Tuesday, 17 March 2020

The Protocol on Ireland/ Northern Ireland: What it says is not what it does



Professor Stephen Weatherill, Somerville College and Law Faculty, Oxford University

Political misdirection

On Wednesday 11 March 2020, at a meeting of the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee of the House of Commons, the following exchange took place:

Hilary Benn: “On goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland under the Northern Irish Protocol, we know there are some regulatory checks at the moment …  there will be additional checks once the Northern Ireland Protocol is implemented won’t there?”.

Michael Gove: “That’ll be a matter for the Joint Committee”.

No it won’t. No it isn’t. There will be additional checks. Mr Gove is wrong.

He’s not alone. Failing to grasp what are the UK’s legal obligations under the Protocol seems contagious. Interviewed on SKY television on 2 February 2020 Dominic Raab claimed that the imposition of extra checks would be “directly in conflict” with the agreements reached with the EU. He is wrong. He could not be more wrong: the absence of extra checks would be directly in conflict with those agreements. Brandon Lewis, who took over as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in February 2020, also moved quickly to insist there would be no border down the Irish Sea. He is wrong too, unless the UK plans to violate its international obligations.

But Mr Gove and his colleagues were following a well-trodden trail of misdescription. The Prime Minister has been even more blatantly wrong, and repeatedly so. Interviewed on SKY television in December 2019, shortly before the General Election, he said:

“… there’s no question of there being checks on goods going NI/GB or GB/NI … We’re a UK government, why would we put checks on goods going from NI to GB or GB to NI? It doesn’t make sense.”

On the campaign trail in November Mr Johnson had encouraged exporters to Great Britain from Northern Ireland who were confronted by forms to throw them in the bin: he insisted there would be no checks. He did not change his tune once he had banked victory in the December General Election. In the House of Commons on 22 January 2020 Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP welcomed the PM’s “assurance that there will continue to be unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the UK single market”, but asked whether that commitment also applies “to goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland?”. “Emphatically it does”, replied Mr Johnson.

Emphatically it does not, as is clear from an understanding of the Protocol.

The purpose of the Protocol

The Protocol on Ireland/ Northern Ireland attached to the Withdrawal Agreement is driven by the perception that, as its Preamble affirms, “the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the Union presents a significant and unique challenge to the island of Ireland” and “that the achievements, benefits and commitments of the peace process will remain of paramount importance to peace, stability and reconciliation there”. Its most high-profile concrete aim is to guarantee avoidance of “a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls” at the frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland, as the Preamble to the Protocol has it. So the current physically invisible state of the political border on the island of Ireland should not change at all as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This matters to the economy, this matters to the preservation of peace.

And, since the checks required at the external frontiers of the EU must occur somewhere, the aim of ensuring that they do not occur at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is achieved by ensuring that they shall occur elsewhere, at the border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There will be a hardened border within the UK. The Protocol is carefully written: it avoids saying this. But that is what it does. It is what Mr Johnson accepted in abandoning Mrs May’s deal which would not have placed any new restrictions between Northern Ireland and GB but which would have accepted UK-EU regulatory alignment and a single UK-EU customs territory. Mr Johnson’s oven-ready election-winning deal reduced the scope of regulatory alignment to NI-EU alone in order to unleash GB’s regulatory autonomy both domestically and in external trade policy. This inevitably entails new restrictions on trade in goods between Northern Ireland and GB as a result of the absence of regulatory alignment between GB and the EU.

Mr Gove and Mr Johnson and other members of the Cabinet are denying what they have already accepted.

The content and duration of the Protocol

Let us be clear what the Protocol requires – or, put another way, what the UK has already committed to in the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement.

The Protocol locks Northern Ireland (but not the wider UK, i.e. not Great Britain) into regulatory alignment with a weighty body of EU rules governing manufactured and agricultural goods. The detail is found in Annex 2 to the Protocol: 287 EU legislative instruments are listed, all of which are to be applied in Northern Ireland, in order to ensure it is sufficiently aligned to the EU’s internal market acquis for the EU to be prepared to treat the Northern Ireland - Ireland border as soft in the same way that borders found internally within the EU are soft. That NI-EU alignment is extended by the Protocol also to cover key trade rules including those concerning the EU’s customs regime, VAT and excise rules, those governing the single electricity market and state aid rules in respect of measures which affect the trade between Northern Ireland and the EU which is subject to the Protocol.

The Protocol applies after the expiry of the transitional period. That is currently set for the end of 2020, and although the Withdrawal Agreement allows for a one-time extension of up to two years, the UK government has pledged not to seek such extension. (The Coronavirus may change that attitude, but it will not change the content of the Protocol). The Protocol is terminable by a subsequent EU-UK agreement which shall indicate the parts of the Protocol which it supersedes (Article 13(8) Protocol) but for such an agreement to remove the need for the Protocol in its entirety would require the type of comprehensive UK-EU regulatory alignment which is exactly the opposite of what Brexit is intended to achieve, according to the speech delivered by the UK’s lead negotiator David Frost recently in Brussels, though one should not forget that a rather different tale was told by cherry-picking Brexiters back in 2016. The parts of the Protocol which concern trade rules can be set aside according the procedure foreseen by the Protocol’s Article 18, “Democratic Consent in Northern Ireland’, whereby alignment may be brought to an end by decision of the Northern Ireland Assembly according to a managed timetable set out therein. Since this would bring back into play the hard border on the island of Ireland that the Protocol is designed to prevent any such decision seems for the time being improbable. So the likelihood is that the Protocol is here to stay for some time to come. Its true meaning has long-term importance.

But what is its true meaning? The Protocol is not an easy read. The Protocol is not intended to be an easy read. It is an exercise in studied deception. But the key to understanding it is not to look at what it says, but instead to look at what it does.

To which customs territory does Northern Ireland belong?

The Protocol says that Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom (Article 4). And this is backed up by Article 5(1) which provides that no customs duties shall be payable for a good brought into Northern Ireland from another part of the United Kingdom by direct transport unless that good is at risk of subsequently being moved into the Union, whether by itself or forming part of another good following processing. So – it seems – the norm is no duties on GB to NI trade, while the exception – where the good is at risk of onward movement to the EU – is payment of duties.

But what the Protocol does in its Article 5(2) is to reverse the presumption expressed in Article 5(1). A good brought into Northern Ireland from GB is considered to be at risk of subsequently being moved into the Union unless it is established that that good will not be subject to commercial processing in NI and fulfils criteria to be established in due course by the Joint Committee. The shaping of the governing criteria by the Joint Committee will plainly be important but the key point right now is that goods are deemed to be at risk of onward movement and so attract an obligation to pay duties – unless it is shown they are not. The burden is on the trader to show that the relatively tightly drawn exception for goods only destined for Northern Ireland and not for processing applies. Article 5(6) grants the UK a power to reimburse duties levied on goods pursuant to the provisions of EU law made applicable by the Protocol – but that assumes that payment has already been made and in any event any such reimbursement must comply with the EU’s state aid rules contained in Article 10 of the Protocol.

The starting point, then, is that duties are payable. So what the Protocol does is not to treat Northern Ireland as part of the customs territory of the UK. That point is strengthened when one understands that, notwithstanding its calculatedly evasive language, what the Protocol does in its Article 5(3) is to lock Northern Ireland into the entirety of the EU’s Customs Code, the Common Customs Tariff, legislation setting up a Union system of relief from customs duty, and international agreements containing customs provisions in so far as they are applicable in the EU (subject only to a reservation to the Joint Committee of the job of establishing the conditions applicable to certain fishery and aquaculture products) and via its Article 5(4) also a number of other customs-related measures, among them the EU’s trade defence instruments covering inter alia anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures.

So the Protocol says that Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom (Article 4) but that is not what it does. De facto Northern Ireland is part of the EU’s customs territory.

Does the Protocol secure unfettered trade within the UK’s internal market?

The Protocol says that it is dedicated to the protection of the UK internal market (Article 6) and that nothing shall prevent the United Kingdom from ensuring unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to other parts of the United Kingdom's internal market (Article 6(1)).

