EU Matters - Issue 5/2016

EUROPEAN COMMISSION NEWS

Michel Barnier, chief negotiator on the Commission’s Article 50 Task Force, gave his first press briefing on 6 December. In his statement he indicated his expectation that although Article 50 provides for a two-year negotiation window, the timescale would more likely be 18 months to allow time for the agreement to be approved by the Council and the European Parliament, before agreement by the UK Parliament.

Barnier also outlined the four ideas that have informed the preparations of the Task Force:

  • unity of the EU27;
  • third countries are not under the same obligations as Members of the EU and therefore can never have the same rights and benefits;
  • negotiations will not start before notification;
  • and the Single Market and its four freedoms are indivisible.

He also acknowledged that the agreement on the exit of the UK from the EU should take into account the future relationship between the two parties. Concluding the statement, he said “Keep Calm and Negotiate”.

EUROPEAN COUNCIL

EU leaders met in Brussels on 15 December  to discuss migration, security, economic and social development, youth, Cyprus, and external relations. 

During the meeting the EU leaders were addressed by outgoing President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. Making reference to the decision of the UK to withdraw from the EU Schulz stated:

“Brexit is an evolving issue and it is for the UK to first outline what relationship it wants with the EU, not the other way round… certain fundamental principles have already been decided upon, and the 27 should be firm on them: we have decided that the four freedoms go together and that Brexit could not be a better deal than remaining in the EU.”

Following the European Council leaders from the EU27 met informally to discuss the structure and process of negotiations to be held once the UK formally notifies its intention to withdraw from the EU. Speaking afterwards European Council President Donald Tusk advised that the EU27 had:

“finalised procedural arrangements and reconfirmed our principles, meaning the indivisibility of the four freedoms, the balance of rights and obligations and the rule ‘no negotiations without notification’. We adopted the organisational structure with the European Council maintaining political control over the process, and the Commission as the Union’s negotiator. And Michel Barnier as the Commission’s Chief Negotiator.”

This echoed the statement issued by the Heads of State or Government of 27 Member States which outlined the procedural arrangements for the negotiations. Following notification by the UK Government, the European Council will adopt the guidelines that will define the framework for negotiations under Article 50 TEU and set out the overall positions and principles that the EU will pursue throughout the negotiation.

JMC EU NEGOTIATIONS

The Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) chaired by the Prime Minister, brings together the leaders of the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. At its meeting on 24 October, attended by First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the Prime Minister restated the UK Government’s commitment to full engagement with the devolved Administrations on the UK’s exit from the EU. Ministers agreed to take forward multilateral engagement through a new Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations (JMC (EN)). The terms of reference, which include working collaboratively to seek to agree a UK approach to, and objectives for, Article 50 negotiations, are set out in the JMC Communiqué which is available here.

The first meeting of JMC(EN) took place in London on 9 November during which Ministers set out their priorities, and agreed to develop further the proposed work programme to ensure its connection to and involvement with the process of negotiations. Ministers also agreed that JMC(EN) should meet monthly. The second meeting took place in London on 7 December during which Ministers discussed their priorities relating to law enforcement, security and criminal justice, civil judicial cooperation, immigration and trade. JMC(EN) will next convene in January. 

NORTH-SOUTH MINISTERIAL COUNCIL

The implications of Brexit was a key agenda item during the most recent NSMC meeting on 18 November attended by the First Minister, deputy First Minister and Taoiseach Enda Kenny. It was noted that full sectoral audits had been carried out by departments of both the NI Executive and the Irish Government to identify the possible impacts, risks, opportunities and contingencies which may arise.

Ministers also noted that senior officials from the Executive Office (TEO), the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to meet regularly on an NI Executive to Irish Government bilateral basis to review developments serving as a high-level working group on Brexit issues. 

BRITISH-IRISH COUNCIL

The Welsh Government hosted the 28th Summit of the British-Irish Council in Cardiff on 25 November. Ministers discussed developments arising from the outcome of the UK referendum on membership of the EU since it last met in July, and reiterated their commitment to “facilitating harmonious and mutually beneficial relationships among the people of these islands as set out in the 1998 Agreement”.

ARTICLE 50 TEU – LEGAL CHALLENGES

There has been much discussion about the mechanism by which Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union should be triggered. The Prime Minister has indicated that this is a decision for the Government, whilst others consider that the UK Parliament should also have a role.

In a case heard by the High Court in London in November, it was argued that the Government should not act unilaterally, but should instead introduce a bill in Parliament. The three senior High Court judges agreed, and ruled that “the Secretary of State does not have power under the Crown’s prerogative to give notice pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty of European Union for the UK to withdraw from the EU”.

