UK lawmakers have urged EU and UK officials to gradually rebuild relations following a period of “tension and mistrust”, putting visa access for musicians and speedy UK access to the Horizon Europe research programme at the top of a list of policy fixes.
In a report published on Saturday (29 April), following six months of research, evidence sessions from 40 witnesses and written submissions from another 60, the House of Lords EU committee says it has identified 72 “small” recommendations to improve EU-UK ties ahead of a review of the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
The recommendations range from issues that could be resolved within weeks by EU and UK officials to long-term aspirations, particularly around deeper and structured co-operation on foreign, defence and security policy.
“We’ve identified a series of things that are not big economic issues, but they’re big cultural things,” Lord Kinnoull, the chair of the Lords’ EU committee, told EURACTIV.
The proposals are “not revolutionary”, adds Kinnoull, who said that officials should focus on incremental measures to improve EU-UK relations.
Among them are calls to ease the visa restrictions for artists and musicians who have been among the big losers from the end of free movement when the UK left the single market, and are currently unable to tour the EU.
“It’s not about the Beyoncés of this world. They can cope with the rules,” said Kinnoull, adding that the reforms on visas were aimed at “creative artists starting their career”.
Post-Brexit changes have also prompted a collapse in bookings for school trips from the EU because the border force will no longer accept ID cards, and instead requires passports and visas for non-EU children on trips.
The UK government should reintroduce a youth group travel scheme that would not require pupils travelling on school visits from any EU country to carry individual passports, the report contends.
Another quick fix recommendation by the Lords is to resolve the two year dispute over UK access to the EU’s €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research programme.
They “urge the Government and the EU to take the necessary steps to complete UK association to the EU’s Horizon Europe research funding programme as soon as possible.”
“European research is not a political football,” said Lord Kinnoull, adding that it would be the “mutual interest” of both sides to quickly move past discussions on the UK’s new financial contributions to Horizon, which has emerged in recent weeks as a new stumbling block to finalising the UK’s association status in Horizon.
On foreign policy, meanwhile, progress is likely to be slower, though the UK has participated in the Military Mobility project, which forms part of the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), as part of military support for Ukraine.
“We’ve stopped short of calling for the sort of all singing, all dancing agreement, treaty agreement that the EU proposed,” Lord Kinnoull told EURACTIV.
That said, the report suggests that the UK Foreign Secretary should attend meetings of EU foreign affairs ministers twice a year, alongside regular EU-UK summits in a bid to improve political co-operation.
UK lawmakers state that they “deeply regret” that “the political relationship between the UK and the EU was characterised by tension and mistrust. The state of relations during that period was highly unsatisfactory.”
That appears to be a reference to the tensions during Boris Johnson’s controversial premiership. However, Lord Kinnoull contended that while the atmosphere of EU-UK relations has markedly improved since Rishi Sunak took over as Prime Minister last October, positive changes had started “pretty soon after the Russian invasion (of Ukraine), certainly. In the various EU conferences in March last year, already the atmosphere had altered”.
The report, which is designed to feed into the discussion ahead of the review of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and Brussels in 2025, came at the end of a week in which the Conservative government indicated that it would scale down its plans to repeal EU laws on the UK statute book this year.
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch told senior Tory Brexiteers earlier this week that by 31 December the government intends to scrap 800 — or one in four — of the estimated 3,200 pieces of EU legislation which were automatically added to the UK. statute book after Brexit, as part of its Retained EU law bill, far fewer than previously expected.
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