But that is not what it does. The UK’s existing internal market is not protected, because what the Protocol does is to require that new barriers be introduced to regulate trade between GB and NI (in both directions, but especially east to west). Some will be required to implement the new customs regime, mentioned above, but others, likely far more significant, will be required to address the point that after the expiry of the transitional period (probably at the end of 2020, pace coronavirus) the GB part of the UK is no longer locked into the “ecosystem” of binding rules and institutional and constitutional disciplines which make up the EU internal market for goods. The point is that given the absence of commitment to persisting regulatory alignment between the EU and GB, the risk arises that goods originating in GB or imported into it from a third country will be routed through Northern Ireland and over the soft border into the EU’s internal market without any payment of tariffs or checks for compliance with EU rules, thereby harming the integrity of the EU’s customs union and internal market. Therefore compliance with EU rules on matters covered by the Protocol such as product composition, safety, technical standards and sanitary and phytosanitary requirements will need to be checked, because GB will no longer be bound by these rules. The Protocol does not say exactly how these checks shall occur, nor exactly how intense they shall be: it is in principle for the UK to implement and apply the EU rules made applicable by the Protocol to the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland, subject to the proviso that EU representatives have the right to be present during any such activities pertaining to implementation and application (Article 12). But it is clear that what the Protocol does is to require that there shall be such checks.

So Article 6(1) of the Protocol’s claim that nothing shall prevent the United Kingdom from ensuring unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to other parts of the United Kingdom's internal market (presumably deliberately) misses the point that it is GB to NI – east to west – trade which is the main problem. It will not be unfettered. There will be customs and other regulatory checks on goods exported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. But Article 6(1) is not even true on its own limited terms. West to east trade within the UK is affected too. What the Protocol does – via, once again, evasive language buried in Article 6 - is to require that the normal formalities applicable to goods leaving the EU’s customs territory shall apply to goods leaving NI for GB. Pursuant to Regulation 952/2013 on the EU Customs Code that means the completion of an exit declaration. Although less intrusive than the impediments on East-West trade within the UK that must be introduced, it is still a requirement that did not previously apply to trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

There will doubtless be a desire to minimise the level of inconvenience to economic operators, and Article 6(2) of the Protocol commits the EU and the UK to use their best endeavours to facilitate trade between Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom, but some new restrictions there certainly will be. “Unfettered” is not a legal term of art but it is a stretch to describe trade which involves such administrative encumbrances as “unfettered”. At the very least it is plain that what the Protocol does is to change the long-standing terms of trade between NI and GB, and to place them on a different and more cumbersome footing than trade between England, Scotland and Wales. The Protocol says it is protecting the UK’s internal market. What it does is to damage it.

None of this is news to those whose eyes and ears are open. The UK government’s own impact assessment, published on 21 October 2019, is open about the prospect of increases in costs as a result of an obligation to submit to processes and regulatory checks and to complete declarations, both West-East and East-West, albeit that it felt unable to place precise figures on the consequent costs pending detailed policy decisions to be taken by both the UK and the EU. That is: the precise nature and intensity of the additional burdens is not known, but the fact that they will exist is known. This is not what Mr Gove said in March 2020. Both the then Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, before the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union on 21 October 2019, and Julian Smith, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the House of Commons two days later accepted that that some new formalities would be introduced on trade between NI and GB. That is not what Mr Johnson said on repeated occasions.  Moreover a leaked Treasury document entitled “NI Protocol: Unfettered access to the UKIM” revealed clearly that there was full awareness of and anxiety about how fettered trade might turn out to be. That is not how senior members of the UK government are now addressing the consequences of the Protocol agreed last year.

Mr Johnson is simply denying what he agreed. Mr Gove seems to be hoping to use the Joint Committee to re-negotiate what was agreed.

What happens next?

If the UK does not comply with the obligations it has agreed under the Protocol, the methods of enforcement are far more closely aligned to those which prevail under orthodox EU law than those associated with the dispute resolution mechanisms based on arbitration found in the Withdrawal Agreement. Article 12 of the Protocol provides that for the key provisions concerning trade regulation in the Protocol the Commission retains its capacity to pursue infringement proceedings against the UK and the Court of Justice too has the jurisdiction provided for in the Treaties, which includes the preliminary reference procedure by which national courts ask the Court of Justice to interpret EU law. Article 13(2) adds that “the provisions of this Protocol referring to Union law or to concepts or provisions thereof shall in their implementation and application be interpreted in conformity with the relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union”.

Article 4 of the Withdrawal Agreement ensures that the domestic courts of the UK may be called on to hold the UK government to the binding promises it has made: it declares that “The provisions of this Agreement and the provisions of Union law made applicable by this Agreement shall produce in respect of and in the United Kingdom the same legal effects as those which they produce within the Union and its Member States”, which embraces the legal principles of the direct effect and primacy of EU law. This is imported into the UK’s domestic legal order by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 (see discussion here). So here the familiar features of EU law live on in the UK. This might surprise those who imagined that blocking the role of the Court in particular and that of EU law more generally was a UK red line in the negotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The law will doubtless take its course, but it is the political consequences of Mr Gove and Mr Johnson’s apparent disinclination to take seriously the Protocol which are even more pressing and alarming. And they become more so as every day passes and the UK fails to make the preparations necessary to meet its obligations under the Protocol, entailing most of all the construction of border infrastructure at west-facing ports in England, Scotland and Wales as well as at ports in Northern Ireland. Assuming the UK government sticks to its determination not to seek an extension to the transitional period – a militancy which may yet be subdued by the spread of the coronavirus – those obligations become live already at the end of 2020. This is imminent and it is urgent – yet it is not being treated as such by the most prominent politicians in the UK government.

It has been a consistent feature of Brexit that its principal cheerleaders appear to have only a dim understanding of what it might realistically entail, and moreover that they appear to assume that firm commitments made in consequence on negotiation with the EU can be lightly cast aside when they are seen to unsettle the preferred narrative of a Brexit crafted on British terms. But ripping up promises made with reckless bravado during a referendum or an election campaign is very different from treating binding legal commitments as disposable once the time to meet them looms. There is a dismaying sense that the current Cabinet has been assembled to exclude those such as Geoffrey Cox and Julian Smith who understood and respected the nature of the legal obligations undertaken pursuant to the Protocol, leaving the field clear for Mr Gove, Mr Johnson and others who decline to accept responsibility for fulfilment of the obligations imposed by the agreement which was concluded with the EU last Autumn. The whole point of that deal – the key that unlocked Mrs May’s deal and allowed its replacement by Mr Johnson’s – was that it significantly increased the legal, political and economic significance of the Irish Sea as a frontier within the UK. That the Protocol says things – that Northern Ireland is in the UK’s customs territory, that it secures protection of the UK internal market – which it does not do was doubtless politically convenient for the UK government, and probably a matter of misleading packaging in which the EU felt able last year to acquiesce. One wonders if the EU is now regretting not having insisted that the Protocol more clearly says what it does.

Photo credit: Oliver Dixon via Wikimedia


Friday, 28 February 2020

Justice and Home Affairs in the future UK/EU relationship: analysis of the negotiation positions



Professor Steve Peers, University of Essex

The EU has now adopted its negotiation mandate for future relationship talks with the UK (discussed here). The UK has now done the same. Lots of commentators have looked in detail at the two sides’ approach to the future relationship on economic issues: this blog post aims to do the same on justice and home affairs issues (immigration, asylum, civil cooperation, judicial and police cooperation).

I’ve reproduced the full text of both sides’ positions side-by-side, thematically, with detailed commentary – plus links to relevant treaties and legislation.

Warning: this blog post criticises both sides where warranted. Supporters of Brexit probably already have my photo pinned to a dartboard; cheerleaders for every position the EU takes might now wish to do the same. In particular, the latter group of people really need to stop claiming that the UK must accept the CJEU’s jurisdiction for any treaty in this field, given that the EU has never insisted on any such thing for any other non-EU country.

In particular, the EU negotiation position for these talks is that in the event of disputes between the parties relating to EU law, the CJEU has to be the final arbiter. The EU has taken that position because the CJEU requires it – but we can find ways to avoid the situations in which the CJEU requires it, in particular by not referring to EU law as such, and/or avoiding a dispute settlement system which includes arbitrators that might be called on to interpret it. Indeed, the EU and other non-EU countries have found ways to do just that many times before, in all the areas covered by this blog post. If the EU doesn’t trust the UK, it will have the possibility to terminate or suspend the treaty if its concerns are confirmed in practice.

In some ways, this is an update of a previous blog post I wrote on the possibility of a security treaty between the two sides post-Brexit – although obviously events have moved on since then, which I have fully taken account of. Another background source is the House of Lords committee report on a future UK/EU security treaty (which I was a special adviser to).

Note that the withdrawal agreement already provides for the details of winding up the UK’s participation in these issues at the end of the transition period. In the event of future treaties on these issues, arguably the agreement’s Joint Committee can amend these provisions to suit (see Article 164(5)(d), giving it the power to amend the agreement ‘to address situations unforeseen when this Agreement was signed’).

