On 16 March 2020 , the House of Lords, acting through its EU Select Committee, exercised its statutory right under section 29 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to hold a debate on what it considered to be a matter of "vital national interest", namely, the current negotiations between the UK and EU on their future relationship.
From the Hansard report, the debate seems to have been a constructive one with lots of noble lords and ladies metaphorically doffing their caps to each other and listening to each other with politeness and interest.
Of particular interest perhaps was the contribution of Lord True (a good name for a legislator!), Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, who reportedly made the following observations:-
- The UK and EU round of talks scheduled for the week of 16 March 2020 has been delayed because of the Coronavirus emergency but both sides remain committed to the negotiations and to finding alternative ways of conducting them other than face-to-face. The UK Government is keen to see reasonable progress on the negotiations by the end of June 2020 , with a view to completing ratification before the year end. In no circumstances, however, will the UK Government agree an extension of the transition period ending on 31 December 2020.
- The structure of any agreement between the UK and the EU coming out of their current negotiations ( including whether it should be a formal association agreement by the UK with EU ) should be driven by the content of those negotiations rather than by any super-imposed framework. The UK Government is , however, minded to conclude a number of separate but contemporaneous agreements ( covering separately free trade, fisheries, internal security and other more technical matters).
- All policy areas set out in the non-legally binding Political Declaration negotiated in October 2019 will be relevant to the UK's future relationship with the EU, but not all need to be included within a formal treaty . and many can be developed in a spirit of friendly dialogue.
These observations are all straws in the wind as to how the negotiations between the UK and the EU should go from a UK Government perspective. What will happen in practice is, however, dependent on many factors.
At some point, the political leaders on each side may need to grasp hold of the negotiations and make things happen. With the Coronavirus emergency, however ,they clearly have got other priorities on their minds at the moment.