My Lords, as I have said on previous occasions, the question of trust is important and it takes two sides to create trust. As I set out in the speech in Lisbon to which the noble Baroness previously referred, there are a number of things that the EU has done that have not necessarily been conducive to building trust either, but we need to move on from that and generate new momentum to try to reach agreement on a revised protocol. On the question of SPS regulations, the difficulty is that free trade agreements are not the only reason why you might wish to evolve your own agri-food regulations, and indeed the EU has evolved its own autonomously since the start of 2021. Where there is divergence it is for that reason, not because of anything that we have done.
My Lords, they have not all met yet, although they have largely met. I think four of these committees still have to meet this year, then the trade partnership committee, and then we hope for another meeting of the Partnership Council before the end of the year. The agendas for specialised committees are published on GOV.UK for those who are interested. So the programme has well begun and we expect to complete a full round by the end of the year.
My Lords, on 14 September I announced a pragmatic new timetable for introducing certain controls for goods imported from the EU to the UK to give businesses more time to adjust. These controls will be introduced in two stages, on 1 January and 1 July. The Government continue to support all businesses trading with the EU in all sectors, including by putting in place additional staffing, comprehensive guidance for businesses and funding infrastructure to ease border processes.
My Lords, it has of course been an extraordinary year to 18 months economically. We have been dealing with a pandemic of unpredictable quality, and it is very clear that there are global strains on supply chains and other aspects of the business environment. That is why we do not apologise for taking this series of pragmatic decisions to respond to the evolving situation. We have no plans to evolve these changes further, and the money that businesses have already spent in dealing with the situation will have been well spent.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. The issue of what the European Union did or did not do at the end of January deserves a bit of comment. There are two aspects to this. The first is the question of Article 16: was it triggered or not? In a way, obviously, the intention is as important as the fact. It is our view that it was triggered, however briefly. It was certainly the intention to do so. The second aspect of what the EU did in January—the reason why Article 16 was used—sometimes gets less comment. It intended to use it to put in place a process across the land border on the island of Ireland, something that for the previous five years we had been told was impossible, undesirable and disastrous. That is as much why this struck and changed the debate so much as the very fact of Article 16.
On the second point, if we were to use Article 16, it would obviously be open to the EU to consider countermeasures if it wished. I do not want to get too far down the hypothetical road, but it is obviously a possibility. Of course, there has been a good deal of analysis of that. We would have to see what the situation was in those circumstances, but everyone has an interest in avoiding needless deterioration of trade and needless further economic difficulties for either side, at a time when supply chain and trade costs are so significantly raised already. That will obviously be a matter for the European Union, and we have to take it as such.
To return to my flow, regarding where we are in talks at the moment, we have had a series of technical discussions with the EU and continue to do so. These have been quite helpful, but they are nevertheless talks about talks; they are not yet a process that gets to the fundamentals, and we need to get into that. We must get into something more substantive as a matter of urgency.
A real negotiation does not mean the EU coming up with its own plans for solutions within the framework of the existing protocol and presenting them to us, take it or leave it. To be honest, I have been a bit concerned by a couple of the comments I have heard from Commission representatives in recent days, which seem to suggest they might be considering that way forward. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, picked up the comment by Maroš Šefčovič the other day, when he said:
“A renegotiation of the protocol … would mean instability, uncertainty and unpredictability in Northern Ireland.”
Unfortunately, we already have all those things in Northern Ireland. The question is: how do we move on from them? I do not take Commissioner Šefčovič’s words as a dismissal of our position. I take them as acknowledgement of it, but also as a fairly clear indication that there is more to be done. I urge the EU to think again on that point and consider working to reach genuine agreement with us so that we can put in place something that will last.
I am conscious of time and will wind up quickly. The negotiations need to begin soon. I will not put a timescale on that, but it needs to be urgent as the situation is urgent.
Finally, I would urge the Commission to be sensitive to the situation in Northern Ireland in its actions. The EU has a treaty with us, and as my noble friend Lord Moylan made very clear, that does not make it a part of the Government of Northern Ireland. We are very happy to receive representatives of the Commission in Northern Ireland at any point, so that they understand the situation there, but I gently suggest that they should be cautious in coming to public judgments about the situation, or suggesting it is for the EU itself to decide how to resolve it. I do not think that will make the situation calmer; it will make it more difficult.
