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A small chink of light: EU-UK relations and parliamentary cooperation

Article by David Harley

July 4, 2022

A small chink of light: EU-UK relations and parliamentary cooperation

At a time of strained relations between the two Executives (the UK Government and the EU Commission), could a new structure for cooperation between the two parliaments (Westminster and Brussels/Strasbourg) contribute to a gradual improvement in relations between the two sides?


The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) provides for the setting up of a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA), as the official structure for cooperation between the UK Parliament and the European Parliament. The PPA may also act as a forum empowered to submit recommendations to the UK Government and the Commission meeting at political level in the Partnership Council. This new body consists of 35 Members on each side. The UK delegation includes 21 Members of the House of Commons and 14 from the House of Lords, representing all sides of the Brexit argument and including several former MEPs, notably the leading Brexiteer Daniel Hannan (since last year elevated to the peerage). The devolved parliaments and the Northern Ireland Assembly have observer status.


The new Assembly met for the first time on 12-13 May in Brussels, where they discussed EU-UK relations, the Withdrawal Agreement, the implementation of the TCA and EU-UK cooperation on sanctions against Russia and the war in Ukraine in general. Opening the meeting, the Chair of the EP Delegation, Nathalie Loiseau (an influential member of Emmanuel Macron’s Renew party) emphasised her hope for “closer future ties and a better understanding of the implications of the EU-UK agreements secured so far, as well as what remains to be done. (The Assembly) will be a means of cultivating, through dialogue and debate, a better understanding between the parties and the opportunity to build a solid partnership based on mutual trust.”[1] The Chair of the UK Delegation, veteran Conservative MP Sir Oliver Heald, who reportedly spoke elegantly but gave nothing away, echoed these worthy intentions. Apparently, each side listened respectfully to the other’s point of view, without this necessarily leading to any significant shift in their respective positions.


The first session began with statements by Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič – who away from prying cameras was said to have spoken with unusual and refreshing frankness – and the UK Minister for the Cabinet Office Michel Ellis, standing in for Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, detained elsewhere. The meeting then focussed on EU-UK cooperation on the war in Ukraine, and adopted the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure; the second session considered the current situation regarding the Horizon programme and possible forms of cooperation in the field of energy against the background of the current global spike in energy prices and the conflict in Ukraine. James Heappey, UK Minister for the Armed Forces, and Stefano Sannino, Secretary-General of the European External Action Service, also took part in the discussion on EU-UK cooperation in relation to Ukraine. Both sides benefited from hearing directly the other side’s point of view on these questions of mutual interest. After the meeting a joint statement was issued by the two Chairs, in which they “looked forward to continuing our constructive and open dialogue during our second meeting, which will be organised by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in the autumn”.[2]


One should not underestimate the importance of the tone and atmospherics in such meetings, given the fraught context and occasional shouting match that have characterised EU-UK relations over the last few months. All in all, that first meeting in May sounded like an auspicious start to a relatively modest but potentially positive new chapter.


Since then, however, the UK Government has raised the stakes and the temperature by introducing the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, described by the EU Ambassador to the UK João Vale de Almeida as “a road to nowhere, illegal and unrealistic”.[3] The new Assembly’s next meeting is due to take place in November in the UK. Who would dare predict how EU-UK relations will evolve between now and then? If the UK maintains the position on the Bill recently outlined in the House of Commons by Liz Truss, in which it unilaterally overrides the Protocol, ‘the poison may seep out’ and the positive first meeting in May at parliamentary level may have also been a first step on a road to nowhere.


Both sides should prevent this from happening and insist on the continuation of parliamentary cooperation and, hopefully over time, effective scrutiny. An intrinsic part of any properly functioning democracy is the capacity for Parliaments to hold the Executive to account. The Parliamentary Partnership Assembly could make a modest but useful contribution to clearing the air and restoring trust between the EU and the UK at this critical moment for both parties, as well as invoking its right under the TCA to submit jointly agreed recommendations to the Commission and the UK Government through the Partnership Council. Instead of postponing the next meeting planned for November, they would be well advised to consider bringing it forward.


[1] European Parliament, Delegation to the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, May 2022,

[2] Nathalie Loiseau and Sir Oliver Heald, Joint Statement released by Co-Chairs of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, UK Parliament, May 2022,

[3] Sky News, Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is ‘illegal and unrealistic’, EU envoy warns, June 2022,

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