Scrutiny comes with the benefit of improving sight of looming issues. More knowledge and understanding of what’s happening will help with avoiding problems in the first place, and managing those that can’t be avoided.
First published in January 2021.
Among the more minor consequences of Brexit has been the opportunity for me to give evidence to Parliament. In the case of talking with the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU (formerly the Exiting the EU Committee), that has always been a very constructive and engaging experience.
Which makes it all the more frustrating to find my evidence quoted quite as much as it is in the Committee’s final report (although do note the various Conservative amendments to expunge references to a single European committee).
That report concerns the arrangements for Parliamentary scrutiny of relations with the EU in the wake of both the conclusion of the Trade & Cooperation Agreement (TCA) and the rolling-up of the Committee itself.
The messages of the report are much as one might expect, from a neutral perspective: the UK-EU relationship will be an important one and the effects of managing the TCA are likely to cut across public policy, so it makes sense to review and strengthen scrutiny provisions.
One of the points I made – and which the report notes – is that scrutiny comes with the benefit of improving sight of looming issues. More knowledge and understanding of what’s happening will help with avoiding problems in the first place, and managing those that can’t be avoided.
The House of Commons. | UK Parliament
That’s something that would presumably be of value to government, whatever its wider views about Parliamentary involvement in public policy: allowing Parliament to interrogate key issues and individuals raises the quality and quantity of evidence available, however you’re making decisions.
The decision not to extend the Committee’s life for a period to allow for full scrutiny of the TCA itself is Exhibit A here. Brexit is done, so ipso facto there’s no need to talk about it any more. The argument by government that EU issues will be spread across the full range of other committees fails to address the likely outcome that it becomes no-one’s responsibility and there is little scope to deal with more systemic and cross-cutting issues.
Sadly, the likely outcome of all of this is that this government will get to have minimal scrutiny of its EU-related decisions, and that only a major failure on those decisions will change matters. But that in turn requires Parliament to maintain its pressure to be able to run an effective system of scrutiny.
This report is an excellent step in that direction and it is to be hoped that it results in appropriate action sooner, rather than later. However, with a government that seems intent on ignoring the EU at every possible moment, we might not get our hopes up too high.
- The shape of future parliamentary scrutiny of UK-EU relations | UK Parliament
Professor Simon Usherwood, Professor in Politics, University of Surrey. All aspects of Brexit and EU-UK relations, plus some learning and teaching.