU relations in early autumn 2022 as “poor or very poor”, “cool and quite fragile”, “unstable”, “frail at best” and “at a low ebb”.33

The beginnings of a thaw?

28.A gradual improvement in the atmosphere around UK-EU relations has been detectable since autumn 2022. One sign of this was the then Prime Minister’s decision to participate in the inaugural meeting of the European Political Community on 6 October 2022. Talks between UK and EU negotiators on the Protocol resumed in the same month, culminating in the agreement on the Windsor Framework, which was announced by the Prime Minister and the President of the Commission on 27 February 2023.34

29.This shift towards a more positive atmosphere for UK-EU cooperation was identified by some of the witnesses that we heard from. Professor Alexander Stubb, a former Prime Minister of Finland, told us that “the overall relationship is thawing”.35 Prof Stubb felt that an important factor in facilitating this was the change in the geopolitical context following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which he said had “brought us much closer”.36 When he gave evidence in January 2023, Lord Hague described the relationship as in a “stage of slow improvement”, suggesting that “a lot of good work has gone on, particularly since September [2022], to improve relations”.37

30.The initial reactions to the Windsor Framework from the Government and the Commission suggested that this breakthrough could pave the way for greater progress in some of the areas of potential UK-EU cooperation that have been blocked over the past two years. The Prime Minister referred to there being “many areas of co-operation that we can and should have with the European Union”.38 Meanwhile, the President of the Commission indicated that she would be “happy to start immediately the work” on an agreement for UK association to Horizon Europe once the Windsor Framework is in force.39 A Commission spokesperson also indicated that the EU would be “ready to start work” on finalising the proposed MoU on financial services cooperation.40

31.This positive approach to the potential for UK-EU cooperation was also reflected in evidence we heard from Leo Docherty MP, Minister for Europe at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, in March 2023. Mr Docherty told us that the Government was “eager for collaboration” and that “a lot of the best outcomes, whether it be diplomacy or security, are through alliance”.41

32.Many of our witnesses argued that it is now time for the UK and the EU to put aside differences that have arisen in the context of Brexit and engage in more extensive cooperation, in particular in the context of current and future geopolitical challenges. For instance, Lord Hague emphasised that Brexit was now “done” and the focus of the UK and the EU should be on “the frameworks for the future”42. He stressed that the future reconstruction of Ukraine and future security guarantees to Ukraine will “require closer and more intimate cooperation between the UK and the EU without compromising UK sovereignty”.43 Prof Stubb similarly identified common challenges that have arisen from the Ukraine conflict and said that it is “time to move on” from the debate about Brexit.44 Meanwhile, Lord Frost, referring to the loss of trust between the UK and the EU, said that “[w]e need to put that behind us and find solutions that can last”. He expressed hope that, following a resolution to the dispute over the Protocol, the UK and the EU could “move on to something better”.45

Future challenges

33.It should not be assumed that the agreement on the Windsor Framework will, by itself, remove all sources of possible tension from the UK-EU relationship. Some of those who submitted evidence highlighted the potential for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, before Parliament at the time of writing, to have an impact on the bilateral relationship.46 We were told that some resulting divergence from EU law, for instance in areas such as environmental and social regulation, may be viewed as a breach of the UK’s obligations under the TCA by the EU.47 As the Government has not specified which retained EU law it proposes to revoke or reform, and which it proposes to restate, the extent to which divergence resulting from the legislation will impact on UK-EU relations in practice is not yet clear.

34.The Illegal Migration Bill, which was introduced to Parliament by the Government in March 2023, may also have implications for UK-EU relations. Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner with responsibility for home affairs has indicated that she considers this legislation to be “unlawful”, while the Home Secretary was herself not able to certify its compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights.48 In this context it should be noted that the provisions of the TCA providing for cooperation on law enforcement can be terminated in the event of either Party’s denunciation of the European Convention on Human Rights49 or suspended following a “serious and systemic” deficiency in their protection.50

35.Ongoing policy developments in the EU may also affect aspects of the UK-EU relationship in the future.51 Our attention was drawn, for example, to a proposed new border entry/exit system, the expansion of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the planned introduction of a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which is discussed in more detail in Chapter 4 of this report.52

Conclusions and recommendations

36.We deeply regret that the political relationship between the UK and the EU was characterised by tension and mistrust for the first two years after the TCA came into force. The state of relations during this period was highly unsatisfactory for one of the UK’s closest and most important external relationships.

37.We welcome the change in the mood around UK-EU relations since autumn 2022, and especially since the agreement on the Windsor Framework was concluded in February 2023. We urge the Government and the EU to seize the opportunities that these developments present to prioritise a systematic and lasting effort at developing a more cooperative relationship and rebuilding mutual trust. This should include concluding specific cooperation agreements as soon as possible where these had previously been blocked due to the dispute over the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, for example on UK association to Horizon Europe, electricity trading and financial services.

38.The past two years have highlighted the importance of mutual trust to a cooperative relationship between the UK and the EU. As an essential step towards rebuilding trust, the Government must ensure that it seeks to maintain a regular dialogue with the EU institutions at all levels. At the core of this will be more regular use of the existing institutional framework established under the Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA.

