On 31 January 2020, the UK formally left the EU with the transition period running to 31 December 2020. The period after the end of the transition period however marked only the beginning for the UK, as a third country to the EU, in its voyage to navigate its new position within the world in topics such as trade, data protection, rule of law and human rights, employment and immigration (and much more).
Fast-forward, and we are now in December 2021. Much has happened during this year in terms of Brexit. Here, we cover two aspects of these developments – namely the Northern Ireland Protocol and establishment of the EU-UK Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
Northern Ireland Protocol (“NI Protocol”)
During the negotiation period between the UK and the EU in the run-up to Brexit, there was agreement that protecting the Good Friday Agreement (1998 Northern Ireland Peace Deal) was paramount.
Following, under the NI Protocol, both sides agreed that there would be no additional checks introduced for goods moving between the NI border and Republic of Ireland with Northern Ireland continuing to follow EU product standards. Effectively, this keeps Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for goods and requires check on certain categories of goods coming into Northern Ireland from England, Wales and Scotland.
The UK Government, in particular Brexit Minister Lord Frost, has raised concerns with the NI Protocol in practice and submitted proposals for amending the arrangement. Negotiations have continued throughout the year and will likely follow the same trend into 2022 as both sides negotiate to establish common ground and agreement.
Recently, one proposal from the UK included the removal of the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) from the NI Protocol. Under the NI Protocol, where, for instance, a dispute arises as to the UK’s compliance with EU law, the EU is entitled to take the UK to the ECJ to decide on whether there has been a breach (with the UK participating in such proceedings as if a member state).
The EU took a concrete position against this specific proposal. In December 2021, the UK dropped this demand. The Irish Times report that a senior British government official commented that London still views the governance arrangements as unsustainable despite softening its position.
Many news outlets report on the continued uncertainty as to the direction of travel of the arrangement.
Article 16 of the NI Protocol covers the process of implementing unilateral safeguard measures if other side feels the arrangement ”lead[ing] to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade”. If triggered by either side and viewed by the other to create an imbalance between rights and obligations under the arrangement, this could result in “proportionate rebalancing measures” being introduced by the other. Alternatively, if the triggering of Article 16 is viewed as improper or breaching the Withdrawal Agreement then this could result in initiation of the dispute mechanism within the arrangement.
The ultimate position at present in the words of the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is that “We [UK government] will continue to work with them [EU] to get them to see things in the way that people on both sides of the Irish Sea see them, but in the meantime … we do not remove the possibility of invoking Article 16 to protect trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
As of 17 December 2021 , the UK and EU have announced a pause on negotiations until 2022. Many eyes on both sides of the Channel (and beyond) will continue watching developments in the negotiations once they restart in the new year.
Establishment of the EU-UK Joint Parliamentary Assembly
The Trade and Cooperation Agreement provides for the formation of a joint assembly between representatives from the European Parliament and the UK Parliament, known as the EU-UK Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
A vote in a European Parliamentary Plenary session on 5 October 2021 resulted in 99.4% of MEPs voting in favour of the establishment of the joint assembly. The joint assembly is composed of 70 members – 35 members from each side of the Channel. At the time of writing the EU representatives have been agreed but the list of UK representatives is still awaited.
Ireland South MEP, Seán Kelly, has been elected as First Vice Chair of the assembly. In the words of the new First Vice Chair, “The newly formed Parliamentary Partnership Assembly will be a valuable forum for mutually beneficial dialogue with our UK neighbours.” This is especially so when the role of the joint assembly includes working with the European Parliament’s UK Contact Group (a group working with the European Parliament to co-ordinate its position on EU-UK topics) and being privy to EU-UK Partnership Council decisions with an ability to also propose recommendations to them.
It is hoped that the UK delegation will be announced in due course to ensure that the new year is welcomed with a newly established group that can further promote fruitful dialogue between the EU and UK during its meetings over the course of 2022 and beyond.
For more information on the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, please see our article of 27 October 2021 here.
Please click here for the full list of MEPs in the EU delegation.