Attendees

  • Huw Irranca-Davies AM – Chair
  • Jeremy Miles AM – Counsel General and Brexit Minister
  • Ken Skates AM – Minister for Economy and Transport
  • Shan Morgan – Permanent Secretary                         
  • 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
  • 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
  • Professor Colin Riordan – President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University
  • William Powell – Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Europe in the Fourth Assembly
  • Alec Don – Former CEO, Milford Haven Port Authority

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

Apologies

  • Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff – House of Lords
  • Alison Lea-Wilson MBE – Co-founder Halen Môn/Anglesey Sea Salt
  • Ruth Marks MBE – Chief Executive, Wales Council for Voluntary Action
  • Dr Hywel Ceri Jones – Former EU Funding Ambassador
  • 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
  • Tom Jones OBE – European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
  • Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd – Former Lord Chief Justice

1. Introduction

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

  • an update on developments (Counsel General and Brexit Minister)
  • presentations on implications for intergovernmental relations (Counsel General and Brexit Minister and Director for Constitutional Affairs and Inter-Governmental Relations, Welsh Government)
  • Welsh Economy post-Brexit update (Chief Economist, Welsh Government and Minister for Economy and Transport).

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 expressed grave concerns about the very real threat that, if the Prime Minister failed again to increase support for her Withdrawal Agreement, the UK would be facing a ‘no deal’ exit at the end of March. This was the result of the Prime Minister’s inability to build a sustainable majority for her deal and her failure to engage in any meaningful way with the opposition. It was still unclear whether the EU would press for a short or long extension, however the EU had been clear that an extension would only be permitted if the UK had a clear or revised plan in place.

He emphasised that as a responsible government, we had continued to ramp up our preparations at a Wales level. Preparations were focused around 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
  • the development of specific actions in Wales over and above work on UK-wide measures.

Group discussion centred on:

  • short/long extension times creating even more uncertainty, especially for businesses
  • in the event of a longer extension, whether the UK would be required to take part in the European Parliament elections and what this would mean
  • the possibility of revoking Article 50 in the case of an imminent ‘no deal’ scenario and starting the process anew
  • concerns about the damage the last 2 plus years has had on the UK’s reputation globally
  • the Political Declaration and the extensive work that would need to be done to make this acceptable
  • the action required to amend the EU Exit SIs in the event of an extension to exit day. Confirmation that the coming into force date would be linked to ‘exit day’ and would be changed automatically
  • the opportunity to do things differently and innovatively once the UK exits the EU
  • the opportunity of raising Wales’ profile in the EU should a longer extension be agreed
  • the opportunity for Wales in shifting to a low carbon economy
  • a request for the sharing of ‘preparedness’ plans in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario
  • the need to resurrect social partnerships and previously established successful schemes like ProAct and ReAct in face of potential major closures and redundancies
  • the danger of misinformation being shared on social media platforms
  • calls by Welsh Government ministers for the UK government to change its post-Brexit immigration plans and lower the salary threshold from £30,000, because of the knock-on effects for frontline staff in the social care sector in particular. 

3. Implications for intergovernmental relations and common frameworks

The Counsel General and Brexit Minister and Director for Constitutional Affairs and Inter-Governmental Relations confirmed that the Welsh Government had continued to call for intergovernmental relations to be transformed in the light of Brexit. This message was consistent with our policy paper Brexit and Devolution, published in June 2017 which points out that after 20 years of devolution, devolved legislatures and governments are now well established. As part of the needed reform of intergovernmental relations the Welsh Government  had proposed a UK Council of Ministers system, along the same lines as the EU Council of Ministers.

The minister outlined the formal discussion process through the Joint Ministerial Committee structures, which had been variable to date and required overhauling. In March 2018 a review was commissioned involving the 4 devolved administrations and despite a slow start this was now progressing, and considering principles, machinery and dispute resolution among other things.

More recently, Welsh Government ministers had been invited to attend a UK government Cabinet Committee  for the first time and a number of ministerial quadrilateral meetings in new policy areas such as Health, the Environment and Trade had begun.

