(Source: European Commission)
Honourable Chair Loiseau,
Honourable Chair Heald,
Honourable Minister Ellis,
Honourable Members of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly,
Let me start by echoing the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, and pay tribute to the legacy of the late Right Honourable Lord PLUMB and his commitment to European democracy, having even been President of this House.
I am very glad to be here today at the first meeting of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.
The establishment of a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly was something that we pushed for very strongly during negotiations on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and so I am indeed delighted to see it become operational.
Allow me to start by looking at the overall picture of EU-UK relations.
We are partners with shared values and must continue working together to tackle global challenges, not least Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Our objective is to have a stable and positive EU-UK relationship based on the international agreements we both agreed, signed and ratified.
And we must be frank – given the current position of the UK government on the Protocol, we are not where I would like our relations to be.
Let us recall that we have first settled the EU-UK separation via the Withdrawal Agreement – of which the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is an integral part – and then agreed the framework for our future partnership – the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
No future partnership without an orderly withdrawal.
This policy has guided us since 2016 – and we have always had full support from this House and from all Member States for this approach.
These two agreements were ratified by parliaments in both the EU and the UK.
The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is the only solution that “squares the circle” between Brexit – at least the form of Brexit chosen by the UK – and the situation on the Island of Ireland.
This solution was agreed with the UK government.
Its implementation is a priority and precondition for a constructive bilateral relationship.
Trust and confidence are built by adhering to international obligations.
For an understanding to be reached on the implementation of the Protocol between the EU and the UK, there are two necessary components.
First, the EU and the UK must work together to address the practical problems that the Protocol creates in Northern Ireland due to Brexit.
We all know that the implementation of the Protocol has not been without challenges.
On our side, we have always sought practical and durable solutions to legitimate issues raised by people and businesses in Northern Ireland, all within the framework of the Protocol.
Amongst others, the EU have solved the medicines issue in record time.
The EU has proposed an express lane for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, for goods that will be consumed there. We have proposed to dramatically simplify these processes, for instance insisting on the minimum customs data that we need so as to assess whether the goods actually stay in Northern Ireland.
These ideas are unprecedented.
They are testament to the EU’s commitment to certainty and predictability in Northern Ireland.
Our UK counterparts have however not met us halfway.
And that brings me to a second component without which all the solutions in the world will be insufficient: the political will to make the Protocol work.
From the moment the Withdrawal Agreement was ratified, we have seen the first internal market bill, unilateral grace periods, the Command paper, and now, in all likelihood a second internal market bill.
At the same time, the UK is yet to deliver on all its fundamental obligations under the Protocol – such as providing us with access to IT databases, not only on paper but also in practice, so that the EU can protect its single market.
Let me recall that this February we proposed an ambitious calendar to discuss again a whole range of topics in detail – to find practical solutions. However, there has been no engagement at all on these issues from the UK the last couple of months.
The UK has simply not taken the opportunity to explore fully with us the potential of the flexibilities the Commission has presented.
Honesty about what the UK signed up is needed. Honesty about the fact that the EU cannot solve all the problems created by Brexit and the type of Brexit that the UK government chose.
That is the reason for which the position of the EU has been consistent: we will not renegotiate the Protocol.
The EU is united in this position.
Unilateral action, effectively disapplying the Protocol, is not a solution for the way forward.
Only joint durable solutions will answer the needs of people and businesses in Northern Ireland and bring the long-term legal certainty and predictability they ask for.
The Commission stands ready to continue working in this vein – because our ultimate goal is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions. We urge the UK will do the same.
And hope you will repeat this message and bring it back home.
Let me now turn to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which has been in force now for more than one year.
In 2021, we held initial meetings of the joint bodies under the TCA, including the Partnership Council and 19 committees.
I co-chaired the first meeting of the Partnership Council last June, which I remember took place in a constructive and collaborative atmosphere.
The past year has also seen the establishment of the EU’s Domestic Advisory Group, which consists of NGOs, business and employers’ organisations, and trade unions from across the EU.
This group has already met three times to discuss the implementation of the agreement.
And last week, the Partnership Council adopted by written procedure the operational guidelines for the Civil Society Forum.
We expect the first meeting of the Civil Society Forum to take place in June or early July, bringing together different civil society actors from across the EU and UK.
The establishment of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly means that all bodies foreseen in the TCA’s institutional framework are now up and running.
On substance, we have been closely following the implementation of the entire agreement,
from law enforcement and judicial cooperation to energy and social security coordination.
The areas of fisheries and the level playing field have required particular attention.
I think it is worthwhile underlining once again that the TCA is not – and can never be – a replacement for EU membership.
The UK chose to leave the Single Market, the Customs Union, and all EU policies.
As a result, trade is no longer as frictionless and dynamic as before.
The Commission has nevertheless been working, and will continue to work, to support the people and businesses most affected by Brexit across the EU.
Money from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve – which amounts to more than €5 billion – has already started to flow to the regions and sectors where it is needed most, helping businesses, workers and local communities.
To finish, let me thank you for your efforts to connect parliamentarians from the EU and the UK.
Notwithstanding the UK’s withdrawal, I am convinced that a stable and positive relationship, based on the international agreements we both signed and ratified, is in our mutual interest.
You have an important role to play in this.
At a time when Western unity is so important, we need cooperation and actions that strengthen this unity, not weaken it.
I look forward to hearing your views and I am happy to answer any questions you might have.