Prior to this, in October 2016, a group of cross-party MLAs along with other individuals, and victims’ campaigner Raymond McCord took two separate cases relating to Article 50 and the potential impact for NI constitutional powers, for hearing at the High Court in Belfast. Issues considered included whether a Legislative Consent Motion was required to be passed by the NI Assembly as part of the process to trigger Article 50; whether triggering Article 50 by royal prerogative was compatible with the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998; and whether the NIO has responsibility to assess the impact of Brexit within the terms of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The challenge was dismissed by the Court and the summary of judgement is available here.

Appeals relating to both cases were subsequently heard by the Supreme Court in early December. In an unprecedented move all eleven of the senior judges of the Supreme Court sat for the hearing which was broadcast live. The judgement is expected in January 2017 and you can catch up on relevant papers and proceedings here

HOUSE OF COMMONS

Prime Minister Theresa May gave evidence to the House of Commons Liaison Committee on 20 December 2016. Both Hilary Benn, Chair of the Exiting the EU Committee and Sir William Cash, Chair of the Commons EU Scrutiny Committee are members of the Liaison Committee.  This was the Prime Minister’s first appearance before the Committee since taking up office and the focus was primarily on matters relating to Brexit.

Responding to questions the Prime Minister reiterated her commitment to triggering Article 50 by the end of March 2017, with negotiations concluding on withdrawal and the framework for the future relationship by the end of March 2019. She advised that she will make a speech in early 2017 that will set out more of the Government’s approach. Amongst other issues Mrs May also responded to questions about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the expected impact on the devolved Administrations of the proposed great repeal Bill.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has continued its inquiry on the future of the land border with the Republic of Ireland hearing evidence from the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, academics and local businesses.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published its report on Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research in November 2016. The Committee has asked the Government to send a clear message that it intends to protect the UK’s strength in science.

In December 2016 MPs debated an Opposition motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publishing the Government’s plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked. A Government amendment, calling for Article 50 to be invoked by 31 March 2017, was also debated and the motion was passed as amended by 448 votes to 75.  

The Commons Library and Lords Library has produced impartial analysis of the UK’s referendum for remaining or leaving the EU, and this page sets out useful research on the impact of Brexit on key policy areas.

UPDATE ON EU FUNDING

Having previously announced in August 2016 that all structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes, signed before the Autumn Statement will be fully funded even when these projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU, Chancellor Philip Hammond subsequently went further at the Conservative Party Conference in October when he stated that:

“the Treasury will offer a guarantee to bidders whose projects meet UK priorities and value for money criteria… that if they secure multi-year EU funding before we exit… we will guarantee those payments after Britain has left the EU.”

During questions on the Autumn Statement in the House of Commons on 23 November the Chancellor confirmed this position in response to Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards stating that:

“I have made two statements since becoming Chancellor seeking to reassure businesses, universities and others who apply for EU grant funding that, where they are successful in such applications, however long the funding runs on, we will underwrite it, so if Brussels does not foot the bill, the Treasury will.”

The Chancellor also acknowledged that alternative arrangements will have to be put in place for the period after the UK leaves the EU, and that will include discussion with the devolved administrations.

EXITING THE EU COMMITEE

Hilary Benn was elected as Chair of the new Exiting the European Union Committee on 19 October 2016. In a departure from convention the Committee has 21 Members (10 Conservative, 5 Labour, 2 SNP and one each from the Liberal Democrats, DUP, SDLP and Plaid Cymru) who were appointed on 31 October 2016. Mark Durkan sits on the Committee on behalf of the SDLP and Sammy Wilson does so on behalf of the DUP. 

On 3 November the Committee announced its inquiry on the UK’s negotiating objectives for withdrawal from the EU and heard evidence from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on 14 December.

During the hearing the Secretary of State confirmed the Government’s expectation that negotiations with European Commission appointed Michel Barnier would cover both the arrangements to leave and the new framework for the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Mr Davis also answered questions in respect of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, advising that whilst progress was being made with the Irish Government, there may not be a solution in the next few months.

In order to hear views from regions across the UK the Committee has held public evidence hearings in Sunderland and Aberdeen and intends to visit Northern Ireland early in 2017.

BREXIT: UK-IRISH RELATIONS INQUIRY

The House of Lords EU Committee made history on 12 December when it launched its report on Brexit: UK-Irish Relations simultaneously in Dublin and London. During its inquiry the Committee held meetings in Parliament Buildings and in Dublin to hear evidence from the business sector, cross-border bodies, academics and political representatives.

In its report the Committee outlines the many economic, political, legal and institutional challenges of Brexit for Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and for UK-Irish relations as a whole.

