Island representatives ‘should be at international trade talks’

Picture: Thomas Tardif (37769273)

JERSEY, Guernsey and the Isle of Man should be represented by designated officials during the UK’s international trade negotiations, the Justice Committee has argued.

The call has been made following the expression of concerns by all three islands about the Department for Business and Trade’s approach to major negotiations since Brexit and the belief that opportunities have been lost.

“Representation of the interests of the Crown Dependencies in international relations is not optional, according to whether or not their interests are in line with those of the UK: it is the UK government’s duty,” said Sir Bob Neill, the chair of the Justice Committee.

“In cases of conflict, the Ministry of Justice must endeavour to find a mechanism for representation which will faithfully present and serve the interests of both parties,” he said. “Having the Crown Dependencies represented during negotiations by specifically designated officials would go some way towards addressing this issue.”

The officials could come either from the UK government or the Crown Dependencies, the committee has said.

In a report entitled The Constitutional Relationship with the Crown Dependencies, the cross-party committee of MPs cited “concerns” over the Crown Dependencies’ experiences of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) negotiations.

“They told us there were ‘challenges in real-time communication throughout’, engagement had ‘fallen short of our expectations’ and issues that arose ‘could have been ameliorated by more effective consultation/communication’,” the report says.

“The outcome of the negotiations – inclusion in the CPTPP for trade in goods from the outset, but not for services – was not the one that the Crown Dependencies, whose economies are service industry based, had hoped for.”

The CPTPP negotiation process, the report concludes, “provides lessons for how the Crown Dependencies could be more effectively involved in negotiations in the future”. It adds: “The UK government’s aim for all future trade agreements should be for the Crown Dependencies to be covered by services, as well as goods chapters, from the outset. Where this does not prove possible, extension mechanisms should routinely be sought.”

The report recommended that for future trade agreement negotiations the Crown Dependencies, Ministry of Justice and Department for Business and Trade should work together to identify a set of principles to guide effective engagement during the negotiation process.

They should include early and comprehensive engagement from the outset to conclusion; early sight of relevant documents; real-time updates; and reasonable timeframes for provision of responses and information.

During particularly time-pressured periods, the committee report recommends that there should be officials in the room acting as a conduit for information to and from the Crown Dependencies in real time.

The report also criticises the UK government’s inclusion of a permissive extent clause in the Fisheries Bill, describing it as “extremely regrettable and contrary to the constitutional relationship”.

The clause, which allows UK legislation to be extended to cover the Crown Dependencies, was included in the bill in 2020 even after Guernsey and Jersey had objected.

It added: “We do not agree with the government’s assertion that it was a “legitimate act” and “soundly within the constitutional relationship” but rather consider it to have been a serious interference in long-established constitutional principles for short-term political reasons. We expect that the usual approach – mandated in the Ministry of Justice’s own guidance – of consultation and consent with regards to all future PECs will now prevail.”

The UK government has also included a permissive extent clause in draft legislation to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Earlier this month External Relations Minister Ian Gorst said he was “disappointed” that the clause had been included “without proper consultation”.

In a statement, the Assistant Minister for External Relations, Deputy Elaine Millar, said: “The Government of Jersey welcomes this report by the House of Commons Justice Committee, which follows extensive engagement by ministers and the Jersey London Office in recent months. The committee supports the Island having greater involvement in the UK’s Free Trade Agreements, which we have long called for. And the committee robustly defends our autonomy by making clear to the UK government that any inclusion of permissive extent clauses in UK legislation must be subject to proper consultation and consent.

“We look forward to the response of the UK government to the committee’s recommendations, and we will continue to work closely with the UK government, the Justice Committee and other UK Parliamentarians to advance Jersey’s interests, in accordance with our long-established constitutional relationship.”

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