- Huw Irranca-Davies AM – Chair
- Jeremy Miles AM – Counsel General and Brexit Minister (by VC)
- Lee Waters AM – Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport
- Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff – House of Lords
- 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
- Sir Emyr Jones Parry – Former President, Aberystwyth University
- Alison Lea-Wilson MBE – Co-founder Halen Môn/Anglesey Sea Salt (by VC)
- 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
- Ruth Marks MBE – Chief Executive, Wales Council for Voluntary Action
- Alec Don – Former CEO, Milford Haven Port Authority
- Dr Hywel Ceri Jones – Former EU Funding Ambassador
*A small number of Welsh Government officials were also present in support.
- 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 William Powell Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Europe in the Fourth Assembly
- Tom Jones OBE – European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
- Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd – Former Lord Chief Justice
Huw Irranca-Davies AM, Chair of the European Advisory Group opened the meeting and welcomed the EAG members to this 14th meeting.
The Chair outlined the agenda and explained that the meeting would include:
- an update on developments (Counsel General and Brexit Minister)
- presentations on Economy and Transport Brexit update (Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport)
- Wales: Protecting research and innovation after EU exit (Chief Scientific Adviser)
- update on EU exit bills and legislation (Director Brexit Strategy, Welsh Government).
2. Update on developments and negotiations
The Chair invited the Counsel General and Brexit Minister to update the Group on significant developments at both a UK and Wales level including the UK negotiations and UK and Welsh Government Preparedness activities.
The Brexit Minister reiterated his concerns that the UK’s mishandling of the negotiations was now seriously imperilling our future and risking a ‘no deal’ outcome, which should be avoided at all costs. It was still unclear what concessions the UK government was hoping to get from Brussels, as the EU27 had been clear that they would not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, and that the backstop was a key element of that agreement.
He stressed that the Welsh Government had continued to take every opportunity to meet with the UK government to set out what we considered the correct way forward. In terms of preparedness at a Wales level, the Welsh Government had continued to ramp up preparations focusing on 4 main work strands: developing the necessary legislation to ensure there was a functioning statute book on exit day; working with UK government on operational readiness projects; Civil Contingencies preparations; and the development of specific actions in Wales over and above work on UK-wide measures.
Group discussion centred on:
- the Wales Audit office report published on 19 February on no deal preparations
- increased concerns amongst businesses at the continued uncertainty over the outcome of the Brexit negotiations
- the sizable costs incurred of preparing for a possible no deal scenario
- EU funded programmes – Horizon, Erasmus and the importance of securing continued access to them
- concerns around the continued lack of information from the UK government on the Shared Prosperity Fund
- concerns around the impact of future trade deals on the sheep sector and in particular the arguments over import tariffs versus quota allocations and resulting impact on producers and consumers
- the opportunity to do things differently and innovatively as we exit the EU across all sectors
- discussion around what our relationship with the EU should be post Brexit
- the establishment of a Welsh specific agenda and policies for Wales
- the Parliamentary debate and votes in the week beginning the 25 February and possible next steps
- the need, should an extension to Article 50 be requested, to have a clear strategy as to what it was intended to achieve
- concerns around healthcare and travel health insurance cards post Brexit
- the need for a clear whole government plan to support business going forward whether in a ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’ scenario.
3. Economy and transport Brexit update
The Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport delivered a presentation updating the members on the extensive work that the Welsh Government was undertaking in preparing for Brexit. The Minister reiterated that a no deal Brexit would have profoundly negative consequences for workers, businesses, higher and further education, and the Welsh economy. He emphasised that we were already seeing the impact of two years of uncertainty, with Wales experiencing a decline in the number of companies making the final decision to invest here - many citing Brexit uncertainty as a key reason.
