Governance of EU Exit Agreements

Synopsis: This page contains information on the governance of the Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, and the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

 

Withdrawal Agreement

Oversight bodies were established within the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure the proper implementation and application of the agreement. There are three tiers of governance, each reporting upwards to the other.

 

a)       Joint Committee

The primary tier of governance is the Joint Committee which is responsible for the implementation and application of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA). Six Specialised Committees sit under the Joint Committee. The Joint Committee has the power to amend the WA in certain areas but cannot change essential elements of it. The Committee provides a forum to resolve disputes regarding its application and if no solution can be found, disputes will be referred to an arbitration panel. In December 2020 the Joint Committee published a list of 25 persons who would be able to serve as members of an arbitration panel.

Withdrawal Agreement governance structure
Governance structure for the Withdrawal Agreement

 

The Joint Committee was tasked with taking decisions by the end of the transition period on areas relating to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland such as the definition of ‘not at risk’ goods, agricultural subsidies, and the presence of EU representatives in Northern Ireland. The Joint Committee furthermore keeps under review EU and UK efforts to facilitate trade between NI and GB, the implementation of EU VAT rules in NI, and considers whether new EU acts are in the scope of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and should be therefore included in the list of EU law applying to Northern Ireland.

UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss co-chairs the Joint Committee, alongside European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. Previously the role had been held on the UK side by Michael Gove (then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) until March 2020, and subsequently by David Frost (then Minister of State at the Cabinet Office with responsibility for EU Exit) until December 2021. The Joint Committee is the only decision-making structure within the three tiers of governance.  In the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement which restored devolved government to Northern Ireland, the UK Government made a commitment to ensure:

“that representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive are invited to be part of the UK delegation in any meetings of the UK-EU Specialised or Joint Committees discussing Northern Ireland specific matters which are also being attended by the Irish Government as part of the European Union’s delegation.”

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who are co-chairs of the Joint Committee.

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who are co-chairs of the Joint Committee. Source: European Union, 2022

 

The Joint Committee first met in March 2020 and has met eight times to date, including a significant meeting in December 2020 to adopt decisions relating to the implementation of the Protocol which clarified issues including the criteria for ‘not at risk’ goods entering NI, the application of EU state aid rules, and grace periods for medicines and meat products. While the Joint Committee meetings take place in private, the EU and UK publish statements and any decisions adopted following the meetings. You can find this information on the UK Government’s Withdrawal Agreement webpage.

Previous meetings of the Joint Committee:

 

Meeting

Agenda

European Commission statement

UK statement

21 February 2022

Agenda

 

Joint statement by the co-chairs

EC statement

UKG statement

9 June 2021

Agenda

EC statement

UKG statement

24 February 2021

Agenda  

Joint statement by the co-chairs

 

 

 

17 December 2020

Joint statement by the co-chairs (8 December 2020)

 

Agenda

 

Minutes of the fifth regular Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee Various decisions and unilateral declarations were made at this meeting.

EC statement

 

UKG statement

19 October 2020

Agenda

EC statement

UKG statement

28 September 2020

Agenda

EC statement

UKG statement

10 September 2020 (extraordinary meeting)

 

EC statement

UKG statement

12 June 2020

Agenda

EC statement

UKG statement

30 March 2020

Agenda  

EC statement

UKG statement

 

The Joint Committee issues an annual report on the functioning of the Withdrawal Agreement. The first report for 2020 was published in June 2021.

 

b)       Specialised Committee

In the second tier of governance, there are six Specialised Committees which report to the Joint Committee.  These Specialised Committees focus on key areas within the Withdrawal Agreement and there is a Specialised Committee on the Implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Article 14 of the Protocol states that the Specialised Committee on Northern Ireland should “examine proposals concerning the implementation and application of this Protocol from the North-South Ministerial Council and North-South Implementation bodies set up under the 1998 Agreement” and “consider any matter of relevance to Article 2 of this Protocol brought to its attention by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, and the Joint Committee of representatives of the Human Rights Commissions of Northern Ireland and Ireland”.  The Specialised Committee on the Protocol is attended by officials from the UK and EU, including from the NI Executive. The Specialised Committee on the Protocol first met in April 2020 and has met nine times to date. You can find further details and statements from the meetings on the UK Government’s website.

