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Deal, no deal or extension – now is the time for a strategic plan for the UK's long-term

The House of Lords EU Committee has today published its report entitled ‘Beyond Brexit: how to win friends and influence people'. The report looks beyond the current political crisis to explore how the UK-EU relationship should be managed once the UK is no longer ‘in the room' as a participant in the EU's institutions.

The report analyses the formal governance arrangements set out in the Withdrawal Agreement for future UK-EU cooperation, and considers how these can be complemented by less formal means of exercising influence in Brussels once the UK leaves the EU. While the report takes as its starting point that a deal will ultimately be reached, the need to find alternative avenues of communication and influence will become even more acute in the event of a no deal.

The report finds that, paradoxically, the UK will need to devote significantly more resources to lobbying and engaging with the EU Institutions after Brexit, if it is to ensure an effective relationship with its most significant trading partner. The report says UKRep – the UK Government's representation in Brussels – should increase its diplomatic presence. The Government needs to make a long-term commitment – of energy, time and financial and human resources – if it is to maximise its influence in Brussels and beyond.  

The report notes that the proposed UK-EU Joint Committee will be the principal formal means of inter-governmental dialogue after Brexit takes effect, and sets out key factors that will determine its effectiveness, including the frequency of meetings, its remit, the need for senior representation, a mutual commitment to dialogue, and effective accountability for the significant powers it will exercise.

The report finds that Parliament has a key role to play in scrutinising those EU laws that will continue to apply to the UK; the formal governance mechanisms including the Joint Committee; and the future relationship negotiations. It also stresses the vital importance of maintaining inter-parliamentary dialogue with the European Parliament, the national parliaments of EU countries, and the devolved legislatures.

The Committee expresses disappointment that the Government has failed to honour its commitment to support parliamentary committees in their scrutiny of the Brexit negotiations thus far, and calls for a step change in engagement during negotiations on the future relationship. This must include:

  • The provision of full documentation on new EU legislative proposals;
  • A mechanism for Parliament to require the Government to raise specific concerns in the Joint Committee;
  • Transparency of the Government's formal dialogue with the EU, including the provision of papers to the Committee and ministerial appearances before and after meetings
  • Enhanced oversight of the future relationship negotiations, including scrutiny of the Government's emerging negotiating position

Commenting on the report, Lord Boswell, Chair of the House of Lords EU Committee, said:

“While recent days have seen an increasingly feverish atmosphere, sooner or later it will pass. It is important to retain cool heads, and to think strategically about how we can establish a constructive relationship with the EU once we have left. It will be time to rebuild bridges.

“There is a paradox at the heart of Brexit, in that once we leave the EU, we will have to put even more effort and energy into getting our case across in Brussels. The experience of countries like Switzerland and Norway is that you have to work twice as hard to exert influence when you are not in the room, and that will be true for us as well.

“We also need to understand that negotiations on the future relationship are likely to be longer and more complex than those we have seen so far. The Government needs to reflect on what has gone wrong over recent months. It will have to work with Parliament, be more open, and build up support early in the process, rather than presenting us with a done deal.  I hope Ministers have learned this lesson.”

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