39.It is inevitable that policy developments in each of the UK and the EU will sometimes have implications for the other partner in the relationship. Where this is the case, it is imperative that the Government and the European Commission engage with one another through the relevant institutional forums from as early a stage as possible in the respective UK and EU policy processes, with the aim of addressing any potential issues before they escalate into significant disputes. Issues of this sort cannot be solved solely through contact with Member States.

40.It is also important that parliamentary select committees are able to scrutinise the potential implications of policy developments in the UK and the EU for UK-EU relations. We thank the Government for reaching an agreement with this Committee, and with the European Scrutiny Committee in the House of Commons, to help facilitate this.

The institutional framework

41.The institutional framework for UK-EU relations includes a total of 32 committees and working groups that bring together the Government and the Commission, established under the Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA. The most senior bodies within this structure are the Joint Committee (for the Withdrawal Agreement) and the Partnership Council (for the TCA), each co-chaired by a Cabinet minister and a European Commissioner. The groups that sit below these are official-level bodies that focus on specific topics covered by the agreements. The TCA also provided a framework for the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA), comprised of delegations from the UK Parliament and the European Parliament, and the Civil Society Forum (CSF), consisting of representatives of non-governmental organisations, businesses and trade unions in the UK and the EU.

42.A more detailed summary of these arrangements was provided by the former European Union Committee. It described the institutional framework as an “elaborate double-headed structure”, given the establishment of two separate leadership bodies and sets of sectoral groups.53 It concluded that it was likely that such breadth and complexity would “prove challenging” over time and suggested that there may be a case for “simplifying and rationalising” the structure in due course.54

The operation of the institutional framework to date

43.Tables 1 and 2 indicate the number of meetings of the committees established under the Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA to date, and the dates of the most recent meetings. The Joint Committee has now met 10 times. Most of the Specialised Committees established under the Withdrawal Agreement have also met relatively often. However, the Partnership Council has met only twice, on 9 June 2021 and 24 March 2023. Most of the subject-specific TCA Specialised Committees have also met infrequently, typically once in 2021 and once in 2022, with only the Specialised Committees on Energy and Fisheries having met more than twice.

Table 1: Meetings of institutions established under the Withdrawal Agreement


Number of meetings

Date of most recent meeting

Joint Committee


24 March 2023

Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights


17 November 2022

Specialised Committee on Other Separation Provisions


27 November 2020

Specialised Committee on Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland


8 March 2022

Specialised Committee on the Protocol on Gibraltar


16 April 2021

Specialised Committee on the Protocol on the Sovereign Base Areas of the UK in Cyprus


18 July 2022

Specialised Committee on Financial Provisions


18 October 2022

Source: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and the Cabinet Office, ‘Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee’: [accessed 25 April 2023]

Table 2: Meetings of institutions established under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement


Number of meetings

Date of most recent meeting

Partnership Council


24 March 2023

Trade Partnership Committee


1 December 2022

Trade Specialised Committee on Goods


5 October 2022

Trade Specialised Committee on Customs Cooperation and Rules of Origin


7 October 2021

Trade Specialised Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures


19 October 2022

Trade Specialised Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade


24 October 2022

Trade Specialised Committee on Services, Investment and Digital Trade


20 October 2022

Trade Specialised Committee on Intellectual Property


10 October 2022

Trade Specialised Committee on Public Procurement


12 October 2021

Trade Specialised Committee on Regulatory Cooperation


26 October 2022

Trade Specialised Committee on Level Playing Field for Open and Fair Competition and Sustainable Development


12 October 2022

Trade Specialised Committee on Administration of VAT and Recovery of Taxes and Duties


15 December 2021

Specialised Committee on Social Security Coordination


30 June 2022

Specialised Committee on Energy


28 September 2022

Specialised Committee on Fisheries


21 October 2022

Specialised Committee on Law Enforcement and Judicial Cooperation


13 October 2022

Specialised Committee on Air Transport


28 June 2022

Specialised Committee on Aviation Safety


14 November 2022

Specialised Committee on Road Transport


21 November 2022

Specialised Committee on Participation in Union Programmes


22 September 2022

Source: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and the Cabinet Office, ‘Trade and Cooperation Agreement Governance’: [accessed 25 April 2023]

44.Some witnesses who provided evidence about these institutional structures emphasised the impact of the wider state of the UK-EU relationship on their work so far.55 Lord Frost, who had oversight of these structures while in Government, told us that these bodies had “worked reasonably well” but had “been subject to a degree of external strain that was probably not expected at first”.56 Meanwhile, Professor Simon Usherwood, an expert on the UK-EU institutional relationship, felt in October 2022 that the machinery was “working as well as can be expected under the prevailing political climate” and attributed the limited activity of many of the forums to a lack of “political will”.57

45.The Minister for Europe told us that the Government was “satisfied” with the institutional architecture.58 He indicated that there had been some “slowing down” of cooperation because of the dispute over the Protocol, but he anticipated that there would be an “increased tempo” to engagement in these forums following the agreement on the Windsor Framework.59 The Minister also stressed that the Government engages with the EU in non-structured formats, which he considered “equally important”.60

46.Contrary to the Minister’s view, Lord Mandelson and Lord Hague each suggested to us that that the current institutional framework was insufficient to foster a deeper habit of cooperation between the UK and the EU. Lord Mandelson argued that the official-level Specialised Committees and working groups “take us only so far” and do not in themselves support “the development of habits of working together to solve common problems”.61 Meanwhile, Lord Hague said that it was “good that there are such committees, but it does not meet the need for close, senior-level, institutionalised co-operation that ideally ought to exist”.62 He proposed the establishment of “simple and senior-level structures” that would be focused on addressing “complex geopolitical challenges”.63

47.Despite the large number of existing committees and working groups, some of those we heard from identified gaps in these structures, as a consequence of the focus on areas of cooperation specifically identified in the agreements. For example, there are no dedicated forums to discuss environmental and climate change policies, data protection or financial services.64 Some witnesses also referred to the US-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC), which was established in 2021 with the aim of fostering cooperation on issues related to trade and technology, noting that there was no UK-EU body focused on equivalent issues.65 This is discussed further in Chapter 3.

