Consultation on Government engagement with business and civil society groups on implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement
Context of this consultation:
On 30th December 2020, the UK Government and European Union concluded negotiations for the TCA, which dictates the future relationship between the UK and EU, based on three primary themes: trade, cooperation, and governance. The agreement came into force provisionally on 1st January 2021, and was approved for ratification by the EU parliament in April of this year by an overwhelming majority.
It is important that businesses across the UK engage completely with the TCA, and fully understand the changes that are incoming as the Brexit transition period draws to an end.
Article 13 of the TCA states that each party must consult with Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs), which will be either new or pre-existing, and fully representative of civil society, on issues covered by the agreement. The parties must consult with the DAGs at least once a year.
Article 14 of the TCA states that the Civil Society Forum (CSF) shall be open to participation by independent civil society organisations, including members of DAGs, and its purpose will be to conduct a dialogue on part two of the TCA: trade, fisheries, social security coordination and short-term visa fees, transport and aviation. It should meet at least once a year, and it must meet in 2021 whether by virtual or physical means.
Through this consultation, the government is seeking the best way to engage with and support business and civil society groups on the implementation of the TCA through the DAGs and CSF.
Since leaving the EU, UK businesses have suddenly had to grapple with new and sometimes destabilising challenges, whether in the form of customs difficulties, supply chain reworkings, staff shortages, or immigration obstacles. While Brexit did bring testing circumstances, there are opportunities to be taken advantage of.
The TCA was an important step in ameliorating UK-EU relations. It is therefore vital that the business community has their say in its implementation, with a direct feed into government.
Domestic Advisory Groups:
Ideally a DAG or a DAG subcommittee would be created for each key area of the TCA. Each DAG or DAG subcommittee should be fully representative of UK civil society consisting of representatives of employers, employees and other civil society groups. Members should be proven experts in their field, willing to actively contribute to meetings. Although nominated by representative bodies (eg business organisations, trade unions, or NGOs), these individuals would serve in an independent capacity on the basis of their relevant knowledge and experience of a diverse range of industries, companies of all sizes, regions, and interests, and therefore be able to collectively bring a valuable variety of perspectives to the table.
Members would serve a term of a minimum of three years to ensure continuity. In each DAG or DAG subcommittee there should be a minimum of six members, and a maximum of 12 in order to yield fruitful discussion, but efficiency at the same time.
The DAG would produce Opinions or Initiatives on the implementation of the TCA, which the government would be obliged to take into account, though not necessarily to act upon. The DAGs would be supported in this process by delegated government officials and an appropriate budget. These agreed Opinions and Initiatives should be available to the public.
In this way, government will have access to the comprehensive views of civil society to guide decisions.
Following precedence from the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), which is a well-established body, the triangular collaboration of employer groups, Non-Governmental Organisations, and employee representatives serves as a balanced stakeholder group.
The CSF could consist of the members of DAGs or DAG subcommittees – with a similar balance of representatives from employers, employees and other civil society groups.
It is suggested in Article 14 that the CSF meets at least once a year, and that it must meet in 2021. However, in the interest of continuity, especially when the process is very new, we suggest it meets once a quarter, and as early as possible in 2021.
One of the activities of the CSF could be to discuss and potentially endorse the Opinions and Initiatives of the DAGs and DAG subcommittees.
The CSF should act as a breeding ground for discussion and dialogue on section 2 of the TCA: trade, fisheries, social security coordination and short-term visa fees, transport and aviation.
In order to carry out its function effectively, the government should provide the CSF with sufficient funding, which would cover travel and accommodation costs where necessary.
How should these members be selected?
Representative organisations eg business organisations, trade unions, NGOs, should be invited to nominate potential members of the groups representing employers, employees and other civil society groups.
The government would play two key roles in engaging with these new structures:
Firstly, the government would establish a secretariat of civil servants, which would provide the necessary support and resources for the functioning of the DAGs, DAG subcommittees, and the CSF.
Secondly, the government would have an obligation to review the Opinions and findings of the DAGs and CSF, and take them into account when formulating decisions on the implementation of the TCA.