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The Parliamentary Partnership Assembly’s first meeting: what did we learn?

26 May 2022
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EU - UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly first meeting. (©European Union 2022 - Source: EP)

The new UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA) finally met for the first time on 12-13 May 2022 with pressures both for more constructive and more conflictual UK-EU relations simultaneously running high. With significant details of the PPA's operation still to be clarified, the meeting exposed some shortcomings but suggested that the body has the potential to become a useful forum.

Dr Brigid Fowler, Senior Researcher, Hansard Society
,
Senior Researcher, Hansard Society

Dr Brigid Fowler

Dr Brigid Fowler
Senior Researcher, Hansard Society

Brigid joined the Hansard Society in December 2016 to lead its work on Parliament and Brexit, as well as contribute to its ongoing research on the legislative process, parliamentary procedure and scrutiny, and public political engagement. From 2007 to 2014 she was a Committee Specialist for the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, where she led on the Committee’s EU-related work. In the first six months of 2016 she was on the research team of Britain Stronger in Europe. She has also worked as assistant to an MEP in Brussels and as an analyst and researcher on EU and European affairs in the private sector and at the University of Birmingham and King’s College London.

After completing BA and MPhil degrees at the University of Oxford in PPE and European Politics, respectively, she spent the first part of her career focusing on the politics of post-communist transition and EU accession in Central Europe, and completed her PhD at the University of Birmingham on the case of Hungary. She has given media comment, appeared before select committees and published several journal articles and book contributions.

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The UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA) is the inter-parliamentary body – comprising 35 Members each of the UK and European Parliaments – which is provided for by the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). The TCA gives the PPA two roles, as:

  • ‘A forum to exchange views on the [UK-EU] partnership’; and

  • an interlocutor for, and scrutineer of, the UK-EU Partnership Council (the TCA’s top decision-making body) – with powers to request and receive information from it, and potentially make recommendations to it.

The PPA met for the first time on 12-13 May with both sets of pressures on UK-EU relations running high – those pushing for a more constructive relationship, on the back of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; and those pushing for a more conflictual one, over the Northern Ireland Protocol. With the latter having the potential to lead ultimately to the suspension of parts of the TCA, the first question at the first joint press conference held by the PPA’s joint Chairs was whether the PPA’s first meeting would be its last.

After one meeting, it is too soon for a firm view of the extent to which the PPA might help move the UK-EU relationship in the more constructive direction.

The details of the PPA’s operation are not yet fully clear: for example, documents arising from the meeting are not yet published (including the Rules of Procedure agreed there). Much depends on the way in which the PPA follows up the matters discussed and decisions taken at the meeting, and the way in which the Partnership Council responds.

It is possible that the PPA’s second meeting, in London possibly in November, coincides with detailed parliamentary proceedings on the Government’s Northern Ireland Protocol legislation which would push the UK-EU relationship towards more conflict.

However, the PPA’s inaugural meeting suggested that, with respect to both its roles, the body has the potential to grow into a useful forum that could make for more constructive ties.

On the UK-EU relationship, Members appeared to have considerable appetite for the PPA to become a body working on practical, forward-looking and mutually acceptable ideas for its development.

On scrutiny, the PPA decided to request, using its TCA powers, a forward calendar of meetings of TCA bodies, and notice of such bodies’ decisions and recommendations that are in preparation. If this request is fulfilled, it would give PPA Members information that Members of the UK Parliament are not currently receiving systematically through any formal public channel.

Several features of the PPA seem likely to support its development into a useful body:

  1. Parliamentary ownership. The European Parliament, and relevant Select Committees in the UK, intervened to help secure the TCA provision (Article 11) that forms the basis for the PPA’s existence. This seems likely to help foster a sense of responsibility for the utility of the body.

  2. Member line-up. Overall, both sides appointed relatively heavyweight PPA Delegations, featuring Members with relevant experience, networks and knowledge. This is likely to help not only the PPA’s policy work but also its development of productive working arrangements.

  3. Leadership. The PPA’s Co-Chairs, Sir Oliver Heald MP and Nathalie Loiseau MEP, appear to want the Assembly to be a useful body and to be prepared to expend effort in finding consensual approaches to its work.

  4. Decision-making rule. Pending confirmation when the PPA’s Rules of Procedure are published, it seems that the PPA will take decisions by separate majorities of both Delegations – that is, each Delegation will have a veto. If the PPA is able to agree positions on this basis, they would be relatively broadly-based across both Delegations.

  5. Devolved representation. Under the TCA, only Members of the UK and European Parliaments can be PPA Members. However, observer MSPs and MSs attended the first meeting, where it was confirmed that the UK’s three devolved legislatives would be invited to send observers on an ongoing basis. This could reduce the risk of the PPA taking positions that are problematic for the devolveds (although, evidently, the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot currently be represented).

The PPA’s first meeting also exposed some risks and shortcomings of the format:

  1. Partnership Council engagement. The UK Co-Chair of the Partnership Council, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss MP, did not appear for the PPA’s ‘exchange of views’ with the body, sending Paymaster General Michael Ellis MP instead. (The PPA met on the same day as G7 Foreign Ministers.) Subject to the normal unavoidable uncertainties, it is to be hoped that the date for the PPA’s second meeting is fixed early and inserted firmly into the Foreign Secretary’s diary.

  2. Executive hijacking. The PPA’s ‘exchange of views with the Partnership Council’ was the most combative and probably least productive session of its first meeting. Former Scottish Secretary David Mundell MP said that Partnership Council Co-Chair Maroš Šefčovič made “a presentation not to the Members of this Assembly but to Liz Truss … and we were merely intermediaries”. It is to be hoped that future such sessions can focus to a greater extent on the PPA’s own scrutiny priorities.

  3. Parliamentary scheduling. The PPA met without its one full Member representing Northern Ireland, because DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson MP was taken up with the planned post-election meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly. (The substitute PPA Member from Northern Ireland, Baroness Ritchie, also did not appear.) Mr Donaldson’s simultaneous membership of two legislatures has been resolved by his resignation from the Assembly. However, discussion at the meeting suggested that scheduling remains potentially difficult.

  4. Meeting frequency. With the PPA planned to meet only twice a year, Members suggested that its discussions would be too broad and infrequent for it to add the value they would like. Adding more specialist working arrangements and/or written mechanisms and procedures seems set for further discussion.

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