Building a Parliamentary post-Brexit relationship

After much delay, the membership of the Trade & Cooperation Agreement’s (TCA) Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA) was finally settled in late January.

The Assembly is an advisory body to the TCA’s main Partnership Committee, “a forum to exchange view on the partnership” as the treaty has it (Art.11). Twice-yearly meetings will provide an additional line of communication between the UK and EU.

Members are drawn (35 apiece) from the UK Parliament and European Parliament: key information is summarised in the table below.

A number of points are worth noting on the profiles of each side, of which the central is that this is very much like other such bodies: very many of these relatively informal assemblies exist, attached to other trade deals, and so there’s no major surprises.

Given the lack of substantive powers, the PPA mostly attracts those with an interest in the subject matter. On the EU side, that means a lot of MEPs from states close to the UK, people with family or professional connections there and many members of the Foreign Affairs committee. On the UK side, it means several former MEPs or people with former roles relating to the EU and a healthy number of the Lords EU committee system.

Both sides contain a wide range of views on Brexit itself. The British range from strong Remain campaigners through to some of Leave’s leading lights, while the EU go from former ministers of European affairs to critics of the EU’s approach to the withdrawal negotiations. As such, the PPA isn’t automatically a cheerleader for the TCA or the rest of the EU-UK arrangements.

The spread of members reflects the different logics employed by each Parliament. The UK has a majority of Conservative members, a majority of MPs over Lords, plus some places for representatives of the four nations. The EP delegation is divided in accordance with the size of parliamentary groups and with some eye to geographic diversity: it also has a full set of substitute members, as against the 12 British ones.

The graphic below also highlights one interesting point: the representation of committees in the delegations. The EP delegation covers almost all the main committees, skewed towards Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Economic & Monetary Affairs; the UK has far fewer committee members to hand beyond the Lords EU Committee and the Commons International Trade Committee.

However, it is important here to note that while all MEPs sit on at least one committee – these being a key location for any substantive discussion on policy – most MPs or Lords do not – reflecting the centrality of the plenary sessions in their respective Houses. Nonetheless, it does raise some questions about how far British members will be able to get into substance should the need arise: the disbanding of the Commons’ select committee on Exiting the EU means there is no obvious place in which to locate expertise, beyond the individual capacities of former members such as Hilary Benn.

If there is one difference with other similar assemblies, then it is that this one has yet to meet, and so we do not know whether it might develop into something of substance.

This looks unlikely, partly because of the nature of it all, but also because of the long delay in getting it up and running: the TCA agendas are already in train and the British government-Commission relationship is in place (if not very happily). The space for the PPA to make its voice heard is relatively small, even before we consider the impact of its diverse internal voices. However, in the context of a long-term rebuilding of trust between the two sides, it will be a key venue for the exchange of ideas and the creation of links.

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