This week Parliament voted on the establishment of the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. As outlined in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed with the EU, this new body will consist of Members of the European Parliament and Members of the UK Parliament. The need for such a body has been long overdue.
The stress, strains and disappointments created through Covid, economic downturns and Brexit have meant that the UK-European Union relations are at a low. However, it is not in the interest of either the UK or EU to have such a frosty friendship.
As someone who arrived in Parliament post the referendum, I see my job as finding the solutions to our new relationship with the EU. There are plenty of ways in which we can do so, while also recognising that the free trade agreement that we have signed – the Trade and Cooperation Agreement – will evolve and develop over time to the benefit of both signatories. However, we need to spur it along.
First, we must create a bilateral parliamentary delegation to meet with other individual European Parliaments. Just as the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly will help to foster relations with the EU we must also do so at a country-to-country level. In the last few weeks, the Trade, Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committees have started to invite foreign Select Committees to the UK. Ensuring a greater level of understanding about their interests and our interests means that we can have a better chance of moving beyond the bitterness that is felt from our exiting of the EU.
Second, there must be greater cooperation on security and defence. The situation in the Western Balkans is deteriorating rapidly. In the 1990s, Bosnia saw the worst atrocities since the Second World War. The UK, NATO and the EU all played a part in delivering the peace. But, at present, only the UK appears to be voicing its concerns over the actions of separatist politicians and Russia who seek to tear up the Dayton Agreement and divide Bosnia and Herzegovina. The UK, EU and NATO cannot allow this to happen. Enhancing cooperation in this area would not only protect those most in danger but develop and strengthen our new relationship with the EU. The recently signed AUKUS bears witness to the value placed in UK military and technological solutions, there is little reason to think the EU does not think similar.
Third, we must learn to move beyond Brexit. So much of what we have done, or are trying to achieve, seems always to be painted through the lens of Brexit. Yet the reality is so much brighter. Over seventy trade deals agreed, including new deals with Australia and New Zealand, and future membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Transpacific Partnership (CPTPP) forthcoming. The City of London has not collapsed in on itself but seen greater levels of investment. Our vaccination programme and subsequent booster programme has far outpaced our counterparts in the EU. These are not boastings but observations that the UK can and will succeed.
The challenges we face in the world are far greater now than perhaps over the last twenty years. It requires us to be forward looking and cooperative. The creation of this new Parliamentary Partnership Assembly is a welcome step to put the past where it belongs and begin a new and productive working relationship which will see mutual and progressive engagement on the issues that matter most. But we should not rest here, the opportunity to fulfil the Global Britain maxim and increase our work on development, defence, diplomacy and trade will see the UK foster stronger agreements and bind more countries together in common cause.
Our future success both at home and abroad will depend on our willingness to engage. We should not be found wanting.