Group discussion centred on:
- Support for the Foundation Economy - the organisations, SMEs, microbusinesses and social enterprises that are rooted in our local communities
- uncertainty about what small businesses were doing in preparation for a potential no deal scenario and the need for radical thinking by the business community around preparing for such a scenario
- how small and micro business could prepare given the uncertainties and lack of human resource at their disposal
- consideration of identifying policies which could be deprioritised as a result of the potential loss of structural funding and the need to introduce new policies
- the importance of continued international research collaboration
- deliberation on what kind of Wales we wanted for the future, as referenced in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act
- considering support to areas of economic disadvantage and addressing dissatisfaction in post-industrial areas
- further progress on the Fair Work agenda
- the importance of ongoing collaboration between Welsh Government, partner organisations and stakeholders across Wales as we developed plans for responding to Brexit as set out in the Economic Action Plan.
4. Wales: protecting research and innovation after EU exit
The Chief Scientific Adviser gave a presentation setting out the purpose behind the latest Welsh Government policy paper - Wales: protecting research and innovation after EU exit. He reiterated the importance of maintaining Welsh research base, which was the most efficient in the UK and the impact of Wales’ published research which outperformed both the UK and many similar sized countries internationally. He also confirmed that withdrawal from the EU was likely to impact significantly on all aspects of Welsh research and innovation activity.
Group discussion centred on:
- the possible loss of EU structural funding and the impact this would have on Wales’ exemplary research sector
- the threat of losing access to the EU programmes – Erasmus and Horizon – at a time when the EU was increasing the budget available for these programmes
- our future relationship with the European Investment Bank
- concerns about restricting existing and future international research collaboration
- the possibility of accessing total spend information on a sectoral basis – such as healthcare, agriculture and environment sectors
- concern about the potential impact on future collaboration among the third sector on the part of particular charities
- barriers to recruiting European research students
- additional barriers to recruiting talented European staff
- reduced outward mobility opportunities for staff and students
- the damage to Wales’ excellent reputation internationally.
5. Update on EU exit bills and legislation
The Group received an update on progress in terms of Brexit-related legislation.
A very large exercise to ‘correct’ legislation derived from the EU to ensure it could function after Brexit. It was the normal policy of the Welsh Government that where powers lay with the Welsh Ministers it was their responsibility to legislate for Wales. However, in the exceptional circumstances of Brexit it had been agreed that we would work closely with the UK government on this. As a result, it was anticipated that there would be 140 Statutory Instruments (SIs) made by the UK government in areas devolved to Wales requiring consent by the Welsh Ministers under the Intergovernmental Agreement which had been concluded between the Welsh Government and UK government.
To date, 123 SIs had been consented on time and we anticipated, in addition, making around 42+ Welsh SIs in the National Assembly: we were on schedule to do so. 29 SIs, or all of our confirmed proposed negative SIs had been laid before the Assembly’ Constitutional and Legal Affairs committee (CLAC), so that they could come into force by exit day. The remainder of SIs would be made under an affirmative procedure and all but a handful would be brought forward before 29 March.
Group discussion centred on:
- how this activity related to the common frameworks
- concerns that for the environmental sector 80% of legislation would be affected by Brexit and whether the ‘corrections’ to the EU derived legislation were delivering equivalent protections
- also concerns around the lack of clarity and equivalence for any replacement for the European Court of Justice in terms of ensuring environmental rights and responsibilities were respected
- concerns about Henry VIII powers and the impact on the devolution settlement.
6. Next steps and any other business
The Chair summed up the meeting and confirmed:
- he would arrange for a few headline messages to be circulated to EAG members promptly for their further dissemination to their networks and partners (annexed)
- he would consider timetabling a discussion in future on the European Investment Bank funding
- he would consider how to progress a request for an analysis of the interrelationship between ESF funding and Erasmus (a comparable piece of work on the relationship between ERDF and Horizon)
- the Welsh Government would continue the extensive work it was doing both internally and with external stakeholders in preparation for a worst case ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario
- that Eluned Morgan AM, in her new role as Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language, would attend the EAG on 23 May
- the EAG continue to ensure its voice was heard in all decisions made that would affect Wales post Brexit
- the Group should consider a review of its terms of reference, membership and activities in due course
- the next EAG meeting was scheduled for 21 March - further information to be issued in due course.