The role of the devolved institutions

48.During our visit to Cardiff and Edinburgh we heard concerns about the limited involvement of the UK’s devolved political institutions within the institutional framework for UK-EU relations.66 Dr Elin Royles, Senior Lecturer in International Politics at Aberystwyth University, explained that while the UK was a member of the EU there had been a “clear structure” that enabled the devolved administrations to contribute to the development of UK positions at the Council and sometimes to represent the UK in meetings.67 However, this structure has not been replicated for the institutions established under the Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA, and we were told that this was contributing to “frustration” within the devolved administrations.68 Rt Hon Angus Robertson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture in the Scottish Government, said that when the UK Government engaged with the EU the position of the Scottish Government was “just not part of the script”, even on topics such as energy policy where there is a strong Scottish interest.69

49.In 2022 a new set of Interministerial Groups (IMGs) covering a wide range of policy areas were established to provide for regular engagement between the UK and devolved governments on matters of mutual interest.70 However, we were told that the IMGs were not currently linked to the Withdrawal Agreement and TCA committees. Dr Royles indicated that it was “unclear how the different structures work coherently together”.71

50.The Welsh Government has previously expressed concerns that requests to attend meetings of the Joint Committee when the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is on the agenda, on the grounds that it had a strong interest due to the implications of the Protocol for Welsh ports, have been refused by the UK Government. It has also described its observer status at meetings of the Partnership Council as “unsatisfactory”, calling instead for full participation rights. The Senedd Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee endorsed these Welsh Government positions in evidence submitted to us.72

The potential for UK-EU summits

51.The former European Union Committee expressed regret at the absence of any provision in the TCA for formal UK-EU summits, which would ensure regular prime ministerial and ministerial-level dialogue with EU leaders.73 In February 2021 Lord Frost told that Committee that there was no need for a treaty provision for summits as these would “happen naturally and organically”.74 However, no UK-EU summits have happened so far. This contrasts with the regular programme of summits that the EU holds with other major third country partners including Canada, Japan and the United States of America.

52.Several witnesses felt that there would be value in regular UK-EU summits. Lord Hague told us that anticipation of international summits “drives decisions and creates an incentive for officials and Ministers to reach agreement”.75 Meanwhile, Lord Mandelson suggested that UK-EU summits could have “symbolic value” and that “the good will, if it engendered that, might cascade downwards to other relationships”.76 Lord Frost also felt that regular summits could be a “useful focal point” for the relationship, although he did not see establishing them as an “immediate priority”.77

53.The Minister for Europe told us that the Government was “open” to the possibility of UK-EU summits.78 He agreed with other witnesses that such events “are useful opportunities to accelerate work in advance and focus minds”.79

54.In considering the merits of holding summits with major bilateral partners we would highlight the success of the Anglo-French summit, held in Paris on 10 March 2023, which was the first such event for five years. This event was not only of symbolic value as a demonstration of a renewed prioritisation of the Anglo-French relationship on both sides of the Channel, but it also led to significant policy outcomes on issues such as defence cooperation and facilitating school visits.80

Parliamentary Partnership Assembly

55.The PPA has now met twice, in Brussels on 12–13 May 2022 and in London on 7–8 November 2022. 81

56.Each meeting has provided opportunities for members of the respective legislatures to engage with each other, as well as with representatives of the Government and the Commission. The Joint Statement by the Co-Chairs following the first meeting referred to a “constructive and open dialogue”.82 UK in a Changing Europe noted that findings had fed into the work of select committees in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.83 At the second meeting in London a recommendation was agreed concerning UK-EU energy cooperation.84 A series of “breakout groups” were also held on specific topics, with conclusions from these sent to the Partnership Council.85

57. The PPA is established under the TCA as a forum “consisting of Members of the European Parliament and Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom”.86 Members of the devolved legislatures have attended each of the first two meetings in an observer capacity. In written evidence submitted following the first meeting the Senedd Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee indicated that observer status was “unsatisfactory” and called for “further active participation” in future meetings. 87 At the second meeting they had new opportunities to participate, including a session where they addressed the PPA plenary as guest speakers as well as participating in the breakout groups.

Civil society institutions

58.The civil society institutions were somewhat slower to become established than other parts of the institutional framework. Only one meeting of the CSF has taken place so far.88 Respective EU and UK Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs) have also been set up, comprised of representatives of businesses, non-governmental organisations and trade unions.

