What is the National Parliament Office?
The UK National Parliament Office (NPO) represents both Houses of the UK Parliament at EU level. Established in October 1999, it is staffed by two officials—one from the Commons and one from the Lords. Its offices are located on the European Parliament’s premises in Brussels.
The Office assists the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee (ESC) and the House of Lords European Union Committee (EUC) in the tasks which they carry out on behalf of each House in relation to European matters. The NPO also assists other committees of the two Houses with their engagement on European issues.
How does the UK Parliament scrutinise EU legislation?
The primary purpose of the two Committees is to scrutinise draft EU law before it is agreed. The scrutiny process is the means of exerting parliamentary influence over the UK Government’s actions in the Council of the EU. Until UK parliamentary scrutiny is complete, UK Ministers cannot—unless there are exceptional circumstances—adopt a formal position on European legislation and other decisions in the Council.
The Commons ESC and the Lords EUC examine all proposals for EU legislation, as well as other documents such as Commission Communications and Green and White Papers. Both Committees scrutinise all areas of EU activity—from the internal market and environmental issues to foreign policy and justice and home affairs matters.
The ESC in the Commons considers each EU document in the light of an Explanatory Memorandum supplied by the UK Government, and reports to the House of Commons whether a document raises matters of legal and/or political importance. The ESC can recommend documents for debate, either in a European Committee or on the floor of the House, or hold documents under scrutiny pending receipt of further information.
The Lords EUC also considers each document but carries out in depth analysis of the merits of a smaller number of documents that it classifies as important. The Committee acts as an investigative body, carrying out inquiries and producing reports that make recommendations to the UK Government and directly to the European institutions.
Why does the UK Parliament need an office in Brussels?
The NPO acts as an observation post for both Houses in Brussels. As the “eyes and ears” of the ESC, EUC and other committees, it gives early warning on issues of particular interest or importance and supplies information on European legislation and other matters which may not be readily available in London. The staff of the office work closely with the European institutions to provide this information.
The office also provides information on the EU-related work of both Houses to interested parties in Brussels.
What else does the NPO do?
The NPO supports the work of the Committees in other ways, including:
- Explaining and promoting the work of the UK Parliament on EU matters
- Fostering personal and face-to-face contacts with people in the EU institutions in order to enhance further the reputation of the UK Parliament among EU decision makers and gain influence for the Committees’ recommendations
- Strengthening relations with other national parliaments and with the devolved administrations
Furthermore, since the Lisbon Treaty, the role of national parliament representatives has attracted greater significance. The NPO is the principal means by which the UK Parliament can communicate quickly and informally with other national parliaments through the network of representatives based in Brussels. This is particularly important in helping the two Houses to take decisions on subsidiarity.
The NPO also supports delegations from the UK Parliament to the growing number of inter-parliamentary meetings in Brussels and elsewhere in the EU.
The NPO and Brexit
Since the UK’s 2016 Referendum on EU membership, the roles and responsibilities of the NPO in Brussels have changed. The NPO continues to fulfil many of its traditional functions relating but not limited to: the scrutiny of European legislation; bilateral visits between Westminster and the EU institutions; and supporting UK MPs in their attendance at interparliamentary meetings in rotating EU Council Presidency capitals.
In addition, the Office has evolved to focus greater resources on monitoring the Article 50 process by which the UK is due to leave the EU. NPO staff have developed close working relationships with negotiating teams in both the UK’s Permanent Representation to the EU (UKRep) and the European Commission’s Taskforce on Article 50 Negotiations with the United Kingdom (TF50) while liaising regularly with the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group (BSG) and influential Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO). The Office has overseen numerous Brexit-related visits to Brussels by Select Committees from both Houses and increased its presence at key European Parliament plenary sessions in Strasbourg.
NPO staff have also been called upon to provide regular updates on Brexit-related business at Westminster to the Brussels-based Representatives of EU27 national Parliaments as well as to officials from various third country Missions. The NPO is also at the forefront of developing the framework for what future interparliamentary relations between the UK Parliament and the European Parliament might look like once the UK has completed its EU withdrawal.