Coronavirus has rightly been the focus of all our energies for the last few weeks, and will continue to be the priority, but meanwhile the negotiations on our future relationship with the EU continue and the second round of talks took place by video-conference last week. After Covid-19, the decisions from these negotiations will have the biggest impact on life in the UK.
The Government has decided not to extend the transition period, meaning that negotiations will continue throughout this year, with a crucial ‘high level conference’ in June to determine whether success looks possible. With that choice comes a responsibility to report to Parliament on the progress of negotiations, and to ensure that all MPs can question the Government on behalf of their constituents.
So far Michael Gove, the Minister accountable for the negotiations, has failed to do so. In the last two months he missed every opportunity to report to MPs. So today, I wrote to him asking for a commitment to update the House in person after every subsequent round of negotiations, and every meeting of the important Joint Committee on the Withdrawal Agreement.
Read my full letter below:
I am writing to express my concern about Parliamentary accountability and scrutiny of the UK’s negotiations with the EU during phase two of the process.
The UK and EU have now had two rounds of negotiations and the Joint Committee on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, of which you are Co-Chair, has met for the first time. We are now more than half way through the five month period between leaving the EU and the high level summit at which the prospects of an agreement on our future relationship will be considered and you have not made any oral statement to the House since February.
You will know that, by comparison, during phase one of negotiations, either the Brexit Secretary or the Prime Minister reported to Parliament in person after every negotiating round and after each meeting of the European Council. The Prime Minister promised that Parliament would be “kept fully informed of the progress of these negotiations”, but no opportunity has yet been provided.
Written Ministerial Statements are not an adequate form of accountability, as they provide no opportunity for scrutiny of these wide ranging and detailed negotiations. Appearances before the Select Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU are welcome, but offer only a limited number of Members with the opportunity to ask questions. Our future relationship with the EU will affect every constituency and every Member should have the chance to question you.
While the Government’s energy is rightly focused on dealing with Covid-19, our future relationship with the EU will involve decisions that are crucial to our country. It was the Government’s decision to continue negotiations with the EU during this period, and with that decision comes the responsibility to regularly and fully report to Parliament.
I am therefore asking you, as the Minister accountable for those negotiations, to urgently commit to updating the House in person after every subsequent round of negotiations and after every meeting of the Joint Committee.
With best wishes,
Shadow Minister for Brexit and EU negotiations