Attendees

  • Huw Irranca-Davies AM – Chair
  • Jeremy Miles AM – Counsel General and Brexit Minister
  • Mark Drakeford AM – First Minister of Wales
  • Rebecca Evans AM – Minister for Finance and Trefnydd
  • Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff – House of Lords
  • William Powell – Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Europe in the Fourth Assembly
  • Councillor Rob Stewart – WLGA/Leader of Swansea City Council
  • David Jones OBE – Principal and Chief Executive, Coleg Cambria
  • Michael Plaut – Former Chair, CBI Wales
  • Kevin Roberts – Chair of Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC)
  • Martin Mansfield – General Secretary, Wales TUC
  • Tom Jones OBE – European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
  • Sir Emyr Jones Parry – President, Aberystwyth University
  • Alison Lea-Wilson MBE – Co-founder Halen Môn/Anglesey Sea Salt
  • Rachel Sharp – Chief Executive, Wildlife Trusts Wales
  • Dr Chris Jones – Chair of Health Education and Improvement Wales
  • Professor Jo Hunt – Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University
  • Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd – Former Lord Chief Justice
  • Ruth Marks MBE – Chief Executive, Wales Council for Voluntary Action

*A small number of Welsh Government officials were also present in support.

Apologies

  • Jill Evans MEP – Member of the European Parliament
  • Nathan Gill MEP – Member of the European Parliament
  • Dr Kay Swinburne MEP – Member of the European Parliament
  • Derek Vaughan MEP – Member of the European Parliament
  • Professor Richard B. Davies – Vice-Chancellor, Swansea University
  • Kevin Crofton – Llywydd, SPTS Technologies Ltd
  • Professor Colin Riordan – President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University
  • Dr Hywel Ceri Jones – Former EU Funding Ambassador
  • Alec Don – Former CEO, Milford Haven Port Authority

1. Introduction

Huw Irranca-Davies AM, who was recently appointed as Chair of the European Advisory Group following the recent ministerial reshuffle, opened the meeting and welcomed the EAG members to this 13th meeting.

The Chair outlined the agenda and explained that the meeting would include:

  • an update on developments and negotiations (First Minister and Counsel General and Brexit Minister)
  • presentations on No Deal Preparations (Counsel General and Brexit Minister), Contingency Planning (Reg Kilpatrick) and Communications (Leon Griffiths)
  • an item on the Shared Prosperity Fund and EU Transition Fund (presentation by Rebecca Evans AM, Minister for Finance and Trefnydd).

2. Update on developments and negotiations

The Chair invited the First Minister to address the group.

The First Minister updated the members on the House of Commons’ rejection of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement / Political Declaration on 15 January. He reiterated that the deal falls short of the model for the UK’s future relationship with the EU set out in the Welsh Government’s White Paper Securing Wales’ Future, which remains the least damaging form of Brexit. This includes participation in the Single Market and a Customs Union. The First Minister also expressed his grave concerns about the potential of arriving at a ‘no deal’, which must be avoided at all costs.

The Chair then invited the Counsel General and Brexit Minister to update the Group on other significant developments at both a UK and Wales level including:

  • National Assembly debate and rejection of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement / Political Declaration on 4 December 2018
  • Joint Ministerial Committee (Plenary) meeting with the Prime Minister and attended by the First Minister and the Counsel General and Brexit Minister on 19 December.
  • Counsel General and Brexit Minister and Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations in the Scottish Government met with a range of UK Government Ministers to discuss Brexit Preparedness on 19 December
  • Immigration White Paper published by the UK government on 19 December
  • The debate and meaningful vote on 15 January and possible next steps.

Group discussion centred on:

  • Institute for Fiscal Studies results revealing the likely impact on industry sectors in Wales and large number of people without qualifications and transferable skills who will be severely affected by Brexit and the need to resurrect social partnerships and previously established successful schemes - ProAct and ReAct
  • concerns that 2 years on and Wales must continue to try to have some influence over the UK, as we cannot prepare Wales in isolation. The UK government must work with us if we are to secure the best possible deal for the whole of the UK
  • whether ‘no deal’ should be taken off the table to foster better negotiation relationships
  • increased concerns among businesses by the uncertainty of not securing a deal
  • extension of the Article 50 period, but some concerns of this clashing with the European Parliamentary elections
  • the European Commission’s presence in Wales post Brexit
  • fears that Brexit has influenced the investment decision making around Wylfa
  • concerns about the £65 fee for EU nationals wanting settled status after Brexit.

