Brexit Deal Leaves Lawmakers Almost No Time to Read Fine Print
(Bloomberg) -- The drama of the post-Brexit trade talks is over, but the agreement reached between the European Union and Britain on Thursday still needs to win approval from the 27-nation bloc’s Parliament.
The EU Parliament will accept the accord entering force provisionally on Jan. 1 to avoid unnecessary economic disruption since the long, drawn-out negotiations have left the 705-seat assembly without enough time to vote before the U.K.’s transition period ends.
“Parliament regrets that the duration of the negotiations and the last-minute nature of the agreement do not allow for proper parliamentary scrutiny before the end of the year,” the assembly’s president, David Sassoli, said Thursday in a statement. “The Parliament is now ready to react responsibly to minimize disruption to citizens and businesses and prevent the chaos and negative consequences of a no-deal scenario. The Parliament will continue its work in the responsible committees and the full plenary before deciding whether to give consent in the new year.”
The assembly has consistently stressed its right to vet European trade pacts before they take effect, highlighting how exceptional the plan is to allow the EU-U.K. deal to kick in pending a verdict by the assembly.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hopes MPs will vote on the deal on Dec. 30. A bill can be published within 48 hours and it takes another day for a bill to become law, so the timeline is tight. Lawmakers have been on standby to return from their vacations to sit on Dec. 28.
During the EU Parliament’s deliberations next month over the agreement, the spotlight will be on David McAllister, a German ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel. McAllister leads the U.K. Coordination Group, whose 13 members represent all political factions in the assembly as well as two important committees: international trade and foreign affairs.
It is this body that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has been in regular contact with this year. This marked an effort to keep the assembly on board while the talks between Brussels and London were taking place and an insurance policy against the risk of a backlash during the final European ratification stage.
Two other members of the U.K. Coordination Group will be particularly active: Christophe Hansen, a Christian Democrat from Luxembourg, and Kati Piri, a Dutch Socialist. Hansen is in charge of U.K. matters on the EU Parliament’s trade committee and Piri has the same role on the assembly’s foreign-affairs panel.
Those two committees will be responsible for recommending whether the whole EU Parliament should give its consent to the accord. Hansen and Piri will also be involved in the drafting of an expected accompanying parliamentary resolution on future EU-U.K. relations.
The assembly’s political factions will have a say in the resolution through the two committees and through the U.K. Coordination Group. The three biggest factions, which together represent a majority of seats, are the Christian Democrats, Socialists and pro-business Liberals.
After being assiduous in keeping the EU Parliament in the loop throughout the negotiating process with Britain, Barnier can count on that political investment paying off in the final-approval phase early next year. And it will also allow the assembly to argue that its scrutiny was more than a mere formality pushed through with undue haste.
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