Group discussion centred on:

  • the Welsh Government policy paper ‘Brexit and Devolution’ published in 2017, which called for deeper and more sustained cooperation between devolved administrations and the UK government after exit
  • the need to develop a model of ‘shared governance’ between the UK government and devolved administrations, particularly in the context of the inter-section between international relations and devolved competences
  • the importance of the 4 administrations being involved in all intergovernmental decisions
  • the need to develop new capacity and capabilities in joint decisions and to review all current systems
  • consider inter-parliamentary relations alongside intergovernmental relations
  • losing access post-Brexit to the European Courts of Justice and European Commission evidence reports would be difficult
  • powers returning to Wales and the need for clarification on responsibilities of the Welsh Government and the Secretary of State post-Brexit.

4. Welsh economy post-Brexit (update)

Jonathan Price, Chief Economist Welsh Government, provided the group with an update on the Welsh Government policy paper Economic analysis of UK government’s proposals for EU exit issues, published in December 2018. Depending on the type of Brexit, and making comparisons with the financial crisis of 2008, Jonathan explained how Wales’ economy would be impacted both in the short and long term.

The Minister for Economy and Transport delivered a presentation and outlined the plan of action post-Brexit 29 March, set against the backdrop of the Economic Action Plan (EAP). The plan had been designed to address the challenges of Brexit and other trends, and to foster the right conditions for the Welsh economy both now and in the future, and sets out the Welsh Government’s economic ambitions in an attempt to counter the negative impact of Brexit.

The minister updated the members on the extensive work that the Welsh Government had undertaken in preparing for Brexit and the substantial funding streams in place. The minister reiterated that a no deal Brexit would be catastrophic for Wales and should be avoided at all costs, but in that  event, appropriate support and measures would be in place. Learning lessons from previous economic downturns, the minister noted that the new institutions of Business Wales and the Development Bank for Wales were now available to assist with safeguarding the economy and employment.

Group discussion centred on:

  • the Welsh Government’s short term plans to counter the negative impact of Brexit
  • the Welsh Government’s long term economic ambition for sustainable economic development in Wales
  • the extensive work underway to protect jobs and livelihoods
  • the possibility of removing restrictions imposed on over 25’s apprenticeships
  • the importance of ongoing collaboration and links with the UK government and linking strategies
  • consideration of using tax varying powers and possible changes to business rates
  • encouraging regional economic development and regional teams to service all areas of Wales
  • assisting small and micro business to prepare given the uncertainties and lack of human resource at their disposal
  • the importance of ongoing collaboration between Welsh Government, partner organisations and stakeholders across Wales
  • future proofing the economy and investing in the industries of tomorrow
  • exploring support for sectors where Wales can lead on such as marine energy, renewables and semi-conductor industries
  • sustainable infrastructure including for low emission vehicles
  • stimulus to support with delivery of the affordable housing target
  • how to harness the huge potential of Wales’ environment and our rich natural capital
  • the need to continue to support communities impacted by deindustrialisation, and people who feel disconnected and disenfranchised
  • clear communications being crucial in informing the wider public as events unfold.

5. 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 further dissemination to networks and partners (annexed)
  • he would consider timetabling a discussion in future on  European Investment Bank funding
  • he would consider inviting Lee Waters AM, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport to speak at a future EAG meeting in his capacity as communications lead
  • he confirmed that a Welsh Government working group had been set up and would meet on the 9 April to consider developing an analysis of the interrelationship between ESF funding and Erasmus. An update would be provided for the next meeting
  • he would arrange the circulation of the Welsh Government’s proposed clauses to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill
  • 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 role as Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language, would attend the EAG on 11 July
  • the EAG should continue to ensure its voice was heard in all decisions made that would affect Wales post Brexit
  • to consider the suggestion for a discussion on the role of civil society
  • the Group should consider a review of its Terms of Reference, membership and activities in due course
  • the next EAG meeting was scheduled for 11 April – further information to be issued in due course.