Revised Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration fail to provide accountability for next stages of Brexit – Lords EU Committee

10 January 2020

The House of Lords European Union Committee has today published its report on the revised UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement and the accompanying Political Declaration that will set the framework for future relations with the EU.

The Committee says key components of the Agreement, including the work of the new UK/EU Joint Committee - which will oversee the working of the Withdrawal Agreement - lack appropriate transparency or parliamentary oversight. This is a particular concern given the extensive powers of the Joint Committee to amend the Withdrawal Agreement and to make decisions affecting Northern Ireland, including on key issues such as customs arrangements.

The Committee’s report also comments on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, the legislation that the Government has brought forward to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, which will have its Second Reading in the House of Lords on Monday.

Oversight of the Joint Committee

The report describes the UK/EU Joint Committee as a ‘uniquely powerful and influential body’, with the power to amend the Withdrawal Agreement unilaterally, noting that its decisions will be legally binding on both the UK and the EU.

The report expresses concern that the Joint Committee will not be subject to any Parliamentary oversight or scrutiny, its meetings may take place in secret, and its decisions may not even be published.

Future relationship negotiations

The Committee raises concerns over Parliament’s ability to scrutinise the negotiations on the future relationship with the EU. The previous version of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill had provided a framework for Parliament to approve the UK/EU future relationship agreement. This has been omitted from the current text of the Bill, and the Committee points out that the lack of any role for the Westminster Parliaments compares unfavourably with the position of the European Parliament, which will be able to undertake “detailed and transparent” scrutiny.

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

“The revised EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill has significantly weaker arrangements for transparency and democratic oversight. We are concerned that so much of the detail of the Withdrawal Agreement is being left to the UK/EU Joint Committee, a body that will not be subject to any parliamentary oversight and that may not even publish details of the decisions it reaches.

“The lack of any provision in the Bill for the UK Parliament to scrutinise the future relationship negotiations is set in harsh relief compared to the role the European Parliament will play. MEPs will be able to undertake detailed and transparent scrutiny of future EU/UK negotiations while parliamentarians in Westminster will be reduced to passive observers. This lack of symmetry runs counter to the spirit and letter of ministerial undertakings given to parliament previously."

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