Since there is a significant possibility that the UK/EU negotiations on economic relations will be about as successful as the recent Cats movie, a lot turns on whether there will be a separate treaty on this issue. This is an explicit demand by the UK side, although the EU position is vague. We can only speculate at this point whether a collapse of the economic talks would anyway scupper other negotiations on separate treaties for political reasons.

To ease comparison, the EU position is in italics throughout. The UK position is underlined. My commentary is in ordinary text. I have marked each point by a traffic light system to indicate my assessment of the likelihood of agreement as things stands: Green is more likely than not; Amber is possible, but complicated; Red is unlikely.

In an alternate universe, there’s an alternative Professor Peers, who has the technical ability to do more exciting things with a text; but we are all stuck in this universe.  


Civil cooperation

59. In areas not covered by existing international family law instruments and taking into account the United Kingdom's intention to accede to the 2007 Hague Maintenance Convention, the Parties should explore options for enhanced judicial cooperation in matrimonial, parental responsibility and other related matters.

64. The UK proposes continuing to work together with the EU in the area of civil judicial cooperation through multilateral precedents set by the Hague Conference on Private International Law and through the UK’s accession as an independent contracting party to the Lugano Convention 2007.

Amber. The Hague Conference is an international process to draft treaties (among other things) facilitating civil judicial cooperation worldwide. The EU as such is a member alongside its Member States, and has signed up to some of the relevant treaties, including the 2007 Hague Maintenance Convention. (the UK’s ratification is planned for the end of the transition period: see these declarations).  The EU has gone further than the Hague Conference on some civil law issues, by adopting legislation going into more detail on civil jurisdiction (which country’s court has jurisdiction over a cross-border dispute), conflict of law (which country’s law applies in a cross-border dispute; this does not necessarily match the court with jurisdiction), and recognition of judgments as between countries (ie how an American judgment might be enforced in Japan). The Lugano Convention is a treaty copying the text of general EU law on civil jurisdiction and recognition of judgments as it stood in 2007 (it was amended in 2012) and extending it to Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland.

The EU refers specifically to family law, apparently contemplating specific arrangements, while the UK refers generally to the Hague Conference and more precisely to the Lugano Convention. There’s a specific process for signing up to that Convention, in Articles 70 and 72. For a country not part of the EU and EFTA, as the UK will be, it needs the unanimous consent of the existing Contracting Parties. The EFTA States have already supported the UK’s accession; it remains to be seen what view the EU will take. The existing parties ‘shall endeavour to consent’ to the request for accession within a year after they agree to it. As part of the accession request, the applicant country must, among other things, supply ‘information on the appointment and independence of judges’.

Note that although the Lugano Convention copies an EU law text, it does not give the CJEU jurisdiction over the treaty as regards non-EU signatories. Rather Protocol 2 to the Convention says that the parties shall give ‘due account’ to each other’s court’s judgments, including the judgments of the CJEU. There is a system for discussing divergences in interpretation of the Convention, but this does not include any binding dispute settlement – therefore no arbitrators who might be called upon to ask the CJEU how to interpret EU law. Note that the UK’s intention to sign up to the Convention indicates that this does not violate the UK’s ‘red line’ objections to CJEU jurisdiction, presumably because it does not involve jurisdiction for the CJEU or provide for arbitrators to refer questions to the CJEU in the event of a dispute. Equally we can deduce it doesn’t violate EU ‘red line’ objections either – given that the EU signed up to the Convention already.

There’s also no ‘dynamic alignment’, ie no obligation to keep up with changes in EU law. Indeed, the 2012 amendment of EU law did not affect the Convention, which still reflects the EU law on this issue adopted in 2001.

In order to move things forward, the UK would have to apply as soon as possible to sign up to the Lugano Convention. If the EU wants to continue cooperation on family law it should table a text soon. Copying the existing EU law texts into a separate treaty, following the format of the Lugano Convention, would be the easiest way forward. As explained above, the Lugano Convention does not breach the UK’s red lines. 

Immigration and asylum

145. The envisaged partnership should envisage cooperation to tackle irregular migration of nationals other than those of the Parties, including its drivers and consequences, whilst recognising both the need to protect the most vulnerable and the United Kingdom’s future status of a non-Schengen third country that does not provide for the free movement of persons. This cooperation should cover: a) cooperation with Europol to combat organised immigration crime in line with arrangements for the cooperation with third countries set out in the relevant Union legislation; b) a dialogue on shared objectives and on cooperation, including in third countries and international fora, to tackle irregular migration upstream.

54. The UK has made a specific commitment to seek to negotiate a reciprocal agreement for family reunion of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in either the EU or the UK, with specified family members in the UK or the EU, where this is in the child’s best interests.

55. Beyond this, the UK is open to an agreement regulating asylum and migrant returns between the UK and the EU, or alternatively with individual Member States, underpinned by data sharing, to help counter illegal migration and deter misuse of our asylum systems.

Red. The EU seems to be interested in operational cooperation in this area, while the UK wants to negotiate on unaccompanied children seeking asylum, and is also open to a broader arrangement on ‘asylum and migrant returns’ either with the whole EU or individual Member States. The CJEU has not clarified whether this is an issue within EU exclusive competence (ie Member States can’t sign treaties with non-EU countries) or not. The European Parliament also supported the idea of a treaty in this field (para 61 of its resolution on the future relationship), but it is not the negotiator.

In order to move this issue forward, the UK should table a text in this area as soon as possible. If the EU is not interested, the UK should adapt that text into a model treaty with individual Member States and table it to them. NGOs interested in asylum issues should do their best to encourage interest on the EU side.

It is sometimes suggested that the EU should only sign treaties on asylum responsibility with non-EU countries which have signed up to Schengen. But as discussed below, the ‘signed up to Schengen’ rule is not consistently applied by the EU in these negotiations. And frankly, it is not defensible to prioritise an arbitrary and incoherent ‘rule’ above the family unity of vulnerable unaccompanied children seeking asylum.

Note that the EU’s treaties in this field do not require the non-EU country to accept CJEU jurisdiction. For instance the treaty with Norway and Iceland refers to an exchange of case law, political dispute settlement, and the possible termination of the treaty.

56. Mobility arrangements, including on visa-free travel for short-term stays, in the envisaged partnership should be based on non-discrimination between the Union Member States and full reciprocity.

57. The envisaged partnership should aim at setting out conditions for entry and stay for purposes such as research, study, training and youth exchanges.

58. The envisaged partnership should address social security coordination.

60. Any provisions should be without prejudice to the Common Travel Area (CTA) arrangements as they apply between the United Kingdom and Ireland, as referred to in Article 38(2) of the Withdrawal Agreement and in Article 3 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

17. Social security coordination can remove barriers and support mobility of labour between countries. Arrangements that provide healthcare cover for tourists, short-term business visitors and service providers, that allow workers to rely on contributions made in two or more countries for their state pension access, including uprating principles, and that prevent dual concurrent social security contribution liabilities, could be good for business and support trade. These arrangements could benefit UK nationals and EU citizens travelling or moving between the UK and the EU in future.

18. The UK is ready to work to establish practical, reciprocal provisions on social security coordination. Any agreement should be similar in kind to agreements the UK already has with countries outside the EU and respect the UK’s autonomy to set its own social security rules. These arrangements should support mobility by easing the process for those working across borders, including underpinning the reciprocal arrangements on the temporary entry and stay for business purposes (‘Mode 4’ provisions).

Green (social security, visas, CTA); Red (students etc). The two sides both seem interested in negotiating a social security treaty. The UK does not reply to the EU’s visa point, but the relevance of that is limited because the EU has already waived short-term visitor visa requirements for UK citizens unilaterally, as discussed here. The UK also does not reply to the EU’s points about researchers and students, although both sides have their own legislation on admission of these groups of people already (the EU law is discussed here). Nor does the UK refer to the Common Travel Area, but the withdrawal agreement refers to it already.

Police and criminal law: General

115. With a view to the Union’s security and the safety of its citizens, the Parties should establish a broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership. This partnership will take into account geographic proximity and evolving threats, including serious international crime, organised crime, terrorism, cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns, hybrid-threats, the erosion of the rules-based international order and the resurgence of state-based threats.

116. The envisaged partnership should reaffirm the Parties’ commitment to promoting global security, prosperity and effective multilateralism, underpinned by their shared principles, values and interests. The security partnership should comprise law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, foreign policy, security and defence, as well as thematic cooperation in areas of common interest.

27. The safety and security of our citizens is the Government’s top priority. The UK already has world leading law enforcement capabilities. At the end of the transition period, we will fully recover our sovereign control over our borders and immigration system, which will further enhance our security capabilities.

