16 November 2017
This series of four blog posts provides an update on committee activity across the UK legislatures relating to the potential impacts of Brexit on environmental and agricultural policy. It also explores matters that will have impact on these policy areas including international trade, immigration and any potential changes to devolution settlements.
This series sign-posts to committee inquiries held during the summer and autumn and will cover 1) The National Assembly for Wales, 2) The Scottish Parliament, 3) The House of Commons and 4) The House of Lords (with recognition that Northern Ireland Assembly Committees remain dissolved).
This post covers the House of Commons and follows yesterday’s article exploring the Scottish Parliament.
The next post will explore the work of the House of Lords.
UK Parliament: House of Commons
1. Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
Brexit: Trade in food inquiry
In September, the Committee launched the Brexit: Trade in food inquiry. The Committee will explore how a potential trade deal could affect farmers, food processors and consumers. An initial examination of the sheep meat production and processing sector is planned for the autumn. The Committee is considering UK-wide issues.
The work of Defra inquiry
On 13 September, the Committee held a one-off oral evidence session on the work of Defra with Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, including questions on Brexit. Of relevance to the Welsh agricultural industry, he highlighted the dependence of the sheep meat sector on the EU export market stating:
… we have a trade deficit in agri-food products with the EU. They sell more to us than we sell to them. However…there are differences sector by sector, and the sheep meat sector is particularly dependent at the moment on EU exports. Of course, that is a particular concern of mine because whether it is upland Wales, Scotland or the north-west, sheep farming is integral to a way of life that has gone on for generations and which is part and parcel of what it is to be British.
In relation to devolution he said:
… when it comes to the allocation of agricultural support we want to give the maximum amount of autonomy to the devolved administrations, but it is also the case that we have to say that if exercised in a particular way a decision by one administration may have a material impact on another. We need to find the right method of reconciling the need to respect the devolution settlement with the need to ensure that we do not undermine the agri‑food industry, farmers or fishermen UK‑wide.
The aim of the one-off session is to consider the challenges and opportunities for the UK Fishing Industry following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, Common Fisheries Policy, and London Fisheries Convention. The session explores the impact on UK fishers, seafood processors, and consumers ahead of the anticipated Fisheries Bill.
2. Environmental Audit Committee
The UK Government’s environmental policy inquiry
On 1 November, Michael Gove was questioned by the Committee on the UK Government’s environmental policies. The session was wide-ranging and included the implications of Brexit on his portfolio. He was questioned on the following key matters:
- The establishment of an environmental European Commission-like body to address environmental compliance and protection. He could not confirm if such a body would be in place on exit day or that it would be able to impose fines on government. He said he would consult on the nature of the body before setting out definite plans. There was discussion as to whether there would be separate protection bodies for the devolved administrations;
- The status of EU principles (such as the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle). He stated that these will not be transferred to UK law via the EU Withdrawal Bill (‘the Withdrawal Bill’). Instead they will be embodied in policy guidance and case law will provide a basis for observing such principles;
- The time-frame for the 25 year Environment Plan. He indicated that it is expected to be published before Christmas, possibly January 2018. The plan has been shared with the devolved administrations. The 25-year Food, Farming and Fisheries plan has now been dropped, there will instead be an Agriculture Bill and a Fisheries Bill; and
- The forthcoming UK Agriculture Bill. He indicated that he will bring forward a command paper in the first instance. This will outline the principles for future agricultural support and responses to the paper will shape a new agriculture bill, expected in the spring or summer of 2018. Gove promoted the principle of ‘public money for public goods’ and said the command paper will set out what public goods are and how they might be delivered. He highlighted that the devolved administrations would be free to design their own agricultural systems (within UK frameworks) and that these would be funded.
Since the session, Michael Gove has announced plans to publish a consultation on the environmental protection body early next year. He stated that:
One of the key questions, which we will explore with the devolved administrations (DAs), is whether Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wish to take a different or similar approach.
The future of chemicals regulation after the EU referendum inquiry
Following the Committee’s previous inquiry into the future of chemicals regulation after the EU referendum and the UK Government’s response to the inquiry report, the Committee has called for further written submissions on the UK Government’s response.
3. Exiting the European Union Committee
The progress of the UK’s negotiations on EU withdrawal inquiry
The inquiry is exploring the positions of the UK Government and its negotiating partners. It is assessing the sequence of the negotiations, including provisions relating to the UK’s future relationship with the EU, including transitional arrangements.
It will explore the UK Government’s management of the negotiation process in the context of the White Paper and its relations with the devolved administrations. It will also look at whether the Department for Exiting the EU and cross-government structures have the capacity and ability to manage the negotiation process effectively.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill inquiry
The inquiry is looking at whether or not the Withdrawal Bill adequately addresses the challenges of converting the acquis into UK law and whether it provides for legal certainty on exit day. It is exploring what provision is being made for non-legislative elements of the acquis, such as the European Court of Justice case law and regulatory rulings of EU agencies.
It will assess what powers are to be delegated to UK Ministers to ensure that the transposition of EU law keeps pace with negotiations on the UK’s exit and its future relationship with the EU. It is looking at what implications the Withdrawal Bill has for the devolution settlements. The inquiry is also exploring implications of the Withdrawal Bill for the UK’s future relations with EU agencies and future participation in Europe-wide agreements.
4. Welsh Affairs Committee
Brexit: Agriculture, Trade and the repatriation of powers inquiry
The inquiry is exploring the implications of the Withdrawal Bill for the Welsh devolution settlement. It is considering how UK-wide common frameworks could be structured, and what inter-parliamentary mechanisms would be needed for scrutiny.
The Committee is also exploring how agricultural funding should be allocated in Wales post-Brexit and whether Wales should develop its own policy or be part of a wider UK policy. It is examining the current mechanisms for engagement between the devolved administrations and the UK Government on trading matters. It is also identifying what challenges face agricultural trade in Wales and how the levels of trade and export of Welsh food and drink should be protected.
5. House of Commons Library
The House of Commons Library blog Second Reading regularly publishes blog posts on Brexit.
The Library Brexit Hub provides a large range of information.
Every Monday, the Library publishes Brexit: devolved legislature business, which is a record of Brexit-related business in the devolved legislatures.
The Library produces briefings for each round of Article 50 negotiations.
Other Brexit-related briefing papers include:
- The Withdrawal Bill;
- Brexit: Agriculture and trade;
- Migrant workers in agriculture; and
- Brexit: What next for UK fisheries?
The Library also publishes Brexit reading lists: Brexit: a reading list of post-EU Referendum publications by Parliament and the Devolved Assemblies.
Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service