The situation we face is complex and challenging, self-evidently, but there is still a real opportunity for us both to find durable arrangements. That is our intention and our wish, and that is where we will be putting all of our effort in the next few weeks—in arrangements that can win the confidence of communities in Northern Ireland. We are ready to seize this opportunity and we urge, as strongly as we can, the EU to do the same. Bold action is needed to build a new, sustainable consensus. Once again, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate, and I look forward to continuing it, as I am sure we will, in many different fora in the future.
My Lords, it is clear that the balance we have in the protocol is not working at the moment, and I have explained why on many occasions. The issue raised by the noble Lord is one reason why we think changes to the governance arrangements in this protocol are so important. It simply does not fit with the reality of the situation to have laws imposed and policed by institutions outside the UK territory and subject to the judgments of courts that are not courts of the UK. If we can agree that—I recognise that it is a significant point—I think we will find some of the problems raised by the noble Lord beginning to melt away.
My Lords, where there are trust problems between us and the European Union, they stem ultimately from the issues that we have on the protocol. I agree 100% with the noble Lord that we must try to nip that in the bud and stop it getting in the way, in a durable way, of the rest of the relationship. The issue of Gibraltar that he raises obviously is a dispute about a different issue. There are analogous elements, but it is important to keep these things separate. The mandate that the EU agreed yesterday does seem to be problematic in a number of ways, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear yesterday. But I do not think it makes sense to connect one thing with another. We deal with each of these issues on its own terms and try to proceed in a constructive way.
My Lords, we are very pleased that the trade and co-operation agreement has entered into force and that its governance mechanisms are operational. This includes the partnership council, which met for the first time on 9 June. There are of course some outstanding issues between the UK and the EU, notably as regards the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Although we want to improve the situation, realistically, things may remain bumpy for a little time. We continue to engage constructively and pragmatically with the EU as a sovereign equal.
My Lords, as I mentioned, the governance mechanisms of the trade and co-operation agreement are now operational. The specialised committees will meet in the weeks and months to come. As this process gets going and the teams get into contact and discuss the issues, I am sure that matters at this level of detail will improve. The best way of improving the level of trust between us would be to engage in a pragmatic negotiation on the Northern Ireland protocol. If we can find solutions there, I am sure that things will greatly improve.
My Lords, now that the trade and co-operation agreement has been ratified, its committees and other bodies can indeed begin their work. None has met so far, but we will agree the date for the first meeting of each of those bodies with the EU shortly. We expect most to meet before the summer break. We also expect to fix a date for the first partnership council meeting, which is likely to be in the first half of June.
My Lords, I agree that it is extremely important that all the bodies created under the trade and co-operation agreement should meet and work effectively. I can assure the noble Lord that there has been no lack of activity between me and my EU opposite numbers and our teams during this period, but I agree that it will produce stability when the committees are working properly. We will do everything we can to ensure that there is good transparency about meetings and what is discussed.
My Lords, we are of course very supportive of the dialogue between this Parliament and the European Parliament. We supported these provisions in the TCA. I am aware that discussions are taking place between parliamentarians here and Members of the European Parliament in Brussels. I look forward to briefing the House in due course on how those discussions will be taken forward; it is important that they now move forward quickly.
My Lords, I am aware that officials from my department are in discussion with officials from the noble Lord’s committee. Our intention is that our proposals for scrutiny arrangements for the partnership council will mirror those for the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee as far as possible. This includes routine oral and written updates to committees, ministerial Written Statements before and after meetings, and the sharing of provisional agendas. We will also share meeting agendas for the specialised committees. Of course, this is a broad agreement, and many Ministers and committees will be involved in its scrutiny. We wish to take that forward in the most constructive way possible.
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord that we have great opportunities on the world stage after Brexit. This year the G7 summit and COP 26 meeting are among the most important. Of course, we seek to co-operate with the EU and its member states in whichever way is most appropriate.
My Lords, I have, of course, read the full and thoughtful report produced by the noble Earl’s committee, which was published on Monday, on this question and many others. We think that it is right to establish the Government’s arrangements fully when the treaty is fully in force and ratified on both sides, which we hope will be very soon.
My noble friend makes a very good point. The protocol was designed to deal with the very complex reality to which he alludes. It needs to be implemented in a way that takes account of all the strands of the Good Friday agreement—east-west as well as north-south—and enables cross-community consent for those arrangements to be sustained. That means that the smooth flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland needs to be preserved, as well as an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
I thank the noble Earl for his question, and I look forward to appearing before his committee again in the near future. We have been working through the joint committee mechanisms since the beginning of the year and before. The measures taken last week were operational, technical and temporary. We informed the Commission of those through the appropriate channels and at the appropriate level before the decision was made public.