28. Against this background, the UK stands ready to discuss an agreement on law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, to the extent that this is in both parties’ interests. It should include: arrangements that support data exchange for law enforcement purposes; operational cooperation between law enforcement authorities; and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

29. The agreement should facilitate police and judicial cooperation between the UK and EU Member States; equip operational partners on both sides with capabilities that help protect the public and bring criminals to justice; and promote the security of all our citizens.

Both sides support motherhood. And puppies. Lots of puppies. Other than the international criminal puppies.

Police and criminal law: Red Lines

117. The security partnership should provide for close law enforcement and judicial cooperation in relation to the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences, taking into account the United Kingdom’s future status of a non-Schengen third country that does not provide for the free movement of persons. The security partnership should ensure reciprocity, preserve the autonomy of the Union’s decision-making and the integrity of its legal order and take account of the fact that a third country cannot enjoy the same rights and benefits as a Member State.

30. This should be a separate agreement with its own appropriate and proportionate governance mechanism. The agreement must not constrain the autonomy of the UK's legal system in any way. It should not provide any role for the CJEU in resolving UK-EU disputes, which is consistent with the EU’s approach to cooperation with third countries on law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, including between the EU and neighbouring non-EU countries on tools such as the Second Generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) and Prüm.

Both sides emphasising the importance of the ‘autonomy’ of their own legal order here – but emphasising different examples of what their ‘red line’ is in that context. For the UK, it’s no ‘role for the CJEU in resolving UK-EU disputes’. (The UK doesn’t – and couldn’t seriously – object to a role for the CJEU in interpreting the treaty on the EU side; see, for instance, the CJEU judgment on the EU/US extradition treaty, discussed here).  The UK government correctly points out that in practice the EU has consistently agreed treaties with non-EU countries on these issues without requiring jurisdiction for the CJEU to settle disputes. For the treaties it refers to, see for instance the Schengen association agreement with Norway and Iceland (review of the case law; political dispute settlement; termination if dispute is not settled), and the Prüm agreement with the same countries (review of the case law; political dispute settlement).

Having said that, the EU has not made any specific demand on the CJEU issue – besides the general position that if arbitrators are called upon to settle a dispute involving interpretation of EU law, they must ask the CJEU. But the EU makes no mention of how it thinks dispute settlement should work in this specific area. There is no reason why arbitrators must always be involved in settling disputes about interpretation of a treaty, and the EU has never insisted on it before in this field.

The EU’s specific ‘red line’ is ‘taking into account the United Kingdom’s future status of a non-Schengen third country that does not provide for the free movement of persons.’ That correctly describes the UK’s future status; but as we will see, the EU applies this test inconsistently, objecting to the UK continuing to participate in the second-generation Schengen Information System (SIS II), but supporting the UK continuing to participate in some other EU measures only extended to non-EU Schengen associates, or not extended to non-EU countries at all.

Police and criminal law: human rights and data protection

118. The envisaged partnership should be underpinned by commitments to respect fundamental rights including adequate protection of personal data, which is a necessary condition for the envisaged cooperation. In this context, the envisaged partnership should provide for automatic termination of the law enforcement cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters if the United Kingdom were to denounce the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). It should also provide for automatic suspension if the United Kingdom were to abrogate domestic law giving effect to the ECHR, thus making it impossible for individuals to invoke the rights under the ECHR before the United Kingdom’s courts. The level of ambition of the law enforcement and judicial cooperation envisaged in the security partnership will be dependent on the level of protection of personal data ensured in the United Kingdom. The Commission will work toward an adequacy decision to facilitate such cooperation, if applicable conditions are met. The envisaged partnership should provide for suspension of the law enforcement and judicial cooperation set out in the security partnership, if the adequacy decision is repealed or suspended by the Commission or declared invalid by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The security partnership should also provide for judicial guarantees for a fair trial, including procedural rights, e.g. effective access to a lawyer. It should also lay down appropriate grounds for refusal of a request for cooperation, including where such request concerns a person who has been finally convicted or acquitted for the same facts in a Member State or the United Kingdom.

31. Cooperation will be underpinned by the importance attached by the UK and the EU to safeguarding human rights, the rule of law and high standards of data protection. The agreement should not specify how the UK or the EU Member States should protect and enforce human rights and the rule of law within their own autonomous legal systems.

32. The agreement should include a clause that allows either party to suspend or terminate some or all of the agreement. This should enable either the UK or the EU to decide to suspend – in whole or in part – the agreement where it is in the interests of the UK or the EU to do so.

33. In line with precedents for EU third country agreements on law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, the agreement should not specify the reasons for invoking any suspension or termination mechanism.

Amber. Both sides express their concern about data protection and human rights, but diverge on what that might mean in practice – although that divergence is not so broad that compromise is impossible.  The EU wants to suspend or terminate the treaty for reasons related to human rights or data protection, while the UK accepts the possibility that the treaty could be suspended or terminated, but does not want the treaty to specify the reasons why it might be suspended or terminated. The obvious compromise is that the treaty provides for its suspension or termination if either party decides, without mentioning the grounds, while the EU provides in its own law that it will automatically trigger these clauses for specified human rights or data protection reasons. (This approach could apply equally to divergences from case law: the UK could hardly object to the EU terminating a treaty on those grounds, having accepted that either side should be able to terminate the treaty on grounds they may choose).

The UK refrains from responding to the EU’s implied concern about human rights protection in the UK, but a neutral observer concerned with this issue might well call for a plague on both their houses: the disturbing attacks on judicial independence in Poland being matched by British politicians and commentators who slaver to follow this example. Once the British establishment fantasised that it was Greece to America’s Rome; now it aspires to be Mini-Me to Poland’s Dr. Evil.  

Data exchange

119. The envisaged partnership should establish arrangements for timely, effective, efficient and reciprocal exchanges between Passenger Information Units of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data and of the results of processing such data stored in respective national PNR processing systems. It should also provide a basis for transfers of PNR data by air carriers to the United Kingdom for the flights between the United Kingdom and a Member State. Such arrangements should comply with the relevant requirements, including those set out in the Opinion 1/15 of the CJEU.

40. The agreement should provide for reciprocal transfers of PNR data to protect the public from serious crime and terrorism.

41. The transfer of Passenger Name Record data from airlines to the UK or EU Member State competent authorities is an important law enforcement capability. It enables law enforcement and security agencies to identify known and otherwise unknown individuals involved in terrorism related activity and serious crime, and track criminal networks from their patterns of travel.

42. The agreement should be based on, and in some respects go beyond, precedents for PNR Agreements between the EU and third countries – most recently, the mandate for the EU-Japan Agreement.

Green. Both sides agree to negotiate on passenger name data, with no big conflict between their positions – although it’s not clear what the UK seeks by ‘going beyond’ the usual EU treaties. On this issue, the EU has a record of agreeing treaties with non-EU countries (including non-Schengen countries), as the UK points out. There’s no CJEU jurisdiction required for the non-EU countries: see the EU/US PNR treaty, for instance (political dispute settlement).

The EU side refers to a 2017 CJEU judgment (discussed here), which criticised the EU/Canada PNR agreement on data protection grounds, but did not rule out the EU agreeing such treaties if there were stronger safeguards. Note that a further CJEU challenge is pending, on the EU’s own PNR legislation; this might have implications for the EU’s external treaties on this issue too. The EU cannot simply negotiate away these safeguards, as the CJEU rulings are based on EU primary law (the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights).

120. The envisaged partnership should provide for arrangements between the Parties ensuring reciprocal access to data available at the national level on DNA and fingerprints of suspected and convicted individuals as well as vehicle registration data (Prüm).

38. The agreement should provide for the fast and effective exchange of national DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data between the UK and individual EU Member States to aid law enforcement agencies in investigating crime and terrorism.

39. The agreement should provide similar capabilities to those currently delivered through the Prüm system, drawing on the precedent for such cooperation between the EU, Norway and Iceland as well as between the EU and Switzerland and Liechtenstein. These precedents include a political dispute resolution mechanism with no jurisdiction in those third countries for the CJEU.

Green. Both sides agree to negotiate on this particular form of exchange of data, with no conflict between their positions. The UK correctly points out that the EU has already signed agreements with Schengen associates linking them to the EU legislation on this exchange of information, with no CJEU jurisdiction for the non-EU countries and political dispute settlement.

121. Without prejudice to the exchange of law enforcement information through Interpol, Europol, bilateral and international agreements, the envisaged partnership should provide for alternatives for simplified, efficient and effective exchanges of existing information and intelligence between the United Kingdom and Member States law enforcement authorities, in so far as is technically and legally possible, and considered necessary and in the Union’s interest. This would include information on wanted and missing persons and objects.