 

Meetings of the Specialised Committee on Ireland/Northern Ireland:

 

Meeting

Agenda

European Commission statement

UK statement

10th meeting

8 March 2022

None issued

Joint Statement by the EU and UK

9th meeting

24 September 2021

None issued

EC statement

 

UKG statement

8th meeting

19 July 2021

None issued

EC statement

 

UKG statement  

7th meeting

26 March 2021

None issued

EC statement

UKG statement

6th meeting

23 February 2021

None issued

None issued

None issued

5th meeting

17 December 2020

None issued

None issued

None issued

4th meeting

5 November 2020

None issued

EC statement

UKG statement  

3rd meeting

9 October 2020

Agenda

EC statement

 

UKG statement

2nd meeting

16 July 2020

None issued

EC statement

 

UKG statement

1st meeting

30 April 2020

None issued

EC statement

 

UKG statement

 

 

c)      Joint Consultative Working Group

The third tier of governance is the Joint Consultative Working Group (JCWG).  Its function is outlined in the Protocol to “serve as a forum for the exchange of information and mutual consultation”, including in relation to the implementation of EU law in Northern Ireland, and amendments or replacements to applicable EU legislation. The JCWG will carry out its functions under the supervision of the Specialised Committee on the Protocol, to which it will report.

The Working Group is the forum where the EU will inform the UK about “planned [European] Union acts within the scope of this Protocol, including Union acts that amend or replace the Union acts listed in the Annexes to this Protocol”, in other terms, the EU legislation which applies to Northern Ireland. [Source: Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland]

The group should meet once a month, according to the Protocol.  The draft Rules of Procedure for the JCWG were drawn up following discussions between the EU and UK. The EU Council approved the EU’s position in October 2020, and at the first meeting of the JCWG the rules of procedure were agreed by the EU and UK.

In the UK Government Explanatory Memorandum on the proposed rules of the procedure for the Joint Consultative Working Group, the Government committed to inviting officials from the Northern Ireland Executive to form part of the UK delegation to the JCWG meetings.

Meetings of the Joint Consultative Working Group:

Junior Ministers from the Executive Office (TEO) regularly brief the Committee for the Executive Office on EU Exit matters and have provided some information about the Joint Consultative Working Group.

Meeting

Published information

8th meeting

2 December 2021

Briefing from TEO – January 2022: The Joint Consultative Working Group (JCWG) continues to take place on a monthly basis. The last meeting was held on 2 December 2021.

7th meeting

15 November 2021

Correspondence from TEO - December 2021: This is an official level meeting and the Executive was represented by officials from the Office of the NI Executive in Brussels and TEO. The meeting included a stocktake of the information exchanged between the UK and EU since the previous meeting, discussion and clarification on information exchanged, and a discussion on the modalities of information exchange

6th meeting

18 October 2021

Briefing from TEO - November 2021: A meeting of the Joint Consultative Working Group took place on 18 October 2021 with a further meeting scheduled for 15 November. The Executive was represented at this official level meeting, which included a stocktake of the information exchanged between the UK and EU since the previous meeting and a discussion on operational matters.

5th meeting

14 September 2021

Briefing from TEO - September 2021: A meeting of the Joint Consultative Working Group took place on 14 September 2021. The Executive was represented at this official level meeting, which included a stocktake of the information exchanged between the UK and EU since the previous meeting and a discussion on operational matters.

4th meeting

15 July 2021

This meeting was referenced in the Explanatory Memorandum for the EU's carbon border adjustment mechanism: At the Joint Consultative Working Group on 15 July 2021, the EU informed the UK that it considers the measure to be new legislation in scope of the Protocol. On this basis, we expect the EU to notify the UK through the Joint Committee once the Regulation is adopted, in accordance with the process set out Article 13(4) of the Protocol.

3rd meeting

12 May 2021

Briefing from TEO - June 2021: The last meeting of the Joint Consultative Working Group took place on 12 May. There is no meeting currently scheduled but meetings are expected to take place on a monthly basis in accordance with the rules of procedure.

2nd meeting

15 April 2021

Briefing from TEO - April 2021: A meeting of the Joint Consultative Working Group took place on 15 April. The Executive was represented at official level at the short meeting which focussed on matters relating to the operation of the group.

