As I noted in an earlier post, if the first priority in establishing the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade & Cooperation Agreement was the legal text, then the second has been their implementation.
Part – a very visible part – of that has been the politics of getting that done, from domestic arrangements and infrastructure to supporting affecting individuals and organisations. Indeed, even before the signing and ratification of either Agreement, there has been plenty to consider on both sides.
But there is also a more prosaic element of operationalising an institutionalised relationship. Both Agreements set up a framework of bodies for the EU and UK to meet and discuss.
If the graphic looks a bit daunting, then be encouraged by the realisation that all either system (and they are separate) is simply a main body, plus sub-committees dealing with each section of the relevant treaty. The TCA’s Trade Partnership Committee breaks down that work into sub-sections, again mapping onto the legal text.
The ambition of the TCA framework is clearly bigger than that of the WA’s: the latter is a closed arrangement for the limited purposes of the winding-up of liabilities from membership, while the former seeks to create a space in which future discussions and negotiations can occur, up to and including treaty revisions. It’s a similar approach to the one that the EU has been trying to get the Swiss to agree to for some years (not very successfully).
The logic is a simple one: a standing institutional framework can be re-used, rather than having to reinvent the wheel each time, plus it helps embed that framework more firmly if it has a general purpose. Which is part of why the UK was rather resistant to it at the start.
The TCA framework also provides for inputs from parliamentarians and civil society, again underlining the ambition.
But ambition isn’t facts on the ground.
While it’s possible to map the meetings of the WA bodies since March 2020 (below), we still have yet to have any meetings of any TCA bodies. The delay in EU ratification to the end of April this year offers some explanation, but given the pressing nature of many of the implementation issues that have arisen since New Year, there has been a distinct lack of urgency on either side.
This week’s European Council did engage in a short discussion and review of relations with the UK, but its conclusions offered little beyond the usual reminders about the costs of non-membership and the need for effective implementation.
While much of this seems – and is – highly technical stuff, it remains important. In the context of a low-trust environment, it will be through constructive and effective interactions at this level that the two parties will start to be able to find a more stable modus vivendi.
I’ll be running regular updates to this meeting tracker for both Agreements on my Twitter feed, so do check on this as we progress.