Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 6:08 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Ceidwadwyr 6:08, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, nearly three and a half years after the ratification of the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU, we are at a critical juncture. It is a moment for reflection and, more importantly, for constructive engagement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, still our nearest ally and largest trading partner.

The intervening years have, regrettably, been marked by disagreements and a palpable erosion of trust but this trajectory is beginning to change and I commend the Prime Minister for his role in the Windsor Framework agreement. His success exceeded expectations and stands as a testament to what can be accomplished through negotiations marked by sincerity and a willingness to compromise. This framework not only addresses the immediate concerns of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland but safeguards the integrity of our union and the Good Friday agreement while respecting the EU single market. The Windsor Framework allows us to embark upon a new chapter characterised by closer co-operation and renewed trust.

We have already associated with Horizon Europe, the EU’s flagship research programme, and Copernicus, but there is, of course, more to do. I greatly welcomed the refresh of the Government’s integrated review last year. It addressed the Europe-shaped hole of the previous version, reaffirmed the Euro-Atlantic region as the core priority and, significantly, talked openly about the benefits of working with the institutions of Europe.

However, the TCA is not without its shortcomings. Negotiated under time constraints, it necessitated the disentanglement of complex political, economic and legal ties. At its core, it is a free trade agreement, yet it largely omits provisions for services and foreign policy co-operation—areas where there is considerable scope for enhancement, and where we here have much to offer.

The forthcoming review is scheduled for 2025. This period coincides with the renewal or review of key provisions, including those related to data adequacy, fisheries and energy. This is an opportune moment to re-evaluate and enhance our partnership. We must approach this review with ambition, aiming to strengthen co-operation for the mutual benefit of UK and EU businesses and consumers alike. But this co-operation requires realistic and politically viable proposals. Although there are merits in rejoining a customs union or single market, there is currently little willingness on either side for the UK to do so.

Europe and the western world are contending with instability and geopolitical challenges, with Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine serving as a reminder of the critical importance of European unity and co-operation. Yet we have no formal mechanisms for foreign and defence policy co-operation—an obvious gap in the TCA. We really must change this. I also suggest a new framework participation agreement, allowing the UK to engage selectively with EU operations, and maintaining our strategic autonomy while fostering collaboration. Additionally, a strategic partnership agreement, like that between the EU and Canada, would formalise areas of consensus and provide a structured basis for cooperation. Outside the EU, but with European partners, we should expand the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force to include like-minded nations such as Poland.

Horizon Europe runs until 2027. The successor programme, FP10, is already being discussed in Brussels and capitals in Europe. We have no role in the decision-making process, but that should not stop us working with like-minded EU member states to try to influence that programme.

Regrettably, the Partnership Council has convened only twice since its establishment. Given the dynamic and important nature of our relationship with the EU, more frequent meetings are essential to address emerging issues and find new opportunities for working together.

On trade, our businesses continue to grapple with a plethora of non-tariff barriers, further exacerbated as they now have to deal with 27 jurisdictions. In the services sector, particularly for professionals undertaking short-term work in the EU, the current patchwork of regulations presents significant obstacles. I believe both sides should revisit the TCA to see if we can offer more flexibility, as the current list of activities not requiring a work permit or visa is narrowly drawn.

The forthcoming TCA review should not be merely an administrative exercise but a pivotal opportunity to enhance the UK-EU relationship in a manner that reflects our shared interests and the changing geopolitical landscape. The Conservative European Forum has recently concluded a year-long inquiry into the TCA and our relationship with the EU. Our report, due next week, will set out recommendations aimed at enhancing the economic prosperity and collective security of both the UK and the EU. I will ensure that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary receives a copy and would urge him to pursue our recommendations with our European counterparts.