1st meeting

29 January 2021

Briefing from TEO – February 2021: The JCWG met for the first time on Friday 29 January 2021. The only item on the agenda was to adopt the rules of procedure. Only representatives of the European Commission and the UK Government were in attendance, however, Cabinet Office has advised that it remains committed to involving Northern Ireland Executive officials in the workings of the JCWG, including attendance at meetings.
A date has not been set for the next meeting of the JCWG. It is expected to meet on a monthly basis, as agreed in the rules of procedure. TEO will continue to keep the Committee updated on the JCWG and any Executive actions.

 

Correspondence from TEO regarding JCWG membership - February 2021 

Rules of procedure: These were approved by the EU via a Council Decision on 23 October and adopted by the UK and EU at the first meeting of the JCWG on 29 January 2021… the functions of the group as set out in the Protocol clearly indicate this group is intended to be a forum for exchange of information at official level between EU and UK Governments. The Rules of Procedure do not indicate a wider membership and no further information is available to the Executive Office at this time regarding the criteria for inviting experts or other persons to meetings of the JCWG or which sectors they may represent.

 

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) contains a framework to govern and enforce all aspects of the agreement, including to ensure a ‘level playing field’ for fair and open competition, one of the sticking points during the negotiations.

The TCA establishes a Partnership Council, made up of EU and UK representatives. It is co-chaired by European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss. (Until December 2021, the UK Government’s representative was David Frost, then Minister of State at the Cabinet Office with responsibility for EU Exit.)

The Council should meet at least once a year and oversees the implementation and application of the TCA. It can meet in different configurations depending on the topic for discussion. It has the power to adopt decisions, make amendments to the TCA, and establish other specialised committees. The adoption of decisions and recommendations should be by mutual consent, and decisions of the Council are binding. Disputes or issues relating to the implementation of the TCA can be referred to the Partnership Council or Specialised Committees. If disputes between the EU and UK cannot be resolved through consultation, an independent arbitration tribunal can be established to decide the matter (this applies to most areas of the agreement). To date, the Partnership Council has met once, on 9 June 2021. Information about meetings of the Partnership Council and its Specialised Committees can be found here.

Specialised Committees have been established to oversee specific areas of the TCA, such as trade in goods, customs cooperation and rules of origin, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and the ‘level playing field’. Further working groups have been established to assist these committees. These Specialised Committees and working groups are attended by delegations of officials from the UK and EU, and officials from Northern Ireland Executive departments have attended some meetings as part of the UK delegation.

Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA)

The TCA also contains provisions for the European Parliament and the UK Parliament to establish a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA), made up of members of the respective parliaments, to exchange views on the partnership. The PPA is able to make recommendations to the Partnership Council and request relevant information from the Partnership Council. The European Parliament and UK Parliament agreed to establish a joint assembly with 35 representatives from each delegation.

In October 2021, the European Parliament agreed to set up its delegation. On the UK side, the Commons and Lords passed motions to establish the PPA in December 2021. The UK delegation  is made up of 21 Members from the Commons (12 Conservative MPs, seven Labour and two from other parties), and 14 from the Lords. There are also 12 substitutes: eight from the Commons (five Conservatives, two Labour and one other) and four from the Lords. DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is a full member, while Baroness Ritchie is a substitute. The European Parliament decided its delegation to the PPA in December 2021. Its chair is Nathalie Loiseau (Renew Europe) and Vice Chairs are Seán Kelly (EPP) and Tsvetelina Penkova (S&D).

Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Senedd Cmyru called for a defined role for the devolved legislatures in the PPA. Members of the Senedd Cmyru and Scottish Parliament attended the first meeting as observers.

Meeting

Agenda

Statements

1st meeting

12-13 May 2022

Agenda

 

Joint statement from the Co-Chairs

 

Address by European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič

 

Address by UK Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Ellis

The European Commission, in its October 2021 proposal on engagement with Northern Ireland stakeholders and authorities, suggested the possibility of a Northern Ireland sub-structure to the PPA.

For further information, the House of Commons Library has published a briefing on the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.

The graphic below shows the governance structure of the TCA:

Governance structure of the TCA

The UK and EU should consult and consider the views of civil society on the implementation of the TCA, for example through interaction with domestic advisory groups made up of civil society organisations, such as NGOs, business organisations, and trade unions. The EU and UK should organise a Civil Society Forum, which would be open to members of the domestic advisory groups.  On 31 March 2022, the UK Government published the membership of the UK Domestic Advisory Group. In May 2022, the EU and UK agreed a decision on adopting operational guidelines for the conduct of the Civil Society Forum. Read more information about these bodies.

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