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The Conservative European Forum (CEF) recognises a significant opportunity to build on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) and forge a strengthened partnership with the European Union in the context of the new spirit of cooperation represented by the Windsor Framework. Due for review in 2025/26, the TCA is a free trade agreement that ensures zero tariffs and quotas on goods moving between the UK and EU but contains fewer provisions for services, an area critical to the UK economy, and little in the way of foreign and defence policy cooperation.


On 27 February 2023, the Conservative European Forum (CEF) initiated an Inquiry into the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), led by Sir David Lidington and Stephen Hammond MP. Throughout the following year, CEF conducted nine evidence sessions with over 40 witnesses from business, industry, and non-governmental organisations. The Inquiry highlighted that there exists considerable potential to implement practical, industry-driven solutions both within and outside the TCA framework, to strengthen UK-EU relations in areas of mutual self-interest. 


The Windsor Framework, established in February 2023, resolved disagreements over the Northern Ireland Protocol, fostering a cautious re-building of trust. The TCA’s upcoming review in 2025/26 coincides with the expiration of several key provisions, presenting an opportunity to reassess the relationship in light of geopolitical shifts.


Although there are significant merits in a radical approach, there is currently little willingness on either side for the UK to rejoin the Customs Union or Single Market. Changes must be navigated within the existing framework of the TCA or through the negotiation of supplementary agreements.

The Inquiry categorised recommendations for enhancing UK-EU cooperation into two primary areas: economic and political. Economically, the emphasis is on reducing trade barriers, while politically, the focus is on strategic collaboration, particularly in foreign and defence policy as outlined in the Political Declaration. Priority should be given to recommendations that provide the greatest benefit, either politically or economically, and that have a realistic opportunity to be agreed. 


Recommendations within the TCA Framework:

  • Build on the EU-UK Finance Regulatory Forum to deepen cooperation for the financial services sector.
  • Implement pending arrangements such as GB-EU Electricity Trading and establish the outlined Working Groups.
  • Pursue continued access to updated EU frameworks such as the Prüm database for data exchange and ensure the future of UK-EU Energy Cooperation.
  • Increase the frequency of meetings for the TCA committees to strengthen oversight and cooperation.


Some proposals face more challenges, such as reaching an agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications (MRPQ) and expanding visa-free professional activities. 


Recommendations outside the TCA: 

  • Enter negotiations for bespoke agreements on Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and join initiatives such as PEM Convention and PESCO projects.
  • Link UK and EU emissions trading schemes and pursue interoperability for carbon adjustment mechanisms.
  • Enter into agreements that support greater levels for foreign and defence policy cooperation and coordination. 


Rejoining frameworks like the Lugano Convention and establishing reciprocal youth mobility schemes are among the recommendations with major benefits but notable negotiation difficulties.


Unilateral Actions for the UK Government:

  • Upgrade the online portal for UK service providers in the EU.
  • Establish a centralised hub of up-to-date information and accessible guidance for UK exporters trading with the EU.
  • Maintain adherence to GDPR standards to prevent disruption to data flows.


EU Unilateral Actions:

  • Ensure the uniform application of TCA provisions among the EU27 and commit to transparency as per the agreement.


Bilateral Cooperation with EU Member States:

  • Deepen bilateral relations for security and defence cooperation.
  • Expand partnerships in financial services and address extradition constraints.
  • Collaborate with like-minded Member States to influence FP10, the successor to Horizon Europe.


Nearly three and a half years post-ratification, the TCA review is a crucial juncture for both parties to re-evaluate and enhance their partnership. Actionable steps can be taken immediately without waiting for the review. This period is also critical given the elections across the UK, EU, and USA, which may influence the strategic direction of the negotiations.


The recommendations propose a path forward that can serve the strategic interests of both the UK and the EU, with substantial mutual economic and political benefits. There is an opportunity for a ‘Political Declaration 2.0’ to further formalise and deepen cooperation, reflecting the evolved priorities and shared goals. Immediate engagement with businesses and industries is essential to outline future objectives and strategise for the TCA review and beyond. The focus on preparation for long-term policy making could make a real difference to those running businesses, the security of the UK and people's day to day lives.


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