The parameters of economic and internal security co-operation between the UK and EU are defined by three key documents:
* the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA – the ‘deal’ signed on Christmas Eve 2020);
* the Withdrawal Agreement (WA), which lays out the future relationship for trade in goods between Northern Ireland, Britain and the EU; and
* the UK Internal Market Act, supplemented by ‘common frameworks’, which set out how the UK proposes to maintain internal coherence between the four nations of the UK after the loss of the EU framework within which devolution was originally conceived.
A new unit is established in No.10, under Lord Frost (the 2019-2020 Brexit negotiator). This unit has a strategic role, both on the approach to Europe and the EU as well as wider international policy.
The TCA establishes a complex governance model – at the top political level, the TCA will be overseen by a new Partnership Council. Not dissimilar to the Joint Committee established in the Withdrawal Agreement, it will be co-chaired by a representative from the European Commission (recently confirmed to be Maroš Šefčovič, also co-chair of the Joint Committee) and a minister from the UK government (yet to be announced). Its role includes:
• Oversight: The Partnership Council will be responsible for overseeing the application and implementation of the TCA. As part of this responsibility, it will be able to set up or disband specialised committees, delegating powers where necessary.
• Amendment: For the next four years, the Partnership Council will be able to amend the TCA, or supplement agreements, to correct errors or address omissions. But
the power goes beyond just a tidying up function and has the potential to be quite wide-ranging. For example, the Partnership Council will be able to decide to amend some parts of the agreement by mutual agreement, including parts of the chapters and annexes on rules of origin, customs and energy.
• Dispute settlement: For most parts of the TCA, the first step in the dispute resolution process is for the two sides to enter into ‘consultations’, which can take place either in one of the specialised committees or the Partnership Council. If a dispute cannot be resolved through consultation at the political level, the complaining party will have the option of requesting an arbitration tribunal and go through the resolution process.
NB : This process will not apply to all parts of the TCA. There are separate dispute arrangements in areas such as law enforcement and judicial co-operation, fisheries, and parts of the level playing field (LPF), including subsidies, labour and social standards, and environment and climate standards. Other parts do not have a formal dispute arrangement, including competition, tax, SMEs and cultural property.
The TCA also establishes the Trade Partnership Committee to oversee the trade
part of the agreement, with 10 trade-specialised committees, which will oversee specific aspects of the trading provisions, including on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS), regulatory co-operation, and the LPF. There will be a further eight specialised committees to oversee other aspects of the TCA, including on social security co-ordination and law enforcement, and judicial co-operation. Together, these amount to nearly double the number of committees included in the EU–Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
Four working groups are also established in the TCA to support the work of specific specialised committees. These are on organic products, motor vehicles and parts, medicinal products (supervised by the trade specialised committee on technical barriers to trade) and social security co-ordination (supervised by the Specialised Committee on Social Security Coordination). These groups have been set up where it is already clear that greater co-ordination or discussion will be needed.
The structure is not fixed. The Trade Partnership Committee and eight specialised committees can establish and dissolve working groups where they agree it is necessary to support the functioning of the agreement.
The TCA also allows the EU and UK parliaments to set up a new ‘parliamentary partnership assembly’ to exchange and request information on the implementation of the agreement from the Partnership Council as well as to make recommendations. The two sides will also establish a civil society forum and are expected to set up domestic advisory groups.
The Cabinet Office confirmed this morning (in questions to it, in Parliament) that the Partnership Council and various committees will be stood up next month, June.