43. The agreement should provide a mechanism for the UK and EU Member States to share and act on real-time data on persons and objects of interest including wanted persons and missing persons. This capability is currently provided by the Second Generation Schengen Information System II (SIS II), making alerts accessible to officers on the border as well as to front-line police officers in the UK.
44. SIS II is used by EU and non-EU Schengen members (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). The UK will continue to use SIS II until the end of 2020.

45. The agreement should provide capabilities similar to those delivered by SIS II, recognising the arrangements established between the EU and non-EU Schengen countries (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). The EU’s agreements with these non-EU Schengen countries include a political dispute resolution mechanism with no jurisdiction in those third countries for the CJEU.

Red. The UK seeks something ‘similar’ to SIS II, while the EU rules out the UK’s participation in SIS II as such. This is not explicit in the EU position, but is set out unambiguously in the Q and As published by the Commission. Currently the UK participates in the criminal and police information exchange in SIS II, not the immigration aspects of the database, as discussed here. There’s another law known informally as the ‘Swedish Framework Decision’, but it concerns exchange of information in specific cases, not a database. So while both sides are willing to negotiate something, it’s not clear what that might be.

122. The envisaged partnership should provide for cooperation between the United Kingdom and Europol and Eurojust in line with arrangements for the cooperation with third countries set out in relevant Union legislation.

46. The agreement should provide for cooperation between the UK and Europol to facilitate multilateral cooperation to tackle serious and organised crime and terrorism. The UK is not seeking membership of Europol. Europol already works closely with a number of non-EU countries, including the US, through dedicated third country arrangements.

47. The agreement could go beyond existing precedents given the scale and nature of cooperation between the UK and Europol. For example, the UK was the highest contributor of data to Europol for strategic, thematic and operational analysis in 2018.

49. The agreement should provide for cooperation between the UK and Eurojust. Eurojust is an EU agency which brings together prosecutors, magistrates and law enforcement officers to assist national authorities in investigating and prosecuting serious cross-border criminal cases. The UK is not seeking membership of Eurojust.

50. Eurojust already works closely with a number of non-EU countries, including the US, through dedicated third country arrangements. The agreement should follow these precedents to enable ongoing cooperation between the UK and Eurojust.

Green. Both sides are broadly in agreement here, and both correctly point out that there is a framework for Europol and Eurojust to cooperate with non-EU countries (already being applied, as the UK points out).  The UK’s goal of going beyond precedent as regards Europol might not be reciprocated by the EU side. Cooperation with non-EU countries does not go as far as being a Member State. Contrary to the popular belief that ‘cooperation with Europol means CJEU jurisdiction yada yada yada’, there’s no such requirement for non-EU states: see the Europol agreements with the USA, for instance.

Criminal justice cooperation

123. The envisaged partnership should establish effective arrangements based on streamlined procedures subject to judicial control and time limits enabling the United Kingdom and Union Member States to surrender suspected and convicted persons efficiently and expeditiously, with the possibilities to waive the requirement of double criminality for certain offences, and to determine the applicability of these arrangements for political offences and to own nationals, including the possibility for the Union to declare, on behalf of any of its Member States, that nationals will not be surrendered, as well as to allow for the possibility to ask for additional guarantees in particular cases.

51. The UK is not seeking to participate in the European Arrest Warrant as part of the future relationship. The agreement should instead provide for fast-track extradition arrangements, based on the EU’s Surrender Agreement with Norway and Iceland which came into force in 2019, but with appropriate further safeguards for individuals beyond those in the European Arrest Warrant.

Amber. Both sides agree on a fast-track extradition system in place of the European Arrest Warrant, which has only ever been applied between EU countries. The UK explicitly refers to the precedent with Norway and Iceland, which is very similar to the EAW with certain exceptions (from the ‘red line’ perspective, there’s no CJEU jurisdiction for the non-EU countries, exchange of case law and political dispute settlement). The only other EU extradition treaty is with the USA. The UK refers to ‘further safeguards’, while the EU refers to ‘additional guarantees’: similar in principle, but the devil will be in the details.

As for those details, the EU position that some Member States might refuse to extradite their own citizens already applies in the withdrawal agreement transition period and in the EU/Norway/Iceland agreement. It’s derived from long-standing national constitutional rules, not a vengeful tantrum by the EU: Barnier did not travel back in time to tell Member States’ constitution drafters and constitutional court judges to punish the UK for leaving the EU decades in the future.

I pointed out that this would happen before the referendum, and was told this was ‘Project Fear’; nobody has had the humility or integrity to apologise for their ignorance on this issue. It’s almost as if not everybody knew what they were voting for after all. And the sight of people who wanted the UK to become a non-EU country becoming upset because the UK is now being treated as a non-EU country is…unappealing.

The EU refers to the possibility of waiving ‘dual criminality’ – the usual rule of extradition law that an act or omission must be a crime in both the State requesting extradition and the State being requested to hand over a fugitive for extradition to apply. The European Arrest Warrant waives that rule as regards 32 crimes; the EU/Norway/Iceland treaty makes the waiver only optional. As a whole, the EU/Norway/Iceland treaty copies most of the EAW legislation, with several other exceptions.

124. To ensure effective and efficient practical cooperation between law enforcement and judicial authorities in criminal matters, the envisaged partnership should facilitate and supplement, where necessary, the application of relevant Council of Europe conventions, including by imposing time limits and providing for standard forms. It should also cover necessary supplementary forms of mutual legal assistance and arrangements appropriate for the United Kingdom future status, including on joint investigation teams and the latest technological advancements, with a view to delivering capabilities that, in so far as is technically and legally possible and considered necessary and in the Union’s interest, approximate those enabled by the Union instruments.

52. The agreement should provide for arrangements delivering fast and effective mutual legal assistance in criminal matters including asset freezing and confiscation. These arrangements should build and improve on those provided by relevant Council of Europe Conventions including the 1959 Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance and its Protocols, for example by providing for streamlined and time limited processes.

Amber. Both sides are willing to supplement the Council of Europe treaties on mutual assistance (the rules on transferring evidence cross-border). The EU has previously negotiated mutual assistance treaties with Norway and Iceland, the USA and Japan. Internal EU law (the European Investigation Order, discussed here), has aimed to replace the Council of Europe measures with a fast-track system too. The details of what is contemplated are not clear, however. The UK refers explicitly to freezing and confiscation (the subject of separate EU and Council of Europe measures), but the EU does not; the reverse is true for joint investigation teams.

125. Supplementing and facilitating the application of the European Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters of 20 April 1959 and its Additional Protocols, the envisaged partnership should put in place arrangements on exchange of information on criminal records appropriate to the United Kingdom’s future status with the view of delivering capabilities that, in so far as technically and legally possible and considered necessary and in the Union’s interest, approximate those enabled by the Union instrument.

35. The agreement should provide for the fast and effective exchange of criminal records data between the UK and individual EU Member States, recognising that this is an important tool for investigations, prosecutions and sentencing, as well as for wider community safety.

36. To that end, the agreement should provide for capabilities similar to those provided by the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS). ECRIS is a secure, automated, electronic system providing for exchange of criminal records information held on countries’ own national databases within specific deadlines.

37. These arrangements should draw on precedents for similar networks of national databases for law enforcement purposes between the EU and third countries (see Prüm below).

Green. Both sides agree in principle to exchange of criminal records on a similar basis to existing EU law (ECRIS was initially set up on the basis of two EU laws: a Framework Decision and a Decision. These laws were amended and replaced by a Regulation and Directive). The details remain to be worked out, however. Note that the EU has not previously agreed to such measures with any non-EU country – even the Schengen associates.

Other issues

126. The envisaged partnership should include commitments to support international efforts to prevent and fight against money laundering and terrorist financing, particularly through compliance with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards. The provisions in the envisaged partnership should go beyond the FATF standards on beneficial ownership information, among others by providing for the existence of public registers for beneficial ownership information for companies and semi-public registers of beneficial ownership information for trusts and other legal arrangements.

53. The agreement should establish effective and reciprocal arrangements to transfer prisoners between the UK and EU Member States, enabling prisoners to be moved closer to home and be rehabilitated in the community to which they will be released. These should build and improve on arrangements provided by the 1983 Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons and its Protocols, and could include time limited processes.

Red. The UK wants to go beyond the Council of Europe rules on the transfer of prisoners, although it does not explicitly refer to the EU law on this issue. There is no matching interest in negotiating this from the EU. On the other hand, the UK does not match the EU interest in negotiating on money laundering (again, there’s no explicit reference to EU law on money laundering) – although in this case, the EU position is almost word for word what the UK agreed with the EU in the political declaration on the future relationship (para 89, discussed here). It’s fair to say, as noted above, that the UK refers to freezing and confiscation of assets, which are part of this issue – but the banking law aspects are part of it too.