3. Preparedness presentations

‘No Deal’ Preparations – Counsel General and Brexit Minister

The Counsel General and Brexit Minister delivered a presentation reiterating the Welsh Government position that ‘No Deal’ would represent a catastrophic failure by the UK government and must be avoided. He emphasised that this would have a serious impact on businesses, jobs, public services, communities and people across Wales.

He outlined the extensive work that has been achieved both internally and externally with stakeholders and the financial support packages that have been put in place across all sectors to plan and prepare for Brexit.

Contingency Planning – Reg Kilpatrick, Welsh Government

Reg gave a presentation setting out the context for a civil contingencies plan: the aims of the plan, how to execute the plan, and outlined the extensive work to date. He reiterated that civil contingency planning is a precautionary response given the continued uncertainty on the implications of a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario.

Communications – Leon Griffiths, Welsh Government

Leon outlined the Welsh Government communications plans relating to a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario. He also informed the group of the launch of the ‘Preparing Wales’ website on 18 January.

Group discussion centred on:

  • the need to extend the 29 March deadline in the face of a no deal Brexit, and given the likely impact on for example the sheep industry sector with potential for a collapse in farm-gate prices, the importance of assisting export-dependent sectors
  • consider how to support the many lower skilled workers across the healthcare sector and other sectors after Brexit
  • concerns expressed around social cohesion
  • the importance of a comprehensive risk assessment based on an understanding of planning assumptions and reasonable worst case scenario
  • possible impact of a major emergency once we have left the confines of European frameworks
  • how we can work together with the third sector and the role they can play
  • consideration of constitutional policy in the event of no deal Brexit, and exercising powers at UK or Wales levels, recognising the complexity of the devolution settlements
  • the importance of a strategy to promote Wales internationally to generate economic wealth through improving competitiveness.

4. Shared Prosperity Fund and European Transition Fund

The Minister for Finance and Trefnydd updated the group on the progress of the European Transition Fund and its achievements to date. She explained that the new allocations announced on the 15 January in her Budget statement will support our police and social services respond to any eventuality in terms of Brexit, and to help us develop a new approach to regional investment.

Other projects in development will focus on providing immediate support to other vital public services. However, she was clear that the Welsh Government cannot mitigate the full consequences for Wales of a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario alone. She reiterated that the UK government must work with the Devolved Administrations to ensure that the UK as a whole is prepared for Brexit.

She expressed her concern with the lack of detail from the UK government about the proposed replacement of EU structural funds - the UK Shared Prosperity Fund - and will continue to press for further information on the fund.

Group discussion centred on:

  • concerns at the lack of communication by the UK government on the Shared Prosperity Fund
  • the need to press UK government so that Wales is not one penny worse off after Brexit
  • Stephen Kinnock’s presentation at the All Party Group on Regional Investment on the Shared Prosperity Fund was brought to members’ attention
  • concerns that Wales’ views will not be taken into account in the consultation
  • concerns about what will happen to any EU payments as of 30 March and would any shortfall become the UK government/Welsh Government’s responsibility
  • to consider issuing a joint letter or statement to all sectors informing them of changes to funding post-Brexit
  • concerns expressed on direct single payments to farmers in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit
  • using all the group’s networks and partners to communicate important messages.

5. Next steps and any other business

The Chair summed up the meeting and confirmed:

  • the importance of providing clarity around UK and Welsh Government responsibilities and the need for continued collaboration
  • it is right to prepare for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit but in so doing Welsh Government should not accept this as inevitable and avoid facilitating this outcome
  • we must continue to lobby the UK government so that our voice is heard in all decisions made that will affect us post Brexit
  • continue the extensive work we are doing both internally and with external stakeholders in preparation for a worse case ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario
  • consider a few headline messages to circulate to EAG members for their further dissemination to their networks and partners
  • provide the group with contact details of key Welsh Government European Transition officials
  • provide a simple message – what the Welsh Government is doing to make Wales a safe place to live, study, invest and do business
  • invite Eluned Morgan AM, in her new role as Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language, to a future EAG meeting
  • consider a review of the Groups’ Terms of Reference, membership and activities in due course
  • consider links between the Programme Monitoring Committee and the European Advisory Group
  • to note an additional EAG meeting has been scheduled for 21 February – further information to be issued in due course.