Update on UK-EU Relationship
An update on the relationship between the UK and EU in a post-Brexit world, as the war in Ukraine continues and the UK’s immigration policy takes a new turn.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Ukraine on 9 April, meeting with President Zelenskyy in Kyiv to discuss the UK’s ongoing support in the face of the Russian invasion. In terms of military support, the Prime Minister publicly announced that the UK would be providing Ukraine with 120 armoured vehicles and anti-ship missile systems, plus the £100 million worth of missiles and munitions pledged on 8 April. The UK will also guarantee a further £385 million in World Bank lending to Ukraine, taking the UK’s total loan guarantee up to £770 million. This is in addition to the £394 million that the UK has already provided in grant aid.
Across the channel, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has announced an emergency package of €550 million worth of humanitarian aid. The EU’s sixth sanction package is also being prepared, with von der Leyen commenting that “We are continuing to look at the banking sector, especially Sberbank, which alone makes up 37% of the Russian banking sector”. Sberbank and Gazprombank have both been spared from EU sanctions thus far, as they make up some of the main channels for payments for Russian oil and gas. The overreliance of some EU member states on Russian energy has been an onerous roadblock to effective EU sanctions on Russia. Germany is particularly dependant on Russian gas and has been somewhat hesitant in providing assistance to Ukraine. While the Czech Republic recently became the first country to ship tanks to Ukraine since the war started, with Slovakia soon after delivering an S-300 air defence system, Germany has stalled on the provision of heavy weapons – sometimes stating that these weapons cannot be delivered without diminishing their NATO commitments in other regions, at other times claiming that there needs to be a joint position among NATO members first. On 16 April, President Zelenskyy urged European leaders to take decisive action to save the besieged city of Mariupol, and von der Leyen has echoed his sentiments, saying “I don’t distinguish between heavy and light weapons. Ukraine has to get whatever it needs to defend itself.”
On 14 April, the UK Government announced a new partnership with the Rwandan Government, which will allow the UK to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has claimed that the scheme “will help break the people smugglers’ business model and prevent loss of life, while ensuring protection for the genuinely vulnerable”. However, individuals and organisations from various ends of the political spectrum have criticised the plans as unethical, ineffective and costly. You can read more about this here.
The European Commission has said that relocating refugees outside of Europe is impossible under current EU rules on immigration. However, Denmark has been introducing increasingly strict immigration policies in recent years and passed a law last year that would allow refugees to be moved to asylum centres in a “partner country”. While the Danes are yet to find such a partner, the UK’s deal with Rwanda has prompted Denmark to enter talks with the Rwandan government, in the hopes of reaching a similar agreement. Danish Immigration Minister Mattias Tesfaye commented that any deal would aim to “ensure a more dignified approach than the criminal network of human traffickers that characterises migration across the Mediterranean”, mirroring the rhetoric of Home Secretary Patel. It remains to be seen whether Denmark’s talks with Rwanda will be successful, but if a partnership is agreed Denmark would be the first EU member state to circumvent the bloc’s immigration and asylum policy. It would not be too surprising if other member states were to then follow suit; particularly some of the more EU-sceptic nations, such as Italy, Greece, and France, where anti-migrant sentiment is becoming increasingly common.
The European Parliament has now approved European Commission proposals to change EU law in order to guarantee the supply of medicine from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, Northern Ireland remains within the EU’s pharmaceutical regulatory system, which had caused supply issues for medicine coming from Britain. Under the new plans, medicine entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain will no longer need additional labelling or authorisations. Despite this appearing to be a concession on the EU’s part, the UK Government has not indicated its support for the proposals, although it has not objected to them either.
Despite this, the UK and EU continue to disagree over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which came to a head in a call between Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič on 12 May. The UK Government has received legal advice stating that it would be lawful to override to Protocol in order to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement, but the EU has threatened to retaliate with trade sanctions. The UK and the EU have each published statements following the call – you can read these here and here.
The UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly
The first meeting of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (the PPA) took place in Brussels on 12 and 13 May. The PPA was set up a forum for the European and UK Parliaments to exchange views on UK-EU relations. Maroš Šefčovič and the Rt Hon Michael Ellis, Minister for the Cabinet Office, engaged in a heated back and forth over Northern Ireland, but a debate on UK-EU cooperation in Ukraine was rather more positive.
The prospective legislation announced in this year’s Queen’s Speech notably focused on the opportunities afforded by the UK’s exit from the European Union, with three bills in particular demonstrating a desire to depart from EU standards:
- Brexit Freedoms Bill
- Data Reform Bill
- Procurement Bill
The Brexit Freedoms Bill will enable laws inherited from the EU to be more easily changed – although what this means in practice remains to be seen.
The Data Reform Bill will introduce a new data rights regime, replacing the EU General Data Protection Regulation.
The Procurement Bill will reform the UK’s public procurement regime, which is currently based on legislation transposed from EU directives.
UK Shared Prosperity Fund
On 13 April, the UK Government published the prospectus for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), the replacement for the EU Structural Funds following the UK’s exit from the European Union. The prospectus provides the first real details of the UKSPF since it was initially pledged in the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto.
Some have suggested that, under the UKSPF, many regions will end up worse off than they had under EU funding, although Minister Neil O’Brien has stated that regions will receive the same amount in real terms as they did under the EU’s 2014-2020 programme.
The fact that the allocation of funds will remain similar to the pre-Brexit position has also drawn criticism. Firstly, the populations of different regions have grown at very different rates since the EU allocation was determined back in 2013; Cumbria’s population has grown by only 0.3% during this period, while the region of Coventry and Warwickshire has experienced population growth of almost 10%. Secondly, the UKSPF replicates a “cliff-edge” in the EU system’s allocation formula, which overwhelmingly benefits the poorest regions of the UK: Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and West Wales and the Valleys. These regions therefore receive up to eight times more funding per person than regions that are only slightly richer, such as South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Critics have suggested that the introduction of the new fund would have been a good opportunity to redistribute wealth as part of the Government’s promise to “level up” certain regions of the UK. The prospectus can be viewed here.
The UK Government has announced the creation of four Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), with the goal of reducing damaging fishing activity in UK waters. These will come into force in June, and cover the following areas:
- Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation
- Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Area of Conservation
- South Dorset Marine Conservation Zone
- The Canyons Marine Conservation Zone
Ministers assert that the introduction of these MPAs offers an example of the possibilities for wildlife and habitat preservation offered by post-Brexit freedoms, and that this move would not have been feasible within the EU. The MPAs are being created under new powers introduced in the Fisheries Act, which is the UK’s first major domestic fisheries legislation in almost 40 years.
Delayed Border Checks
The Prime Minister has ordered a fourth delay on the introduction of post-Brexit border checks on goods entering Great Britain from the EU, amid concerns that such checks would disrupt supply chains and further increase inflation. Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has said that the new regime will come into force at the end of 2023, with a “digital” trade border with the rest of the world.
Key Dates for 2022:
- 30 June 2022: Deadline for determining whether the UK meets the conditions for exchanging personal data (DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration data) under the Prüm framework.
- 1 September 2022: Checks for all dairy products will be introduced.
- 1 November 2022: Checks for all remaining regulated products of animal origin (including composite products and fish products) will be introduced.
- The grace periods for Great Britain to Northern Ireland trade in chilled meat products and food safety paperwork when moving agri-foods from GB to NI have both been extended indefinitely, while talks between the UK and EU on the implementation of the NI Protocol continue.