Photo credit: Wikicommons
Barnard & Peers: chapter 25, chapter 26, chapter 27
JHA4: all of it

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Negotiating the future relationship between the UK and EU: the EU negotiating mandate



Professor Steve Peers, University of Essex*

*Thanks to Georgina Wright, of the Institute for Government, for a 'track changes' version of the negotiation mandate. The usual disclaimer applies.

This week the process of negotiating the future relationship between the UK and the EU took another step. On the EU side, the Council adopted the negotiation mandate for the talks.  This text differs somewhat from the proposed mandate for the future EU/UK relationship, which I discussed here. This blog post is an updated version of that one, and explains the main differences between the Commission proposal and the final text.

The following analysis summarises the EU negotiating mandate, further comparing it to the mutually agreed political declaration on the future relationship (which I previously annotated here). It explains where the EU position has departed from or elaborated upon the political declaration. Obviously, the EU position differs in some respects – but not all – from the UK position, which is why negotiations are expected to be difficult. (Update: the text of the UK position has now been published)

Legal basics

On the EU side, the adoption of the negotiation mandate is the latest step in the procedure. Under Article 218 TFEU, which sets out how the EU negotiates international treaties, first of all the Commission proposes a mandate to negotiate with a non-EU country. Next, the Council, ie Member States' ministers, decides on adoption of that mandate. When adopting the negotiation mandate the ministers acted unanimously (more on that below).

The next step is the formal negotiations with the UK, in which the Commission is the negotiator. These start next week. Note that the Commission now has a mandate from Member States when doing so: Michel Barnier will not be on a frolic of his own. (This point was often missed during the withdrawal agreement negotiations). As the mandate states, during the negotiations the Commission will be reporting back to a 'special committee' of Member States’ officials. In fact this committee was set up recently. It's made up of Member States' officials who keep an eye on the Commission as negotiator. This isn't unique to these talks; it's a requirement in Article 218 TFEU as regards all international treaty negotiations.

There's no formal role for the European Parliament at this point, although it can pass non-binding resolutions (such as the one passed earlier). It will have a veto over the final agreement. The negotiating mandate doesn't take a view on whether ratification by each national parliament will be needed. This will depend on the content of the final text, as the Commission’s Q and As explicitly point out.

Timing of the talks

The transition period in the withdrawal agreement (discussed here) expires at the end of the year, meaning that the de facto current treatment of the UK as a Member State of the EU will then expire. While the withdrawal agreement’s provisions on issues like citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland will still apply, most of the relationship between the UK and EU will end at that point unless new treaties replace it.

Although the transition period could be extended by one or two years if both sides agree (the deadline to agree this is 30 June 2020), the UK objects in principle to any extension. The negotiation mandate decision mentions a possible extension, but aims to get as much as possible done during the available time. It does refer to the jointly agreed ‘best endeavours’ to agree a new fisheries treaty by July 2020 (para 74 of the political declaration), saying that a fisheries treaty ‘should’ be agreed by that point. But it does not explicitly make this a condition for further negotiations, and the mandate refers to ‘parallel’ negotiations, not to negotiations on fisheries exclusively at first.    

Form of the relationship

The Commission proposal referred to a ‘single package’ with general provisions, economic arrangements, and security arrangements. This possibly implies a single treaty, although the Council mandate does not say so expressly.  It would also be possible to have separate treaties which are linked in some way.

Furthermore, the Council gave the Commission legal authority to negotiate an association agreement on the basis of Article 217 TFEU, although it avoids using those actual words. The Q and As note that when it comes to the end of the negotiations, things might be different. (For instance, the scope of the agreement might be narrower, or it might take the form of multiple treaties: either way, this could change the ‘legal base’ of the treaty or treaties concerned).

Legally, an association agreement (if that's what is eventually negotiated) requires unanimity in Council and consent of the European Parliament. It might need ratification by national parliaments but that depends on the content (as the Q and As point out). It can be put in force provisionally (at least partially) if needed.

Territorial scope

Gibraltar is outside the scope of the negotiation mandate (para 167). This is not a new EU position, and is not a territorial claim: the point has often been misreported. As the Commission pointed out, the EU position goes back to 2018, when the European Council took the view that any agreement regarding Gibraltar would be separate, and subject to the agreement of Spain:

After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, Gibraltar will not be included in the territorial scope of the agreements to be concluded between the Union and the United Kingdom. However, this does not preclude the possibility to have separate agreements between the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Gibraltar. Without prejudice to the competences of the Union and in full respect of the territorial integrity of its Member States as guaranteed by Article 4(2) of the Treaty on European Union, those separate agreements will require a prior agreement of the Kingdom of Spain.

In any event, every Member State will have a veto over the future relationship treaty with the UK anyway, if it remains an association agreement.

Data protection

The negotiation mandate (para 13) refers to an adequacy decision on UK data protection law. Note that an adequacy decision is a unilateral decision by the EU under the GDPR. The political declaration (para 9) referred to an objective to adopt such decisions by the end of 2020. There is another reference to data protection in the security part of the mandate (see below). Cooperation between regulators, which was mentioned in the political declaration (para 10), is not mentioned explicitly in the mandate.

EU programmes

The negotiation mandate (para 14) covers UK participation in EU programmes, such as research funding and Erasmus. The wording of the mandate reflects the political declaration (para 11). Northern Ireland peace funding is also mentioned (para 15, mandate; compare para 13, political declaration). However, there is no explicit mention of association with European research infrastructure (which was mentioned in para 12, political declaration). Note that the EU has not yet agreed the conditions for non-EU countries to access the next phase of EU programmes: for the draft text on this, see Article 16 of the proposed new Erasmus programme.

There’s no explicit mention of negotiation of UK links to the European Investment Bank, although the political declaration (para 15) only referred to the UK’s intention to seek such links, without suggesting that the EU side shared this objective.

Economic partnership

The core of the UK/EU economic partnership would be a free trade agreement (FTA) covering both goods and services (para 17 of the negotiation mandate). It's often inaccurately claimed that there's no intention for an FTA in services between the UK and EU, but both sides have always intended to negotiate one (paras 19 and 28 of the political declaration). But note that an FTA falls short of single market participation. Unlike the political declaration, the mandate makes an explicit link between the economic partnership and fisheries and a ‘level playing field’.

Free trade in goods

The negotiation mandate (para 20) provides for no tariffs or quotas. However, unlike the position as a Member State (and during the transition period), the mandate refers to rules of origin, to determine where goods come from (para 21). This is an extra burden on trade between the UK and EU compared to EU membership, and is a consequence of the UK's decision not to negotiate a customs union. This reflects the political declaration (para 22); indeed a reference to a need for rules of origin was added to the revised version of the political declaration (whereas the first version of the political declaration ruled them out).

The reference to using the EU’s standard preferential rules of origin is new compared to the political declaration, and presumably refers to the pan-European rules (PEM Convention) in use between the EU and other countries across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Using the standard rules will be simpler and quicker than negotiating from scratch (rules of origin often take some time to negotiate in FTA talks).

Next, the negotiating mandate refers to introducing anti-dumping duties, anti-subsidy duties and economic safeguards between the UK and EU, referring to WTO rules. Again, this is a new possible barrier in UK/EU trade. Such measures are provided for in most FTAs (not just the EU’s: the US applies anti-subsidy duties to some Canadian products, for instance). For EU FTAs, the only exception is the European Economic Area (EEA), which rules out anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties for most products, because the countries concerned have signed up to EU single market laws. The possibility of such measures is therefore not a ‘punishment’, but the inevitable consequence of the UK’s decision to leave the EU without remaining a participant in the single market. However, there is an inconsistency between the EU approach to the UK compared to the EEA countries: if the UK signs up to EU State aids law, as the EU proposes, it would still be subject to possible anti-subsidy measures.

The possibility of such measures would be there even without an FTA between the UK and EU. The objective of such measures is, respectively, to react to goods sold below their normal value (anti-dumping), subsidised by States (anti-subsidy), or which damage domestic producers (economic safeguard) – subject to more detailed definitions and procedural obligations in the WTO Codes dealing with these issues. 

The negotiation mandate also extends to customs facilitation and agreement on non-tariff barriers (technical and sanitary rules), going beyond WTO provisions. However, it does not mention the possibility of UK links with EU medical, chemical, and aviation safety agencies, even though the political declaration referred to this possibility (para 23).

Finally, the Council added a para referring to cooperation on return of stolen cultural property. Some interpreted this as a demand for the return of the Elgin marbles, but the text refers to cooperation on the basis of current EU law - which only applies to property stolen after 1993.