The Committee agreed that the unique nature of UK-Irish relations requires a unique solution, and calls on the UK and Irish Governments to negotiate a draft bilateral agreement, incorporating the views and interests of the NI Executive, which would then need to be agreed by the EU as part of the final Brexit negotiations Aspects of this solution could include maintenance of the Common Travel Area; continuation of the current open land border; retention of the right to Irish (and therefore EU) citizenship for the people of NI; a customs and trade arrangement between the UK and Ireland if the UK leaves the customs union; and reaffirmation by both Governments of their commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and continued support for cross-border cooperation.

In the same week the EU Committee’s sub-committees launched five other Brexit related reports on fisheries; future UK-EU security and police cooperation; financial services; acquired rights; and options for trade.

NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY

On 5 October the Committee for the Executive Office (CTEO) heard from senior Northern Ireland Civil Service officials on the work being done by NI Departments to prepare for the UK negotiations on leaving the EU. During the briefing officials advised that the Executive Office had established a new ‘EU Future Relations’ division, and that departments were engaging on a bilateral basis with their counterparts in Whitehall.

The Committee has also received briefings from the Assembly Research and Information Service on Non-EU UK Treaty Obligations and International Relations Outside the EU: Norway and Switzerland.

The Committee plans to visit Brussels in January 2017. The purpose of the visit will be to examine the work of the Office of the NI Executive in Brussels relating to the UK’s Exit from the EU and to meet with NI’s MEPs on this this issue. Members also plan to engage with representatives from non-EU countries that have a presence in Brussels.

The impact of an exit from the EU on NI is a significant issue for the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs which took oral and written evidence from key stakeholders at the earliest opportunity after the referendum. Research has been commissioned by the Committee to inform its consideration of a range of issues including:

The AERA Committee will continue with a series of briefing sessions from the main industry stakeholders in early 2017 and has also arranged to meet its sister committees from the Oireachtas on 2 March.

The Committee for the Economy collated NI business responses for House of Lords EU sub-committee undertaking a Brexit trade inquiry regarding trade flows with the EU and concerns raised by Brexit. A number of business organisations undertaking Brexit based research have agreed to share their findings with the Committee. The Committee has also written to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Secretary of State for International Trade for information on the fact finding engagements they have each had with stakeholders in NI.

In January the Committee for Justice is scheduling briefings with the Department of Justice and the PSNI for updates on the likely justice implications of Brexit and key issues.

Research commissioned by other Assembly committees includes:

In October the Assembly’s Research and Information Service launched its 2016/17 KESS programme with a seminar entitled ‘Outcome of the European Referendum: A Northern Ireland Perspective’. QUB academics Prof John Gray, Dr Graham Brownlow, Dr Lee McGowan, Dr Viviane Gravey, Dr Katy Hayward and Professor David Phinnemore covered a range of topics arising from the outcome of the EU Referendum vote, including implications for our understanding of citizens’ political views and behaviour; institutional economic implications; issues for NI relating to EU policy competences after Brexit; implications for the Irish Border; and limits and opportunities for a new relationship with the EU. Video recordings of each session and relevant policy papers are available here.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FOR WALES

In November the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee sought the views of stakeholders on the implications for Wales of Britain exiting the EU and will report in early 2017.

The Committee has also heard from His Excellency the Slovakian Ambassador to Court of St James on the Slovakian Presidency of the Council of the EU.

The EEAL hosted the most recent meeting of the EC-UK Forum, an informal gathering of Chairs of parliamentary and assembly committees with a European interest across the UK legislatures, met in Cardiff.  Mike Nesbitt MLA attended as Chair of the Committee for the Executive Office.

This meeting of the Forum, held on 5 December, was the first since both the referendum in June and the elections to the devolved institutions in May. Discussion focused primarily on information sharing and the next steps for the Forum in light of the Brexit decision. The group has agreed to meet again in March 2017, prior to the expected triggering of Article 50.

The Research Service of the National Assembly for Wales is publishing regular Brexit updates as the process of withdrawal unfolds and these are available here.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

The European and External Relations Committee continues to consider the EU referendum and its implications for Scotland.   It has agreed to undertake inquiry work into the following themes: Scotland’s future trade relationship with the EU; intergovernmental relations and the Scottish Government’s role in negotiations; impact of leaving the EU for the Scottish budget; Scotland’s future relations with the EU and its Members States; rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU; and the domestic process of withdrawing from the EU.

