- Mark Drakeford AM (Chair) – Cabinet Secretary for Finance
- Rebecca Evans AM – Minister for Housing and Regeneration
- Carwyn Jones AM – First Minister
- Vaughan Gething AM – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services
- Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff – House of Lords
- Dr Hywel Ceri Jones – Former EU Funding Ambassador
- William Powell – Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Europe in the Fourth Assembly
- David Jones OBE – Principal and Chief Executive, Coleg Cambria
- Michael Plaut – 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 – Co-founder Halen Môn/Anglesey Sea Salt
- Rachel Sharp – Chief Executive, Wildlife Trusts Wales
- Tim Peppin – representing WLGA in Councillor Rob Stewart’s absence
- Julie Morgan AM – Chair of the All-Wales Programme Monitoring Committee
- Dr Chris Jones – Chair of Health Education and Improvement Wales
- Professor Jo Hunt – Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University
- Alec Don – ex-CEO, Milford Haven Port Authority
*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
- Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd – Former Lord Chief Justice
- Kevin Crofton – Llywydd, SPTS Technologies Ltd
- Professor Colin Riordan – President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University
- Ruth Marks MBE – Chief Executive, Wales Council for Voluntary Action
- Councillor Rob Stewart – WLGA/Leader of Swansea City Council
The Cabinet Secretary for Finance opened the meeting and welcomed the EAG members to this twelfth meeting.
The Cabinet Secretary outlined the agenda and explained that the meeting would include presentations by the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services – Health and Social services post-Brexit; and a State of Brexit debate. He then invited the First Minister to address the group.
2. Securing Wales’ Future
The First Minister reiterated the Welsh Government’s key priorities in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and the importance of securing full and unfettered access to the Single Market and participation in a customs union to protect the economy and Welsh jobs, as set out in Securing Wales’ Future.
He confirmed that despite our best efforts, the Welsh Government still struggles to receive full engagement from the UK government. The publication of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement on 14 November without Welsh Government involvement was another example of this and he reiterated this point when he met the Prime Minister on 21 November.
The First Minister thanked the members for their important role in contributing to the Welsh Government’s preparation and negotiations with the UK government and confirmed that he would continue to follow the group’s activities going forward beyond March 2019.
Group discussion centred on:
- concerns about the Prime Minister’s ability to secure approval for her deal from both the EU27 and UK Parliament
- in the event of failing to obtain approval, concerns that the country could be facing an unprecedented political crisis, resulting in a general election or even a public vote
- if no agreement is reached, what would happen with regard to Article 50 and could it be extended
- the maintenance of citizen’s rights during this period of uncertainty
- discussion about whether the Assembly would have an opportunity to debate the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration before the meaningful vote in the House of Commons.
3. Update on developments
The Cabinet Secretary for Finance updated the group on developments at a UK level and within Wales. The two main aspects included the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on our Future Relationship with the EU.
Areas covered included:
- the publication of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU
- the brevity of the Political Declaration on our Future Relationship
- the option of extending the transition period
- importance of securing the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland and backstop arrangements
- protection of citizen’s rights
- long-term Customs Union plans.
The Minister for Housing and Regeneration updated the group on recent Ministerial Forums and the progress being made on discussions around education, science, innovation. The minister updated members on her visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg and discussions around ongoing negotiations and next steps. The minister represented Welsh Government at the Vanguard event in Brussels on 21 November and highlighted the opportunity to further relationships with other EU regional partners and networks.
Group discussion centred on:
- next steps for the Welsh Government if agreement is not forthcoming
- the opportunity for Welsh Government Ministers to work on detailed proposals for our future relationship with the EU on specific subject areas (like science and innovation co-operation)
- improvement in Joint Ministerial Committee working around frameworks welcomed
- the European Court of Justice Hearing on reversing Article 50
- call for all EAG members to further develop relationships with their existing EU partners and networks
- concerns were expressed about the passing of Brexit related legislation before exit day
- highlighting the importance of workforce and upskilling
- concerns expressed around social cohesion.
4. Health and social services post-Brexit
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services gave a presentation on Health and Social Services post Brexit and the need to manage the uncertainty created by both Brexit and more recently the Prime Minister’s proposed deal which both the EU27 and the UK Parliament would need to ratify. He outlined the activities the Welsh Government has undertaken to date and confirmed that both Ministers and officials are continuing to proactively work with partners, stakeholders and other government departments to try to mitigate risks of a potential ‘no deal’ scenario.
The Cabinet Secretary underscored the importance of ongoing access to the Single Market and a customs union. He reiterated that a ‘no deal’ outcome to Brexit would be unacceptable and could significantly damage the prosperity and well-being of the people of Wales for generations to come.
Dr Chris Jones, Chair of Health Education and Improvement Wales spoke about the Cavendish Coalition and the recent report they commissioned from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) examining Brexit and the health and social care workforce in the UK.
Group discussion centred on:
- concerns around the supply of medicines post Brexit, including the storage of life saving medicines
- concerns around the supply of medical devices and clinical consumables post Brexit
- the opportunity to apply for settled status for health and social care workers and university staff and their families
- protection and resilience of IT systems post Brexit
- concerns about resourcing and retention of GPs and securing ‘out of hours’ services after the UK has exited the EU
- recognition of reciprocal professional qualifications post March 2019
- consideration around disability rights
- food production standards
- an update on developments for EAG members in due course from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social services.
5. State of Brexit debate
The Cabinet Secretary for Finance introduced the item and discussion session focused on 3 questions:
- What can the private, public and third sectors do to ensure that Wales is prepared for Brexit, particularly should there be ‘no deal’
- What do the Welsh Government and partners need to do to maximise influence and protect Welsh interests in cross-UK matters?
- What can we collectively do to ensure we maintain our relationship with the European Union whilst actively pursuing new opportunities with the rest of the world?
Group discussion centred on:
- difficulty in planning for a ‘no deal’ scenario and the possibility of putting new government interventions in place to assist with this
- concerns and fears that branches of international businesses may relocate in future if an acceptable deal is not negotiated
- importance of investing in infrastructure and workforce upskilling
- worries around the maintenance of Welsh water industries and supply of EU chemical treatments
- the importance of retaining access to the European Investment Bank after the UK exits the EU
- discussion about the European Transition Funds awarded to the WLGA to facilitate support for local authorities with plans and preparedness for Brexit
- uncertainty regarding increased food prices and its effect on supply chains and the rural economy and subsequently Welsh language and culture
- how to ensure that Wales and its’ products remain attractive to both investors and customers
- the importance of exporting companies to the Welsh economy, consideration of the need for export finance support, and the possible use of European Transition funding to assist exporting businesses
- Welsh Government officials to speak more widely to companies about the Brexit process to assist them with questions received by their overseas customers
- importance of communicating the Brexit Portal to business across industry sector
- concerns about how Wales will benefit from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund;
- to ensure that the UK government honours the promises repeatedly made to the people of Wales that Wales will not lose a penny as a result of Brexit
- mitigation against possible devaluation of the pound £ after Brexit, commercial rates and digital purchase tax
- the importance of utilising Wales’ natural capital to develop new markets
- the opportunity to do things differently and innovatively as we exit the EU
- retaining any special relationships and maximising and building on our relationships with other EU stakeholders as we exit the EU
- the impact of losing access to European funds on Welsh universities and potential changes to student fee charges after Brexit
- potential visa regime
- ensure that Wales remains outward looking and fully engaged on both the European and global stage.
6. Next steps and any other business
The Cabinet Secretary informed members that the date of the next meeting will be Thursday 17 January and will take place in the Pierhead Building.