59.Witnesses with experience of the civil society institutions raised some concerns with us about how participation in these has been organised on the UK side. Charles Whitmore, Coordinator of the Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit, noted that it had been a “challenge for the UK to put these things in place” since the EU has far greater experience of such institutions.89 He identified resourcing as a particular problem, since participation is unfunded by the Government, and told us that some UK participants had struggled to attend the inaugural meeting of the CSF for this reason.90 In contrast, EU participants receive funding from the European Economic and Social Committee. Irene Oldfather, Vice-Chair of the UK DAG, indicated to us that this had created an “unfair differential” between the UK and EU DAGs.91 We were also told that there had been an “imbalance of representation” in the initial composition of the UK DAG, with business and private sector organisations far outnumbering representatives of other parts of civil society, although some steps have since been taken to address this.92

Conclusions and recommendations

60.We regret that to date most of the committees and working groups established under the TCA have met infrequently and considered little substantive business. A considerable increase in both the intensity of activity within these institutional structures and the significance of the outcomes of this activity should be a key component of a wider reset of UK-EU relations if the aims of the TCA are to be achieved. Closer involvement of UK Ministers and EU Commissioners in the work of these groups, and in particular those covering critical areas of cooperation such as trade and energy, will be required to provide the impetus necessary for this.

61.It is indicative of the inactivity of the institutions established under the TCA that the Partnership Council, the senior-level body that oversees implementation of the agreement, has met only twice in the almost two-and-a-half years since the TCA came into force, with the second of these meetings not taking place until March 2023. We recommend that this body should meet, at a bare minimum, twice per year. It should also meet at short notice wherever issues that require input from the UK Ministers and EU Commissioners responsible for UK-EU relations arise in other forums.

62.In order for the institutions to work efficiently and effectively it is important both that Ministers and Commissioners provide the necessary political momentum and that officials are encouraged to prepare the detailed decisions to be taken by the Joint Committee and the Partnership Council. Neither condition has so far been fully met.

63.The current double-headed system of committees and working groups may not prove to be the most efficient or effective system for managing the UK-EU relationship in the longer-term, given its complexity and that it does not cover important policy areas in which cooperation may develop in the future. We recommend that, when the TCA is reviewed in 2025, consideration should be given to moving towards a single structure of committees covering all major areas of cooperation.

64.We consider it important that the UK’s devolved administrations are able to contribute effectively to the institutional structures for UK-EU relations. To help facilitate this, we recommend that relevant Interministerial Groups should be convened routinely in advance of meetings of the UK-EU institutions, to enable the devolved governments to feed in their views. We also recommend that Ministers and officials from the devolved administrations should continue to be invited to participate as members of the UK delegation at meetings of the institutions where matters within devolved competence are on the agenda.

65.We recommend that regular UK-EU summits should be held as a focus for political and diplomatic engagement, including at the level of the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the Commission and the European Council. Such summits would also facilitate engagement between Cabinet ministers and European Commissioners with equivalent responsibilities. We urge the Government to approach the EU without further delay with a proposal to host an inaugural summit in the UK before the end of 2023.

66.We welcome that two productive meetings of the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly have now taken place. We anticipate that this institution will play an important role in wider efforts to rebuild the relationship between the UK and the EU as it continues to develop over the next few years. The practice of inviting members of the devolved legislatures to meetings of the PPA, and facilitating opportunities for them to contribute, should be continued.

67.While we welcome that the civil society institutions established under the TCA are now operational, we note the concerns that have been expressed to us about the current arrangements for participation of UK civil society organisations, including the absence of funding to support attendance at meetings. We ask the Government to discuss this matter with UK civil society representatives as a priority ahead of the second meeting of the Civil Society Forum, with the aim of ensuring that UK representatives are able to participate on an equivalent basis to their EU counterparts.

The European Political Community

The EPC and UK-EU relations

68.There had initially been some uncertainty over whether the then UK Prime Minister, Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, would participate in the new European Political Community (EPC) (see Box 1). However, Ms Truss ultimately decided to embrace the EPC. On the day of the inaugural meeting in Prague, she wrote a newspaper article in which she said that it was “right that we find common cause with our European friends and allies”, highlighting security, energy and migration as issues on which she wished to cooperate with other participants.93

Box 1: The European Political Community

The European Political Community (EPC) was established in 2022 to bring together EU Member States and other European countries. A leading advocate of this initiative was the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. In May 2022, President Macron proposed that this body “would allow democratic European nations that subscribe to our shared core values to find a new space for political and security cooperation, cooperation in the energy sector, in transport, investments, infrastructures, the free movement of persons and in particular of our youth”.94 He specifically indicated that the new institution would “not be closed to those who have left the EU”, signalling that he envisaged the UK being invited to participate.

The inaugural meeting of the EPC was held in Prague on 6 October 2022. The participants were the heads of government of all EU Member States and 17 other European countries, including the UK, as well as the Presidents of the Commission and the European Council. The agenda included discussions on peace and security, energy, climate and the economic situation.95 There were also opportunities for bilateral engagements.

It has been agreed that biannual EPC summits will be held over the next two years. The second meeting will take place in Moldova on 1 June 2023, the third in Spain later in 2023 and the fourth in the UK in the first half of 2024.

