Europe Day, 9 May, is a good day to examine the future of UK–EU relationships. After 12 months of collecting evidence, the House of Lords special committee (HLsc) issued its report (100+ pages, with 335 numbered paragraphs, plus 72 with summary recommendations) on 29 April.
Summary and comment
In the flurry of local elections, and then the Coronation, most of the British press has ignored it. So here’s to hoping more readers will take note of some of its important findings, and politicians start moving on some of them. There is an excellent summary done by the Scottish earl, Lord Kinnoull, chair of the committee.
The report covers these sections:
- The potential for a thaw in UK–EU relations following the Windsor framework
- Defence and Security
- Energy and Climate change
- Mobility of People
A short article such as this can just touch on the most notable aspects of each of these.
Change of mood
Under the ‘thaw’ the report states there was a notable change of mood from the autumn of 2022. The Prime Minister attended the inaugural meeting on 22 October of the European Partnership Council (EPC) in Prague, which also includes non-EU members. But it is notable that most committees and working groups set up under the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) have met infrequently, if at all.
The HLsc report recommends more regular UK–EU summits, with officials encouraged to prepare in detail. There also needs to be input from civil society representatives, but they no longer have the money to attend as they did when the UK was in the EU. HLsc also think there should be more co-operation of the Foreign Office with other departments on EU matters.
There has been co-operation over the sanctions on Russia, with the G7 enforcement procedures, and a Memorandum of Understanding between the EU and UK on this. But readers of the recent review in Kent Bylines of Oliver Bullough’s book ‘Butler to the World’ may have some doubts about UK’s ability to curb its butlering habits which make profit from Russian money.
More activity around defence and security
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused more activity around the European Defence fund, and PESCO (concerning military mobility). There needs to be appropriate structured co-operation, and meeting at least twice a year between UK Foreign Secretary and EU Commissioner for foreign affairs. The industrial eco-system for the defence of Europe needs attention, ie who is going to manufacture what, and what and where are the strategic materials?
Co-operation around energy and climate change
With regard to Energy and Climate Change, it is pointed out that energy trading between the UK and EU has continued. There is a beautiful map [see above] showing that the UK is linked to the continent by some te electricity interconnectors, including the one that comes into Folkestone from France.
There is also a chart showing the energy mix of each EU country. The HLsc recommends that UK join the Emissions Trading scheme (UK energy prices have been higher than in the EU because of our Brexit exclusion from this). Also UK should join the EU Carbon Border Adjustment scheme which is designed to prevent cheap imports of goods manufactured with high carbon emissions.
Changes needed to assist mobility of people
With regard to mobility of people, HLsc notes that Brexit has hindered professional and business mobility, in both directions. UK should adjust visa eligibility for EU citizens coming into sectors that need labour (such as hospitality). Guidance on mobility matters should be dynamically updated online, as current information is confusing.
With regard to creative workers, such as touring musicians, those trying to negotiate better access to the EU find that “there is nobody holding the pen on tackling these issues at the department of Culture, Media and Sport” (DMCS). Touring musicians find it too costly to negotiate separately for each country where they schedule a concert, so a composite UK–EU procedure needs to be set up. There is even detail such as musicians who need a CITES permit (because their instrument contains ivory or tropical wood) cannot get such a permit at St Pancras if they choose to travel by Eurostar.
Reciprocity for school visits and student exchange
There is a section regretting the effects of Brexit on school tours, with an £875m loss of revenue and 14,500 jobs. Visits to UK cultural highlights are reckoned to be 83% lower in 2022 than in 2019. Some of this is because some Europeans feel Brexit as a snub, so they prefer to travel elsewhere with their school parties.
But some of it is because of the UK border ruling that every traveller must show a passport, which is costly to acquire for some families. HLsc recommends this requirement should be dropped for school parties. A ruling which would be to the benefit of Canterbury where the loss of school parties is visible.
HLsc recommends systems of repricocity for funding school visits and University exchanges, similar to the Taith system pioneered by the Welsh government.
Workable recommendations or political wobbling?
All in all, the Lords committee have done a thorough job of taking evidence and distilling this into some workable recommendations, which they advise should be implemented in the next few months. The problem, as I see it, is whether this Government is willing to pay attention, and devote the necessary civil service resources to setting up the administrative processes.
Even something as obvious as dynamically updating information for incoming workers is not yet well done. Political wobbling between the two wings of the ruling party results in costly administrative inaction, like a rabbit caught in the headlights.