Though it remains true that this Parliament never liked the fact that the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was provisionally applied before we could deliver our verdict, this situation has given us the opportunity to observe the TCA in action.
However imperfect, the TCA has the merit of cushioning the worst impact of the economic Brexit this year.
Nevertheless, President Ursula von der Leyen, a Political Agreement without Parliament’s prior consent cannot be a precedent for future procedures, and we have made this abundantly clear.
I recommended that Parliament gives a positive vote to the TCA.
The UK Government should, however, not mistakenly take this for a blank check or a vote of blind confidence in its intention to implement the agreements between us in good faith.
No, they should see this as the EU taking out an insurance policy against further unilateral deviations from what was jointly agreed, not least because a positive vote on the TCA means that we are expanding our legal tools and leverage to continue pressing for full and pragmatic implication of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“The UK Government should not mistakenly take this for a blank check or a vote of blind confidence in its intention to implement the agreements between us in good faith”
The protection of the hard-won peace on the Island of Ireland, through the Good Friday Agreement, has been the EU’s number one preoccupation ever since the referendum in 2016.
The Protocol was and is the EUs and the UK’s joint response to the conundrum of exiting the Single Market and avoiding a hard border.
So instead of playing fast and loose with the terms of the jointly-agreed Protocol, repeatedly undermining the necessary trust for our new relationship to evolve, the UK Government should own up to the agreement it co-signed; the TCA will be one more tool to hold the UK government to account should they deliberately seek to undermine the protocol.
Infringement proceedings under the Withdrawal Agreement are underway – and I want to call upon the Commission to pursue them with vigour.
Should they, however, be met with persistent non-compliance then we can resort to the TCA to suspend certain obligations and reimpose tariffs and quotas.
“A positive vote means preserving and solidifying the unprecedented and hard-won Level Playing Field safeguards that this Parliament has advocated so strongly for”
But our real leverage resides in the TCA.
I sincerely hope that it will not come so far, and that VP Šefčovič and Lord David Frost can reach agreement in the form of a credible roadmap that will see the Protocol fully implemented.
There is sufficiently room for pragmatism and flexibility once all provisions have been implemented, and we continue to believe that the protocol is the best way to safeguard the peace in Northern Ireland.
A positive vote for the TCA, which has secured unprecedented levels of market access, also means increased legal certainty for companies that are operating under very difficult circumstances these days, with supply chains affected by Brexit and by the pandemic – plunging our companies into renewed uncertainty would be hugely irresponsible.
A positive vote means preserving and solidifying the unprecedented and hard-won Level Playing Field safeguards that this Parliament has advocated so strongly for.
We should be under no illusion: there are those in the House of Commons that would seize any opportunity to fully “break free” from those provisions.
And last but not least, a positive vote today does not mean that Parliament resigns its duties or relinquishes its oversight – quite the contrary – we have just heard the Commission’s declaration enshrining Parliaments institutional oversight, setting in stone the future role of the Parliament as a watchdog for this agreement.
The Parliamentary Partnership Assembly should take up its functions sooner rather than later, so that we may together monitor the implementation of the TCA and continue to build bridges across the Channel, because our fates and future will always be inextricably interlinked.