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Inaugural PPA

The first meeting of the EU UK Parliamentary Assembly took place last week.

It was in danger of being a very boring couple of days but luckily the UK Government is constantly discovering novel ways to upset relations with its most important trading partner.

We have had the Internal Markets Bill, the constant threat of Article 16 being triggered and unilateral extensions of grace periods, as you will know if you are one of the very few people who has had the mental capacity to continue to absorb the tedium of Brexit for the last few years.

So a large crowd of interested media showed up to hear what might be said about the Northern Ireland Protocol (a lot) and to see if any new ideas might emerge to resolve the issue (not a lot).

Our UK brethren appeared in healthy numbers, approximately 30 by my calculation. What is the collective term for British politicians? Fellow MEPs did not reciprocate which underlines that the UK has slid inexorably down in the overall priorities of almost all EU countries.

It had been my hope that the social element would help to develop relationships that have obviously been badly damaged as a resul,t not just of the UK leaving the EU but also of the manner in which they left. Sadly, there was no sit-down meal and MPs and Lords forlornly headed off to sample the famous frites for sale in Place Jourdan.

The second day was even worse than the first. Even fewer MEPs showed up as, being Friday, most of them had headed back to their home countries. A Swedish MEP, Jurgen Warborn, admitted that he attended out of a fit of conscience.

What became abundantly clear, however, was the enormous body of work that remains to be done to transform EU UK relations from rivalry to partnership. Issues around energy cooperation, university research programmes and climate action remain unaddressed in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and there is very little .

Of course, the Irish MEPs were well represented and did their best to keep the show on the road.

Despite lots of warm words from the MPs and Lords, the UK Government proceeded to announced its intention to further breach international law earlier this week. I cannot understand how this goes down well with Tory voters during an energy and food security crisis.

A tariff war does not seem inevitable but a recent skirmish between the US and the EU shows that even ‘allies’ can head down the road of retaliatory tariffs and quotas.

When Trump decided that protecting the US steel industry was a matter of national security, the EU decided to place tariffs on US products associated with Republican voting states - the list included Harley Davidsons, Bourbon whiskey and Levi jeans.

If the EU is forced to target UK products that would generate maximum embarrassment and discomfort for the Tories, perhaps we could block access to tractor websites and place a tariff on red corduroys and monocles - really hit them where it hurts.

However, I am focused on solutions. The role the US plays is significant. One of the most obvious solutions to the Protocol problem is a Swiss-style veterinary agreement between the EU and UK effectively maintaining the status quo on food safety rules (offered by the EU and rejected by the UK). UK objections are based on fears that the resulting alignment would make it impossible for the UK to do a trade deal with the US in the future.

It is worth exploring the possibility that the US Trade Representative would be mandated to revive discussions on a UK-US Trade deal as part of a diplomatic initiative to unblock the issues described above. Rather than the US admonishing the UK, it would set the protection of the Protocol as a key objective of a future US-UK trade agreement.

It’s a bit technical but as John Hume once said, “when people are divided, the only solution is agreement”.

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