The negotiations between the United Kingdom and European Union continue and will reach an important milestone at the European Council at the end of June. By then, most of the withdrawal agreement should have been agreed and good progress made with setting out details of the future relationship between the UK and EU. The plan is for the agreement to be completed in October. It can then be presented to the UK and EU Parliaments for ratification.
Much work remains to be done in the next month if this timetable is to be achieved. A customs arrangement which meets the requirements of ‘frictionless trade’ and no ‘hard’ infrastructure at the Northern Ireland border is still to be agreed.
There is also the question of trade agreements after the UK has left the EU (March 2019) and the transition period is over (December 2020). It is vital that we are able to carry over all the agreements from which we have benefitted as a member of the EU.
We also will begin to negotiate new agreements ourselves with other countries. It will be instructive to see how these negotiations go. If the UK wishes to insert a lot of conditions over and above those in EU-negotiated agreements, I suspect we will find it hard going concluding them. On the other hand, if we intend to relax conditions, we could see opposition from within the UK. My personal view is that it would be sensible to start by making fairly straightforward agreements and then improving them every few years rather than to try and achieve everything at once.
There has been a fair amount of coverage of the amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill which have been passed in the House of Lords. On the one hand, people who have praised the House of Lords for amending legislation they disliked in the past now seem to question its right to do so in this case. On the other hand, parties such as the SNP – which wishes to see the House of Lords abolished – praise it for doing the right thing. Such is our Alice Through the Looking Glass politics at present.
The House of Lords has every right to amend Bills coming from the House of Commons; and MPs in the Commons have every right to reject, or accept, those amendments. Ultimately, the will of the House of Commons prevails. But one thing is clear. The House of Lords has not rejected the EU Withdrawal Bill, contrary to what some of the press might have us believe. It has accepted and amended it.
The EU Withdrawal Bill makes provision for precisely that – our withdrawal from the EU. More important is the agreement which we must have in October over the terms of withdrawal and transition, and details of our future relationship with the EU, by far our largest trading partner. Failure to agree that will be damaging to my constituents, the UK and indeed the EU. So all efforts - on both sides - must concentrate on ensuring that agreement is reached.