The risk that we will wake up on 1 May, to find we have a “No Deal “Brexit after all, has not disappeared.
The deadline for ratification by the European Parliament of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the UK was to be 28 February 2021.But the European Parliament postponed the deadline to 30 April. It did this because it felt it could not trust the UK to implement the TCA properly and as agreed and ratified.
This distrust arose because the implementation of the Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement had been unilaterally changed by the UK.
If any party to an international agreement takes it upon itself unilaterally to alter the agreement, the whole basis of international agreements with that party disappears.
The matters in dispute between the UK and the EU( the Protocol and vaccines) remain unresolved.
The EU is taking the UK to court about the Protocol , but the court is not likely to decide anything before the new deadline of 30 April.
In the normal course of events, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and the EU would be discussed in the relevant Committee of the European Parliament, before coming to the Plenary session of the Parliament for ratification.
The next meeting of the Parliament’s Committee on International Trade is due to take place on 14th and 15th April, and the agenda for the meeting has been published.
It includes a discussion on the enforcement of trade agreements, the General System of Preferences, and (significantly) trade related aspects of Covid 19.
It makes no mention at all of the TCA with the UK!
Trade related aspects of Covid 19 will inevitably include a discussion on vaccine protectionism, a highly contentious issue between the EU and the UK that has poisoned relations and led to bitter commentary in the media.
The fact that the Committee has not even included a discussion of the TCA with the UK, on its agenda for what may well be the only meeting it will have before the 30 April deadline is potentially very significant.
The TCA runs to 2000 pages , and its contents, if ratified, will take precedence over EU law.
To ratify such an agreement, without proper scrutiny in the relevant committees of Parliament, could be seen as a dereliction of Parliament’s responsibility of scrutiny. We should not forget the scrutiny that was applied to the much more modest EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Canada. The same goes for the deal with Mecosur.
Furthermore, the TCA would, if ratified, set up a network of committees to oversee its implementation. These will meet in private and their work will diminish the ongoing oversight by the European Parliament of a host of issues affecting all 27 EU member states.
The TCA also contains a system of disputes resolution mechanisms that will quickly be overwhelmed by work. The TCA has many items of unfinished business, on which the European Parliament will want to express a view. It is hard to see how any of this can be done before 30 April!
The UK government of Boris Johnson has adopted a deliberately confrontational style in its negotiations with the EU. The more rows there are, the happier is the support base which Boris Johnson is seeking to rally to his Conservative Party. Johnson’s European strategy has always been about electoral politics, not economic performance. This has led to almost complete mutual incomprehension between the UK government and EU.
If the European Parliament ratifies the TCA, without their first having been seen to be a satisfactory outcome to the EU/UK negotiations about the Ireland Protocol and about the exportation of vaccines, it will be a political setback for the Parliament and a source of immense satisfaction for Boris Johnson.
One should never underestimate the role emotion can play in politics. The entire Brexit saga is a story of repeated triumphs of emotion over reason. And the European Parliament is not immune to this ailment.
Boris Johnson could be pushing his luck a bit far this time.