69.The then Prime Minister’s attendance at the Prague summit was productive: progress was made towards a Memorandum of Understanding on UK engagement with the North Seas Energy Cooperation, which was subsequently signed in December 2022 (discussed further in Chapter 4); several bilateral meetings were held with European leaders; and, a meeting between Ms Truss and President Macron led to commitments to deepen Anglo-French cooperation on energy and on tackling “illegal migration”.96

70.Several of our witnesses saw the EPC as providing an opportunity for the UK to re-engage with the EU and its Member States. For example, Prof Stubb commented that “for me, one of the key elements of the EPC is to get the United Kingdom as closely involved as possible in as many areas as possible”.97 He added that he felt it was important for the UK to “not only be involved, but to take leadership in this project”, and highlighted in particular the UK’s strengths in defence and security, which had come to the fore during the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.98 Similarly, Ms Bermann described the EPC as a “way for the UK to be back in [European] forums”.99 Dr Ammon indicated to us that in Germany the UK’s participation in the Prague meeting, and its offer to host one of the forthcoming summits, were seen as a “signal from London that the UK wants to keep channels of communications with European countries open, which are countries that share the same values”.100

71.Lord Hague described participation as an “opportunity for the UK”, adding that in a “changed world” where cooperation on issues such as energy had become more important, “it is a good idea for there to be a body that includes the EU countries and some 17 other countries that are not in the EU”.101 Lord Mandelson took a similar view, telling us that the EPC is a “good forum and potentially a mechanism to advance cooperation on energy, security, migration and other issues”.102 He felt that UK participation was also “a chance for us to rebuild trust with our neighbours and to foster a more strategic and common interest across Europe’s nations”.103 Lord Frost also saw the EPC as a “potentially useful body”, going on to say that it “seems right that Europeans should have a way of getting together in a reasonably systematic way nowadays”.104

72.Our expert witnesses agreed that the UK’s participation in the EPC was welcome. Sophia Gaston, Head of Foreign Policy at Policy Exchange, told us that it was “absolutely the right thing” for the Prime Minister to attend.105 In her view UK participation reflected a “broader shift in thinking” within the Government, towards “an understanding that we have to accept the legitimacy of the EU as an institution”.106 Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), described the EPC as a “modest” but “important” step, noting that UK participation reflected “a degree of flexibility on both the UK and the EU side”.107

73.Other witnesses, however, expressed reservations about the extent to which the EPC would have a role to play in the direct relationship between the UK and EU. For instance, Lord Ricketts, a former National Security Adviser, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office and UK Ambassador to France, argued that the EPC was a “useful gathering of the wider European community of nations”, but stressed that it will be “in no way a substitute for UK-EU consultations”.108 He noted that the EPC was only expected to meet every six months and that it did not currently have a secretariat. Despite identifying significant benefits to the UK from participating in the EPC, Lord Mandelson also felt that it would “not play a key part in UK-EU relations”.109

74.The Minister for Europe’s assessment was that the EPC is “very important in terms of our relations with the EU”.110 He indicated that the output of the Prague summit had been “extremely useful” and emphasised that the Government wanted to “make it a good opportunity for the UK to host in 2024”.111

The future of the EPC

75.Several witnesses considered that, especially from the perspective of encouraging UK participation, it would be desirable for the EPC to remain a relatively informal intergovernmental body, with institutionalisation kept to a minimum. Prof Stubb said that he would be “very careful about institutionalising it, because the more institutionalised it becomes, the more contentious it becomes, especially in the United Kingdom”.112 Lord Frost expressed a similar view, saying that “deep institutionalisation” would “scare off participants and should be avoided”.113 Meanwhile, Ms Bermann argued that it should “remain like it is, very informal, meeting every six months”.114

76.In correspondence with us, the Foreign Secretary has previously indicated that the Government believes that the programme of meetings should “minimise institutionalisation, adopting only what is needed to progress outcomes”.115 He stressed the value of the “opportunity for candid discussions between leaders representing the breadth of the continent”.

77.The group of countries that participate in the EPC is very similar to the membership of the Council of Europe (CoE), which led to some concerns following the Prague summit that the EPC would duplicate aspects of the CoE’s role.116 However, witnesses emphasised to us that the EPC and the CoE have distinct remits, with the latter having a focus pursuant to its founding treaty on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.117 Prof Chalmers went as far as to describe the EPC and the Council of Europe as “entirely complementary”.118 The Minister for Europe agreed with this assessment.119

Conclusions and recommendations

78.We welcome the then Prime Minister’s decision to attend the inaugural EPC summit in Prague. This was a strong symbol of a renewed intention for the UK to engage positively with European partners, including EU Member States, other non-members of the EU and the EU institutions, on matters of common interest. The outcomes from the first summit have already demonstrated that the EPC can be a productive forum for securing progress on important issues.

79.We believe that the UK should play as full a part as possible in the EPC and therefore welcome the fact that it will be hosting the fourth summit, in 2024. We look forward to this event, which should be an excellent opportunity for the Government to drive pan-European cooperation on issues of particular interest to the UK and to demonstrate a constructive approach to the UK’s relations with wider European partners.

80.We nevertheless stress that participation in the EPC cannot in itself be a substitute for enhanced bilateral engagement with the EU through the institutions established under the Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA, or for dedicated UK-EU summits.

81.We agree with several of our witnesses that it would be desirable for the EPC to remain a relatively informal, intergovernmental body. If it were to become more heavily institutionalised, it is likely that it would be more difficult to maintain the support of such a wide group of participants, which is a key advantage of the current format.

