Stephen Hammond is the Member of Parliament for Wimbledon and Conservative European Forum Deputy Chair.
I welcomed the Government moving a motion this week to establish the UK-EU joint Parliamentary Partnership Assembly and want to thank my friend, Sir Oliver Heald, for his hard work in driving it forward.
The Trade and Cooperation agreement did not mandate the Assembly be created, it merely created the possibility if the UK and European parliaments were willing. It is encouraging that both parliaments have taken up the opportunity, and the support of the Government is a recognition of the importance of effective working relationships with our European allies.
The Parliamentary Partnership Assembly has largely gone unnoticed, but if we get it right, I believe it has the potential to heal past wounds, rebuild trust, and lay the foundations for a more cooperative relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
The Assembly is forum for MPs, peers and MEPs to exchange views on the UK-EU partnership. It has the power to request information from the Partnership Council, the body that oversees the implementation of the trade and cooperation agreement currently jointly chaired by Lord Frost and Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission Vice-President, as well as ask questions of the Council and make recommendations to it.
The British delegation will be comprised of 35 MPs and peers allocated proportionally on basis of the political composition of Parliament. The Assembly is expected to meet twice a year, once in London and once in either Brussels or Strasbourg. It will produce reports on the implementation of Trade and Cooperation Agreement, looking at the aspects working both well and less well, consider possible areas of future cooperation and pass resolutions.
It will be led by two co-chairs and four vice chairs, divided evenly between the our Parliament and the European Parliament, who will collectively form the bureau.
The Trade and Cooperation Agreement is clear that the Assembly be comprised of delegates from the British Parliament. But it will be important that the voices of the devolved administrations are heard and have the opportunity to provide input. The idea of granting observer status to members of UK’s devolved legislatures should be given serious consideration and I hope that the European Parliament agrees to it. It will allow members of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly to attend meetings and engage in informal discussions.
What struck me when we debated the Assembly late on Tuesday evening was not the support for establishing it from both sides of the House but the support from my Conservative colleagues who hold very different views on Europe. It appears, five and a half years later, the fractious and divisive debates over our membership of the European Union are behind us. As a parliament – and as a Party – we are coming together to find new ways of cooperating with our closest neighbour and largest trading partner.
As the Prime Minister rightly said, “we are leaving the EU; we are not leaving Europe”. We will continue to share strategic interests, face shared challenges and need co-ordinated solutions. The successful COP26 summit demonstrated the need for international and regional cooperation.
Not only will the Assembly promote good relations, but interparliamentary cooperation will deepen our relationship with the EU and help both sides to understand each other better in the post Brexit world. In this regard, the Assembly has the potential to act as an early warning mechanism for potential issues coming down the line, enabling them to be resolved early and thus preventing significant disputes, such as those we have witnessed in the past, from developing.
Importantly, it will provide the opportunity to increase our influence in Brussels, advancing the UK’s interests and putting forward the British perspective.
The Conservative European Forum has campaigned for the creation of the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. We have been actively engaged in ensuring that it comes fruition and will now work to help it get off to the best possible start. CEF has been successfully developing and strengthening links with sister centre right parties throughout Europe, including the European People’s Party (EPP), over the last 18 months.
I have been leading discussions with EPP colleagues about the Assembly, how we can best cooperate and how we learn from each other on how best to advance the centre right agenda domestically. This is something I will continue to take forward in the New Year and will be speaking to Conservative delegates, once they have been appointed. I hope the Assembly can become a vehicle for enhanced centre right cooperation as well as UK-EU cooperation.
There are still a few formalities to be finalised, both internally and with the European Parliament, but it is hoped that the Parliamentary Assembly will be able to hold its inaugural meeting early next year and I very much look forward to this happening. This is a positive step forward in the future of UK-EU relations and a positive step forward for strengthening Parliament’s role in that process.