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Netherlands visit boosts relations in advance of Brexit

A Parliamentary delegation from the Netherlands made a timely visit to the UK from 25 – 27 February to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries, particularly in the context of the UK leaving the European Union.

The delegation was a cross-party and bicameral group led by the outgoing Senate President, Hon. Ankie Broekers-Khol. She was joined by Ms Arda Gerkens (Socialist Party, Senate), Mr Raymond de Roon (Party for Freedom, House of Representatives), Mr Harry van der Molen (Christian Democrats, House of Representatives), Mr Wybren van Haga (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, House of Representatives), Ms Aukje de Vries (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, House of Representatives), Mr Albert van den Bosch (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, House of Representatives), Mr Remco Nehmelman (Clerk of the Senate) and Mr Arjen Westerhoff.

As one would predict discussions during the visit were focused on the UK’s current position in the European Union and its imminent departure. The programme was therefore crafted to ensure the delegation met with as many relevant Select Committees as possible and Parliamentarians with views stretching across the Brexit spectrum. The week began with the House of Lords International Relations Committee which provided the delegation the opportunity to learn about the different roles of both Chambers throughout the Brexit process. Later in the day Stephen Kinnock MP met with the group to discuss the “Norway 3.0” model he and other UK Members were advocating for and the group debated the ease of freedom of movement within that type of arrangement.

After a working lunch hosted by Antoinette Sandbach MP, the delegation discussed matters relating to EU negotiations and the security of Parliamentarians with Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP. Sir Lindsay stressed the importance of close collaboration with the Police and Security Services for ensuring the safety of Members, both in Westminster and their constituencies, and the group discussed the rise of online threats, particularly made against female and minority Parliamentarians, and the difficulty in identifying anonymous perpetrators.

Prior to the Welcome Reception that BGIPU Chair, Rt Hon John Whittingdale OBE MP, hosted for the delegation, they met with Sir David Natzler, Clerk of the House of Commons. The delegation expressed their thanks to Sir David for meeting with them in what was his last week in post and they discussed various procedural issues, including the newly formed Independent Group and what identifiers the Electoral Commission uses to define a faction as a formal party.

The visit continued on Tuesday with a tour of Parliament from Viscount Craigavon, an active member on UK-Netherlands relations, and a meeting with Clive Betts MP in his capacity as Chair of the Netherlands APPG. Following a working lunch hosted by Chris Matheson MP, the delegation heard from International Trade Committee Chair, Angus MacNeil MP, on the SNPs perspective and his concerns regarding the trade of certain goods, specifically the poultry, automotive and manufacturing sectors, should the UK leave the UK without a deal. The group then met with Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP to hear about his work as Chair of the Common’s Committee on Exiting the European Union and his actions in holding the Government to account in the run up to the UK leaving the EU.

Tuesday concluded with a meeting with the House of Lords EU Select Committee, where the UK Member’s offered their predictions on events in the forthcoming weeks, and subsequently a meeting with Rt Hon Lord Fowler where similarities between the two countries’ upper houses were discussed.

On the delegation’s final day, Minister Robin Walker MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, provided the delegation with the Government’s perspective on Brexit, particularly in relation to the Northern Ireland issue where he said he was optimistic about the Prime Minister finding a consensus where no backstop would be needed. Following this meeting, Baroness Barker hosted a parliamentary roundtable which allowed the delegation to further discuss Brexit but also to expand upon issues facing the Netherlands internally, notably immigration and climate change. The delegation’s programme concluded with witnessing a lively Prime Minister’s Question Time and attending a working lunch hosted by Rt Hon Lord Anderson.

Throughout the visit there was a strong sense of the desire for continued close cooperation and strong links between the two countries, regardless of the outcome on the 29th March, which parliamentarians from both sides were very encouraged to hear. The BGIPU looks forward to maintaining our strong and very friendly bilateral relations through a future outwards visit to the Netherlands.