82.The EPC should work cooperatively with the Council of Europe so they remain complementary. The Government should also examine ways of giving greater priority to the work of the Council of Europe.

Arrangements in Whitehall for handling UK-EU relations

83.During the UK’s membership of the EU there was a well-established system for internal coordination on EU-related matters within the Government, involving the Cabinet Office, individual Whitehall departments, the UK Representation to the EU (UKRep) and the devolved administrations. This mechanism was necessary to ensure that the Government adopted a coherent approach in its engagement with the EU, which inevitably covered matters which lay within the responsibilities of most individual Government departments domestically.

84.When the UK left the EU, UKRep was succeeded by the UK Mission to the EU (UKMis), which seeks to ensure that the UK’s “interests are promoted and explained to EU Member States and the EU institutions”.120 Within Whitehall, the Cabinet Office initially had overall responsibility for post-Brexit UK-EU relations. Following Lord Frost’s resignation from the Government in December 2021, this was transferred to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Assessments of post-Brexit arrangements

85.During the course of this inquiry some witnesses raised concerns about the effectiveness of current arrangements for cross-government coordination on policy towards the EU. Lord Frost told us:

“I do not think that our internal coordination arrangements on European or semi-European business have worked well, certainly not since the referendum and probably a bit before that. The internal habits of transparency of information and clarity when decisions were taken, as well as what those decisions were, so that people could act on them, have all been lost. You cannot point at one Government in particular for being responsible for that; it has been a gradual deterioration over the past decade or more, to be honest, in how the machinery has worked.”121

86.Ms Gaston indicated that many areas of potential post-Brexit UK-EU cooperation were “cutting across multiple departments”.122 She argued that a coordinating Cabinet Office function was needed to ensure a coherent approach, as a lot of departments have “traditionally not thought in a foreign-policy sharp-edged kind of way”.123

87.Sir Julian King, who was European Commissioner for the Security Union from 2016 to 2019 and previously a senior UK civil servant, also emphasised the need for a “comprehensive approach to defence, security and foreign policy”, to ensure that these issues are not dealt with “in silos”.124 He suggested that to support such an approach it is necessary to have a “joined-up policy-making machine that reflects it”.125

88.Lord Hague told us that he was a “natural supporter” of the FCDO having lead responsibility for the UK’s policy towards the EU, as “many of the things on which we need good relations and cooperation with EU partners are geopolitical issues”.126 However, he agreed with other witnesses that “coordination is needed from the Cabinet Office as well”.127 Reflecting on his own experience as Foreign Secretary, he said that a “joint secretariat between the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office has often worked well, since their coordination is required across education, energy and many other areas that are beyond the remit of the Foreign Office”.128

89.A similar view was expressed by Lord Ricketts, who said that “if the idea is light coordination in the Cabinet Office with the main policy-making focus back in the FCDO, I am personally happy with that”.129 He considered that the separation of EU policy from the FCDO following the vote to leave the EU had not been “a very happy experiment”.130

90.Our own experience of engagement with the Government since Brexit has on a number of occasions suggested to us that effective coordination between departments is wanting. A particularly frustrating example of this has related to the challenges facing creative professionals when moving between the UK and the EU, which will be discussed further in Chapter 5 of this report.

91.There is a devolution dimension to this discussion since many of the policy areas that the Government may engage with the EU relate to competences subject to the UK’s devolution arrangements or have specific implications for the devolved territories. As was noted earlier in the chapter, during the UK’s EU membership there was a mechanism in place for consultation between the devolved governments and Whitehall on European policy. Many of the people that we spoke to during our visits to Cardiff and Edinburgh suggested to us that coordination with the devolved governments on EU-related matters had been insufficient since Brexit.131

92.The current arrangements for coordination within the Government were defended by the Minister for Europe, who said that there is a “healthy dose of cross-Whitehall collaboration” and suggested that the agreement on the Windsor Framework had been a “cross-Whitehall success story”.132 Olaf Henricson-Bell, EU Director at the FCDO, added that an advantage of how the system is currently set up is that it brings together the EU-facing and bilateral dimensions to European policy.133 He cited a fortnightly senior officials’ meeting, chaired by the National Security Adviser, as an example of working closely with the Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street.134

Conclusions and recommendations

93.Every Government department, as well as the devolved administrations, has an interest in the UK’s relationship with the EU. In order to successfully manage the continually evolving relationship with the EU in a way that promotes and protects the UK’s interests, we consider that there needs to be a strong coordinating machinery in Whitehall and with UKMis to ensure coherence in the UK’s approach. We were therefore concerned to hear that internal coordination arrangements may not be working as effectively as they could be. Our own experience of engagement with the Government has borne this out.

94.We would emphasise that many developments in the EU continue to have important implications for the UK. Given this, it is essential that the UK, through the machinery in Whitehall and UKMis, makes representations at an early stage of the EU’s complex policy process in a coordinated and effective manner. The machinery of government must be set up in a way that facilitates this.

95.During the UK’s membership the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (now the FCDO) had lead responsibility for handling relations with the EU, while there was also a strong inter-departmental coordinating machinery in the Cabinet Office. We believe that the same combination is needed to handle post-Brexit relations with the EU.