In June 2016 First Minister Nicola Sturgeon formed a Standing Council on Europe to advise the Scottish Government on securing Scotland’s relationship with the EU. The Council comprises specialists in legal, financial, business and diplomatic matters. The European and External Relations Committee will scrutinise any recommendations proposed by the Council.

The Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre (SPICe) is publishing a weekly update on the UK’s exit from the EU and it can be found here.

UPCOMING EVENTS

9 February 2017 – Westminster Social Policy Forum Keynote Seminar: Funding for regional projects beyond the European Union referendum – partnerships, devolution and the transition of EU Structural and Investment Funds

30 March 2017 – Agenda NI: BREXIT: Northern Ireland’s futures – Scenarios for leaving the European Union

25 April 2017 – Policy Forum for Northern Ireland: Economic development in Northern Ireland – key challenges and future opportunities post Brexit

ASSEMBLY RESEARCH AND INFORMATION SERVICE – BREXIT RELATED RESEARCH

The list below shows Brexit-related research which has been carried out by RaISe, the NI Assembly Research and Information Service:

Title

Description

Published date

International Relations Outside the European Union: Norway and Switzerland

This briefing paper has been prepared to support the Committee of the Executive Office in its scrutiny of the Executive in its actions in relation to the exit of the UK from the European Union. The paper takes two non-EU Member States in Europe – Norway and Switzerland – and examines how they interact with the EU and internationally.

9/11/16

Rural Development funding for the rural community (Priority 6 Schemes) – background and possible ‘Brexit’ considerations

The 2014-20 Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme has a total potential budget of £623 million, of which £186.5 million is EU derived, with the remainder coming from matched DAERA/NI Executive funds. This briefing paper discusses some of the possible ‘Brexit’ considerations for Priority 6 measures within the 2014-20 NIRDP which have a total value of approximately £70m.

21/10/16

Examples of UK environmental legislation which pre-date EU legislation

During a RaISe briefing to the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee on Northern Ireland’s environment – background and potential ‘Brexit’ considerations (NIAR 262-16) long established UK environmental requirements pre-dating EU legislation were discussed. Members asked for further examples, and while not exhaustive, this briefing note attempts to identify a number of these.

14/10/16

Northern Ireland’s fisheries sectors – background and possible ‘Brexit’ considerations

This briefing paper provides contextual information on the sea and inland fisheries sectors within Northern Ireland, as well as exploring potential considerations for the sectors following on from the UK referendum decision to leave the European Union on 23rd June.

14/10/16

Health and Social Care in NI - Areas of EU Competence, Action and Support - Potential Areas of Impact on Health and Social Care as a result of EU Referendum Decision

Health care systems in EU member states are a matter of national responsibility and in the UK health and social care is a devolved matter. Therefore health is not an area of major EU competence and the role of the EU is largely to support member states to effectively deliver related policy and services. However, the result of the EU referendum is not without potential impact in the health field for Northern Ireland. This briefing paper looks generally at EU competence in the area of health and also focuses on a selected range of specific areas that will require negotiation and resolution in the light of the result of the EU Referendum.

13/10/16

Non-EU UK Treaty Obligations: An Overview

This paper has been compiled to support the Committee for the Executive Office in its consideration of the potential impacts for Northern Ireland of UK withdrawal from the European Union.

5/10/16

Northern Ireland’s environment - background and potential ‘Brexit’ considerations

This paper considers some of the areas under environment that may be impacted by leaving the European Union. It does this by identifying some of the main EU legislation in each area and briefly outlining how the legislation is transposed in Northern Ireland. It also notes possible questions for DAERA and the UK Government in light of the considerations raised.

23/9/16

Public procurement after the European Union referendum

This Briefing Paper summarises key elements of the European-derived public procurement rules as they apply in Northern Ireland. It also briefly presents what is currently known about future procurement regulation following the European Union (EU) referendum.

22/9/16

Possible models for the UK-EU relationship post ‘Brexit’

The exact nature of the relationship the UK and the EU will end up with remains unclear at this time and will be subject to potentially complex and protracted negotiations. This paper provides an overview of some of the most commonly cited potential alternatives open to the UK and EU and whilst the ultimate outcome may directly mirror one of these models or individual features within them, there could equally be potential for a bespoke UK-EU model. For the purposes of this paper the focus is on how each of the potential relationship models impact on issues relating to the environment, agriculture and fisheries within the context of EU regulation and single market access.

9/9/16

EU Referendum Update

The paper provides an update on developments following the EU referendum, held on 23 June 2016, in which a majority of voters across the UK voted for the UK to leave the EU. The paper focuses on developments in Northern Ireland and includes an overview of the range of policy issues that departments might be expected to consider as they assess the potential impacts of UK withdrawal from the EU.

8/9/16

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