Free trade in services

The negotiation mandate refers to an FTA in services going beyond WTO commitments, but as usual the EU will exclude audio visual services. This exclusion was not mentioned in the political declaration, but is hardly unexpected. On the other hand the proposed mandate mentions free trade in certain services sectors that were also expressly mentioned in the political declaration: professional and business services, telecommunications services, courier and postal services, distribution services, environmental services, financial services and transport services.

This will include movement of service providers (as required by WTO rules on FTAs in services), but this falls short of free movement of people. There is a general reference to agreement on investment (not just in services industries), but as under the political declaration there is little further detail. The mandate also includes recognition of professional qualifications, as referred to in the political declaration (para 34). Financial services equivalence decisions will be unilateral.

Intellectual property

It’s usual for FTAs to include provisions on intellectual property, going beyond WTO and other international rules. Here the big EU ask here is protection for future ‘geographical indications’ (GIs: these are rules which specify that, for example, ‘feta cheese’ must originate from Greece). Note that current GIs are protected in the withdrawal agreement, so the negotiation here would be about future GIs. There’s also a reference to maintaining current protection in many other areas of IP, where there is extensive EU legislation going beyond international IP treaties. There’s no reference to what happens to the plan that the UK hosts part of the planned Unified Patent Court, which is linked to an attempt to create a unified EU patent. Some specific references to IP issues in the political declaration (databases, resale rights, exhaustion of rights) do not appear explicitly in the proposed mandate. The notion of still applying EU standards might be an issue in the case of the controversial recent EU copyright law, which the UK supported when it was adopted but now intends not to apply (see discussion here).

Public procurement

As is common for FTAs, the negotiation mandate envisages opening up public procurement markets more than under the WTO procurement agreement. This reflects the political declaration, although note that the rhetoric on this issue in the UK is inconsistent, with an obvious conflict between the competing slogans of "Buy British" economic nationalism on the one hand, and export oriented "Global Britain" on the other. Since the UK is signing up to the WTO procurement agreement in its own name and non-EU countries may also wish to include additional procurement obligations in FTAs, the “Buy British” folks may be disappointed – although opening up markets reciprocally enables exporting British companies to sell their goods and services too.

Mobility

The negotiation mandate falls short of free movement of people here. It refers to waiving visa requirements for short term travel, which the EU has done already unilaterally on the condition of reciprocity (see discussion here). A visa waiver treaty between the two sides could go further – most notably waiving visa requirements for paid activities (which is now an option for Member States), which would be useful for the music industry, for instance. But it is not clear if the mandate is referring to a visa waiver treaty.  Note that the section on mobility is in addition to the planned negotiations on services, which would include some movement of people (discussed above).

The mandate also refers to “setting out conditions” relating to migration of students and researchers (areas where the EU has already legislated on non-EU migration, as discussed here). There could also be agreement on social security coordination, but note that this would be for future UK/EU migration. Those who moved before the end of the transition period are covered by the withdrawal agreement (see discussion here), which also covers the common travel area referred to in the mandate. Note that there’s no reference to possible negotiations on retaining free movement rights for UK citizens who move to the EU before the end of the transition period.

There’s no mention of the political declaration’s reference to facilitating travel (para 53 of the declaration), perhaps because of the UK government’s plan to match the EU’s planned advance travel authorisation system. However, the Council added a reference to negotiations on family law civil judicial cooperation, as mentioned in the political declaration (para 56), even though the proposed mandate had omitted this issue.

Transport

On air transport, the negotiation mandate states that the UK will not have the same market access as an EU Member State, but is willing to negotiate. It also refers to aviation safety standards.

On land transport, it refers to market access for road haulage, but not cabotage (haulage within a single Member State/multiple Member States). This would be linked to a standstill on social rules relating to drivers plus tachograph discussions (this concerns the devices keeping track of how long drivers are driving for). There’s no reference to private motorists, although the political declaration referred to them.

The mandate refers to international law on coach transport, which suggests that the UK and EU would not negotiate additional provisions. On rail transport, there’s a reference to the Channel Tunnel, and the Council added a reference to Dublin/Belfast rail links here, in accordance with a reference in the political declaration.

The Council also added a reference to possible negotiations on maritime transport, matching a reference in the political declaration. The reference to cooperation with the EU maritime safety agency in the political declaration was not retained.

Energy

The negotiation mandate has a number of references to renewable energy, along with a level playing field on carbon pricing, and a Euratom deal including a standstill on nuclear safety standards and isotope issues. (On post-Brexit relations with Euratom, see my earlier discussion). The Council added a reference to nuclear waste, perhaps reflecting Irish concerns about Sellafield.

Fisheries

The focus of the negotiation mandate is EU traditional fishing in UK waters, with a link to the rest of the economic partnership, and a reference to agreed July target date. As noted above, the target date does not seem to be an absolute demand.  The Council strengthened the EU’s position here, referring to ‘upholding’ the existing degree of access. The topic is a prime candidate for crashing the whole negotiations – as is the next topic...

Level playing field

The term ‘level playing field’ might be used differently in other contexts, but for these discussions it refers to law on State aid, competition law, and aspects of tax, labour and environmental law. It’s common for the EU (and also the US and Canada) to require some form of LPF clauses in its FTAs, but the question is whether to go beyond the EU’s usual provisions in the EU/UK FTA – with the rationale for the EU side being that the FTA would go further in abolishing all tariffs than other EU FTAs go.

The first point to emphasise is that in addition to LPF clauses being in other EU FTAs, the UK signed up to the concept of LPF in the political declaration. Both sides agreed that the LPF:

…should be commensurate with the scope and depth of the future relationship and the economic connectedness of the Parties. These commitments should prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages. To that end, the Parties should uphold the common high standards applicable in the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters. The Parties should in particular maintain a robust and comprehensive framework for competition and state aid control that prevents undue distortion of trade and competition; commit to the principles of good governance in the area of taxation and to the curbing of harmful tax practices; and maintain environmental, social and employment standards at the current high levels provided by the existing common standards. In so doing, they should rely on appropriate and relevant Union and international standards, and include appropriate mechanisms to ensure effective implementation domestically, enforcement and dispute settlement as part of the future relationship. The future relationship should also promote adherence to and effective implementation of relevant internationally agreed principles and rules in these domains, including the Paris Agreement.

So the commitment was to ‘uphold common high standards’ applicable in the EU and UK at the end of the transition period; ‘maintain’ standards ‘at the current high levels provided by the existing common standards’; ‘rely on appropriate and relevant Union and international standards’; and include provisions on implementation, enforcement and dispute settlement. So there were several references to EU rules, most in the context of a standstill, but partly more open-ended (ie possibly application of future rules too); and a general reference to dispute settlement, with no specific reference here to the CJEU (but see the reference to the CJEU role below).

The negotiating mandate partly repeats this text, but also adds many points. On LPF enforcement in general, it states that the EU ‘should also have the possibility to apply autonomous, including interim, measures to react quickly to disruptions of the equal conditions of competition in relevant areas, with Union standards as a reference point’ (italics indicate that the Council added words to the Commission proposal). On future measures, it states that the ‘envisaged partnership should commit the Parties to continue improving their respective levels of protection with the goal of ensuring corresponding high levels of protection over time’ (italics are the Council’s added words), with the governing body having power to extend the LPF or add to it over time (note that the governing body would have to act jointly). The Council also added general references to ‘a sustainable and long-lasting relationship between the parties, referring not only to ‘common high standards’ but also ‘corresponding high standards over time with Union standards as a reference point’.

On specific issues, EU State aid should apply ‘to and in’ the UK, although they would be enforced by an independent UK body, not the Commission; and disputes ‘about the application of State aid rules in the United Kingdom should be subject to dispute settlement’. For competition law, general provisions similar to EU law (although here there is no specific cross-reference to EU law) should apply as regards EU/UK trade, along with a commitment to ‘effective enforcement’. There should be limits on special rights for state-owned enterprises, with no specific reference to EU law or enforcement.

On tax, there should be a commitment to international standards, and also the UK should apply ‘the common standards applicable within the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in relation to at least the following areas: exchange of information on income, financial accounts, tax rulings, country-by-country reports, beneficial ownership and potential cross-border tax planning arrangements’, along with ‘the fight against tax avoidance practices and public country-by-country reporting by credit-institutions and investment firms’, and (without reference to common standards) ‘the Parties’ commitment to curb harmful tax measures, taking into account the G20-OECD BEPS Action Plan’ and the UK reaffirming ‘its commitment to the Code of Conduct for Business Taxation’.