96.We consider that the importance of effective arrangements for inter-departmental coordination, and for coordination between the UK Government and the devolved administrations, on EU-related matters will only become greater if the intensity of engagement between the UK and the EU increases over the coming years, in line with the recommendations elsewhere in this chapter.

97.We ask the Government to set out in its response to this report how the system of coordination on EU policy currently works, and in particular (i) how UKMis is involved, (ii) the relationship between the FCDO and the Cabinet Office, (iii) how other departments in Whitehall are involved and (iv) how the Government engages with the devolved administrations, specifically on EU-related policy, and what part the Interministerial Groups play in this. We hope the Government will be able to report how improved and strengthened inter-departmental coordination is leading to more effective outcomes.

9 European Commission, Revised Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland included in the Withdrawal Agreement, Article 16 TF50(2019)64), 17 October 2019:–10/revised_withdrawal_agreement_including_protocol_on_ireland_and_nothern_ireland.pdf [accessed 25 April 2023]. See more: European Affairs Committee, Report from the Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Introductory report (2nd Report, Session 2021–22, HL Paper 55).

10 Q 10 (Lord Frost) and written evidence from UK in a Changing Europe (UKE0029)

11 European Commission, Press release, ‘Withdrawal Agreement: Commission sends letter of formal notice to the United Kingdom for breach of its obligations under the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland’ (15 March 2021): [accessed 25 April 2023]

13 This progressed through its House of Commons stages and completed Committee stage in the House of Lords. It was then paused and the Government confirmed that it would not be pursuing the legislation following the agreement on the Windsor Framework. See also letter from Lord Jay of Ewelme, Chair of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee, to Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, 22 November 2022:

14 European Commission, Press Release: ‘Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Commission launches four new infringement procedures against the UK’ (22 July 2022): [accessed 25 April 2023]

15 Q 1 (Lord Frost)

16 Q 1 (Lord Mandelson)

17 Q 168 (Lord Hague)

18 Letter from the Chair to Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, Foreign Secretary (22 June 2022):

19 Written evidence from UK in a Changing Europe (UKE0029)

20 ‘EU imposes meeting ban on UK officials’, Euractiv (10 November 2022): [accessed 25 April 2023]

21 Written evidence from The Bar Council (UKE0069)

22 Written evidence from British Chamber of Commerce EU and Belgium (UKE0056)

23 Q 1 (Lord Mandelson)

24 Ibid.

25 Written evidence from European and International Analysts Group (UKE0012)

26 Written evidence from The Bar Council (UKE0069)

27 Written evidence from European and International Analysts Group (UKE0012)

28 Written evidence from Professor Simon Usherwood (UKE00020), The Independent Commission on UK-EU Relations (UKE00021) and European and International Analysts Group (UKE0012)

29 Q 64 (Sylvie Bermann)

30 Q 65 (Peter Ammon)

31 Q 1 (Lord Mandelson)

32 Q 1 (Lord Frost)

33 Q 1 (Lord Mandelson, Lord Frost), written evidence from Professor Simon Usherwood (UKE00020), The Bar Council (UKE0069) and Musicians’ Union (UKE00017)

34 HM Government, The Windsor Framework: A new way forward, CP 806 (27 February 2023): [accessed 25 April 2023]

The Windsor Framework was formally adopted at the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee meeting on 24 March 2023. Full implementation will follow over the coming months, including through EU and domestic UK legislation. A Statutory Instrument to implement key provisions of the proposed ‘Stormont brake’, under which the Northern Ireland Assembly would be able to object to the application of EU proposals in Northern Ireland, was approved by the House of Commons and the House of Lords on 22 and 29 March, respectively.

35 Q 14 (Prof Alexander Stubb)

36 Ibid.

37 Q 168 (Lord Hague)

38 HC Deb, 27 February 2023, col 570

39 President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, ‘Statement at the joint press conference with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’, 27 February 2023: [accessed 25 April 2023]

40 ‘City of London hopes for EU thaw after Northern Ireland deal’ Bloomberg UK (8 March 2023):–03-08/city-of-london-hopes-for-brexit-thaw-after-northern-ireland-deal?leadSource=uverify%20wall [accessed 25 April 2023]

41 Q 189 (Leo Docherty MP)

42 169 (Lord Hague)

43 Ibid.

44 Q 14 (Prof Alexander Stubb)

45 Q 1 (Lord Frost)

46 Written evidence from UK in a Changing Europe (UKE0029), UK Environmental Law Association (UKE0036) and Wales Civil Society Forum (UKE0062)

47 Written evidence from UK in a Changing Europe (UKE0029)

48 ‘EU tells Rishi Sunak small boats plan ‘violates international law’’, The Independent (9 March 2023): (accessed 25 April 2023) and Explanatory Notes to the Illegal Migration Bill [Bill 262 (2022–23)-EN]

49 Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of one part, ant the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, of the other part (30 December 2020), Article 692(2): [accessed 25 April 2023]

50 Ibid., Article 693

51 In 2022, together with the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, we reached an agreement with the Government on arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny of EU proposals that may have implications for the UK. See: European Affairs Committee, Future Scrutiny Arrangements for EU-Related Business report (3rd Report, Session 2022–23, HL Paper 92)

52 Q 148 (Luke Petherbridge), Q 94 (Dr Caroline Kuzemko) and Q 92 (Ed Birkett)

53 European Union Committee, Beyond Brexit: The institutional framework (21st Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 246), para 51

