Scrutiny matters, especially when you are trying to make international agreements that might last for a long time, Professor Simon Usherwood writes.

First published in December 2020.

A(n increasingly untimely) piece about why parliamentary scrutiny and approval of treaties matters.

Firstly, and most basically, it is a way of error-checking, both typographically and in the sense of how the parts works.

Parliamentarians come with a bit more distance to the text then negotiators, and might pick up stuff otherwise missed.

That leads to a second, more important, point: treaties effect domestic effects, that need domestic adaptation and regulation, which parliaments gatekeep, so they need to understand those effects.

This means drawing up reports and recommendations on how to make treaties work effectively within that domestic setting, including by challenging the executive that signed the treaty about how they understand what it contains.

The House of Commons. | Instagram - UK Parliament

And this in turn flows into the most basic reason for scrutiny: legitimacy and democracy.

Those who sign treaties are emissaries for their body politic, but they have to answer for their final choices.

Absent scrutiny, we risk having poor choices being made on our behalf.

When a treaty gets scrutinised by a parliament, it gains another level of legitimacy than cannot be gained otherwise, which in turn makes it more likely to work as a long-term solution.

All of this is completely independent of the content of a treaty, so this is no comment on the content of any UK-EU deal (even if any of us had seen it, which we haven’t).

In short, scrutiny matters, especially when you are trying to make international agreements that might last for a long time.🔷

Professor Simon Usherwood, Professor in Politics, University of Surrey. All aspects of Brexit and EU-UK relations, plus some learning and teaching.

[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 19 December 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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