On employment law, there should be no reduction ‘below the level provided by the common standards applicable within the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in relation to at least the following areas: fundamental rights at work; occupational health and safety, including the precautionary principle; fair working conditions and employment standards; and information and consultation rights at company level and restructuring’. There should also be provision on enforcement within the UK, ‘through adequately resourced domestic authorities, an effective system of labour inspections and effective administrative and judicial proceedings’.

On the environment and health (‘health’ being added by the Council), again the LPF should provide that ‘the common level of environmental protection provided by laws, regulations and practices is not reduced below the level provided by the common standards applicable within the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period’. The text refers to ‘at least the following areas: access to environmental information; public participation and access to justice in environmental matters; environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment; industrial emissions; air emissions and air quality targets and ceilings; nature and biodiversity conservation; waste management; the protection and preservation of the aquatic environment; the protection and preservation of the marine environment; health and product sanitary quality in the agricultural and food sector; the prevention, reduction and elimination of risks to human and animal health or the environment arising from the production, use, release and disposal of chemical substances; and climate change.’ The words in italics were added by the Council; note that food standards issues, in the EU mandate, therefore cross over between the pure trade issues (SPS checks, mentioned above) and the LPF clauses.

Also, the LPF ‘should lay down minimum commitments reflecting standards, including targets, in place at the end of the transition period in those areas, where relevant’; ‘should ensure the Parties respect the precautionary principle and the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay’. For enforcement, again, the LPF ‘should ensure that the United Kingdom implements a transparent system for the effective domestic monitoring, reporting, oversight and enforcement of its obligations by an independent and adequately resourced body or bodies’. (Note that the proposed Environment Bill would include some provisions to this effect).

There are also some specific provisions on climate change: the UK should maintain ‘a system of carbon pricing of at least the same effectiveness and scope as provided by the common standards, including targets, agreed within the Union before the end of the transition period and applicable for the period thereafter’, and the two sides ‘should consider linking a United Kingdom national greenhouse gas emissions trading system with the Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS)’ which should be ‘based on the conditions agreed within the Union, ensure the integrity of the Union’s ETS and a level playing field, and provide for the possibility to increase the level of ambition over time’. Besides carbon pricing systems, the LPF should ensure that the UK ‘does not reduce the level of protection below the level provided by the common standards, including targets, agreed within the Union by the end of the transition period and applicable for the period thereafter’.

The negotiation mandate also refers to ‘adherence to and effective implementation of relevant’ international rules, which ‘should include’ International Labour Organisation conventions, the Council of Europe European Social Charter and multilateral environmental agreements including those related to climate change, including the Paris Agreement. On top of that, where the parties have higher standards above the minimum commitments, ‘the envisaged partnership should prevent them from lowering those additional levels in order to encourage trade and investment.’

Has the EU ‘moved the goalposts’ here? The agreed text in the political declaration refers explicitly to both EU and UK standards, vaguely to dispute settlement, and indirectly to future measures. It’s not surprising that the EU puts forward a maximalist interpretation of this, or that the UK puts forward a minimalist interpretation – although it cannot seriously be argued that the political declaration made no commitment to a standstill as regards EU standards. Compared to the political declaration, then, the issue of dispute settlement remains vague, although there is a specific demand for potential EU reaction in the event of divergent future standards. The reference in the political declaration to maintaining current standards is maintained. It’s unclear if the EU position is that the UK must keep up with future EU measures in these areas, or whether it simply wants to reserve the right to react in the event that the UK does not.

The dispute settlement point is significant because in the first withdrawal agreement, which contained some of the detail which appears in the negotiation mandate, dispute settlement was limited: only some issues could be subject to the dispute settlement regime in that text (in particular, disputes about the substance of labour and environmental commitments could not be subject to dispute settlement; only disputes about enforcement systems for those obligations could be). So even the references to EU law in the LPF part of that agreement did not mean that the CJEU would have jurisdiction via dispute settlement arbitrators to interpret those references, since the dispute settlement arbitrators would never get hold of such disputes in the first place.

This also meant that EU retaliation for the breach of such obligations was impossible, since retaliation was only possible via the dispute settlement system. While the negotiation mandate refers to possible EU retaliation for breach of LPF rules, it’s not clear if the limits on such retaliation (both in terms of which issues are subject to dispute settlement and the constraints on retaliation within the dispute settlement system) would be different from the limits in the first withdrawal agreement. It should be noted that in the first withdrawal agreement, UK retaliation against EU breaches was also possible within the dispute settlement system; one might expect that the UK would argue that it should similarly have reciprocal powers to retaliate in the future relationship treaties.

As compared to EU FTAs with other countries, the negotiating mandate is different as regards the references to EU law (although the UK had previously signed up to this), but it is not clear if the arrangements on dispute settlement will be different. The prospect of the EU withdrawing preferences due to divergences already appears in the EEA, which avoids CJEU jurisdiction on this issue by making the process automatic (if attempts to settle the issue have not worked). Furthermore, the EEA has an approach to dispute settlement which might possibly work between the EU and the UK: if attempts to settle a dispute fail, arbitrators can rule on whether a reaction by one party is disproportionate, but not on the underlying EU law dispute (if there is one) – thereby avoiding the mandatory involvement of the CJEU.

Security cooperation

In the negotiation mandate, the security cooperation is not linked to the LPF or fisheries. But instead it would be made dependent not only on UK adherence to the ECHR, but also the Human Rights Act (HRA), along with the unilateral adequacy decision on data protection - expressly referring to possible CJEU challenges (see the challenges to adequacy decisions relating to the US, discussed here). The ECHR and data protection points reflect para 81 of the political declaration, which referred to the ECHR ‘underpinning’ the relationship; the HRA point goes beyond it. Also, there would be fair trial and double jeopardy standards.

The mandate here reflects the issues that would be litigated anyway about data protection and human rights standards in the UK. They are already litigated as regards non-EU countries and other Member States.

For police cooperation, the mandate refers to passenger name records, DNA/fingerprint/vehicle info, and exchange of information in individual cases. There is no mention of the Schengen Information System (which the UK currently applies as regards criminal law data) and the exchange of information in individual cases can't simply copy it. As regards PNR, the mandate refers to a CJEU case discussed here, which sets out limits on what the EU can exchange with non-EU countries to comply with data protection standards. On PNR and DNA data et al, the mandate reflects the political declaration. On individual exchanges of information instead of the Schengen Information System, the mandate is explicit on the issue whereas the political declaration fudged it (because the two sides did not agree).

On criminal justice cooperation, there is a reference to fast track extradition. Note that the EU, Norway and Iceland have agreed an extradition treaty which is very similar to the European Arrest Warrant applied between EU countries, but with certain exceptions. On this, the Council added a reference to Member States possibly refusing to extradite their own citizens (three Member States already do this during the transition period), plus unspecified other guarantees.  Also the mandate refers to exchanging evidence and criminal records (the Council removed the reference to doing so in a similar way to existing EU laws), which would limit the impact of the UK leaving the EU on these issues. Note that this would probably go further than the EU has gone with other non-EU countries.

Foreign policy

In this area, the negotiation mandate proposes "alignment" on sanctions (the only explicit use of the word in its proposal). There would be case by case involvement in defence missions or defence industry projects (reflecting the wording of the political declaration, which makes clear that the UK would not be tied to EU defence cooperation against its will), and limited access to Galileo (the Council watered down the latter bit).

The Council added a timely reference to cooperation on health security at the end of this section.

Governance and dispute settlement

Finally, the future relationship treaties would have a joint committee to oversee and implement them (which is standard in international treaties). To settle disputes, there would be consultation then binding arbitration.  The Council added a reference to dispute settlement between different agreements. The CJEU would be involved if an issue concerns the interpretation of EU law (as explicitly agreed in the political declaration). There is NO reference to CJEU involvement otherwise (note that the political declaration explicitly ruled that out). The mechanics of dispute settlement are not spelled out in detail; it is possible that they might be based on the provisions in the withdrawal agreement (see my annotation and analysis of them here).

As discussed in the LPF section above, it is possible that some parts of the agreement might not be subject to dispute settlement at all, in which case there is no issue of CJEU involvement or any other remedies issue (unless the agreement allows for remedies to be applied without such remedies being subject to dispute settlement). So the CJEU would only have jurisdiction over the UK in the future relationship treaty where the agreement a) refers to EU law AND b) provides for dispute settlement. Again: key parts of the level playing field in the first withdrawal agreement met condition a) but NOT b). The details of the future treaty therefore will be crucial.

Barnard & Peers: chapter 27
Photo credit: Michael D Beckwith, via Wikimedia commons