55 Written evidence from The Independent Commission on UK-EU Relations (UKE00021) and UK in a Changing Europe (UKE0029)

56 Q 5 (Lord Frost)

57 Written evidence from Professor Simon Usherwood (UKE00020)

58 Q 191 (Leo Docherty MP)

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 Q 5 (Lord Mandelson)

62 Q 169 (Lord Hague)

63 Ibid.

64 Written evidence from UK in a Changing Europe (UKE0029), Institute for European Environmental Policy (UKE0046),E3G (UKE0038) and Q 114 (Dustin Benton)

65 European Commission, ‘Digital in the EU-US Trade and Technology Council’: (accessed 25 April 2023), Q 36 (Dr Rosa Balfour) and Q 47 (Lord Ricketts)

66 European Affairs Committee, ‘Edinburgh Visit Notes, January 2023’:, Q 163 (Charles Whitmore). Arrangements for attendance of representatives of the devolved administrations at some meetings is facilitated at the discretion of the UK Government. See letter from Lord Frost to Rt Hon Arlene Foster MLA, First Minister, Northern Ireland Executive, Michelle O’Neill MLA, deputy First Minister, NI Executive, Rt Hon Angus Roberston MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, Scottish Government and Mick Antoniw MS, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, Welsh Government (27 May 2021): [accessed 25 April 2023]

67 Q 163 (Dr Elin Royles)

68 Ibid.

69 European Affairs Committee, ‘Edinburgh Visit Notes, January 2023’:

70 Cabinet Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Review of intergovernmental relations (13 January 2022): [accessed 25 April 2023]

71 Q 163 (Dr Elin Royles)

72 Written evidence from the Senedd Legislation, Justice, Constitution Committee (UKE0033)

74 Oral evidence taken before the Select Committee on the European Union, inquiry on Future UK-EU relations: governance, 9 February 2021 (Session 2019–21), Q 25 (Lord Frost)

75 Q 170 (Lord Hague)

76 Q 6 (Lord Mandelson)

77 Q 6 (Lord Frost)

78 Q 194 (Leo Docherty MP)

79 Ibid.

80 Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, UK-France Joint Leaders’ Declaration (10 March 2023): [accessed 25 April 2023]

81 Several Members of this Committee are also part of the UK delegation to the PPA, including the Chair, who is a Vice-Chair of the PPA.

82 UK Parliament, First Joint Statement by Co-Chairs of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (13 May 2022): [accessed 25 April 2023]

83 Written evidence from UK in a Changing Europe (UKE0029)

86 Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of one part, ant the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, of the other part (30 December 2020), Article 11(1): [accessed 25 April 2023]

87 Written evidence from Senedd Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee (UKE0033)

88 Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, First Civil Society Forum of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (4 October 2022): [accessed 25 April 2023]

89 Q 165 (Charles Whitmore)

90 Ibid.

91 European Affairs Committee, ‘Edinburgh Visit Notes, January 2023’:

92 Written evidence from Wales Civil Society Forum (UKE0062)

93 ‘Time to find common cause with our European friends’, The Times (6 October 2022): [accessed 25 April 2023]

94 French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, ‘Speech by Emmanuel Macron at the closing ceremony of the Conference on the Future of Europe’ (10 May 2022): [accessed 25 April 2023]

95 European Council, Meeting of the European Political Community (6 October 2022): [accessed 25 April 2023]

96 Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, Press Release: ‘UK-France Joint Statement’ (6 October 2022): [accessed 25 April 2023]

97 Q 15 (Prof Alexander Stubb)

98 Ibid.

99 Q 66 (Sylvie Bermann)

100 Q 67 (Peter Ammon)

101 Q 174 (Lord Hague)

102 Q 8 (Lord Mandelson)

103 Ibid.

104 Q 8 (Lord Frost)

105 Q 25 (Sophia Gaston)

106 Q 27 (Sophia Gaston)

107 Q 25 (Prof Malcolm Chalmers)

108 Q 54 (Lord Ricketts)

109 Q 8 (Lord Mandelson)

110 Q 199 (Leo Docherty MP)

111 Ibid.

112 Q 16 (Prof Alexander Stubb)

113 Q 8 (Lord Frost)

114 Q 67 (Sylvie Bermann)

115 Letter from Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, Foreign Secretary to the Chair (12 January 2023):

116 Q 8 (Lord Foulkes)

117 Q 8 (Lord Mandelson, Lord Frost), Q 54 (Lord Ricketts) and Q 174 (Lord Hague)

118 Q 25 (Prof Malcolm Chalmers)

119 Q 200 (Leo Docherty MP)

120 Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, ‘UK Mission to the European Union’: [accessed 25 April 2023]

121 Q 6 (Lord Frost)

122 Q 26 (Sophia Gaston)

123 Ibid.

124 Q 55 (Sir Julian King)

125 Ibid.

126 Q 173 (Lord Hague)

127 Ibid.

128 Ibid.

129 Q 55 (Lord Ricketts)

130 Q 56 (Lord Ricketts)

131 Q 164 (Dr Elin Royles, Charles Whitmore) and European Affairs Committee, ‘Edinburgh Visit Notes, January 2023’:

132 Q 195 (Leo Docherty MP)

133 Q 195 (Olaf Henricson-Bell)

134 Ibid.

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