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Attendees

  • Huw Irranca-Davies AM – Chair
  • Jeremy Miles AM – Counsel General and Brexit Minister
  • Dr Hywel Ceri Jones – Former EU Funding Ambassador
  • William Powell – Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Europe in the Fourth Assembly
  • Alex Coley – Business Strategist, Epimorphics Ltd.
  • Rachel Sharp – Chief Executive, Wildlife Trusts Wales
  • Michael Plaut – Former Chair, CBI Wales
  • Kevin Roberts – Chair of Hybu Cig Cymru
  • Mark Langshaw – Managing Director, Continental Teves.
  • Dr Chris Jones – Chair of Health Education and Improvement Wales
  • Elen ap Robert – former Artistic Director Pontio at Bangor University
  • Martin Mansfield – Wales TUC
  • Tom Jones OBE – European Economic and Social Committee
  • David Jones – Coleg Cambria OBE
  • Tim Peppin – Welsh Local Government Association

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

Apologies

  • Councillor Rob Stewart – WLGA/Leader of Swansea City Council
  • Baroness Finlay of Llandaff – House of Lords
  • Professor Jo Hunt – Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University
  • Sir Emyr Jones Parry – Former President Aberystwyth University
  • Louise O’Shea – Chief Executive, Confused.com/Admiral Group
  • Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd – Former Lord Chief Justice
  • Simon Davies – Linklaters
  • Alison Lea-Wilson MBE – Co-founder Halen Môn/Anglesey Sea Salt
  • Kevin Crofton – Llywydd, SPTS Technologies Ltd
  • John Whalley – Chief Executive, Aerospace Wales
  • Professor Colin Riordan – President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University
  • Alec Don – Former CEO Milford Haven Port Authority
  • Ruth Marks MBE – WCVA
  • Jill Evans MEP – Member of the European Parliament
  • Nathan Gill MEP – Member of the European Parliament
  • Dr Kay Swinburne MEP – Former Member of the European Parliament
  • Derek Vaughan MEP – Former Member of the European Parliament

1. Introduction

Huw Irranca-Davies AM, Chair of the European Advisory Group opened the meeting and welcomed the EAG members to this eighteenth meeting.

In doing so he reiterated the group’s purpose, which is to identify and discuss the challenges and opportunities of Brexit for Wales, noting that these evolved over time.

The Chair outlined the agenda and explained that the meeting would include an Update on Developments (Counsel General and Brexit Minister); an item on Brexit and Migration (Bethan Bateman, Head of Future Migration); and a Roundtable: Sector Priorities & Prospects (to be led by Simon Brindle, Director, Brexit Strategy).

2. Update on developments

The Chair invited the Counsel General and Brexit Minister to update the Group on significant developments including the latest position on Negotiations; Preparedness; and on the Supreme Court ruling on the prorogation of UK Parliament. During the update the Counsel General and Brexit Minister invited officials, in turn to deliver 3 short presentations on:

  • Chief Economist’s Economic Analysis (Jonathan Price, Chief Economist)
  • Welsh Government No Deal Action Plan (Piers Bisson, Director, European Transition)
  • A Brighter Future for Wales (Gareth Williams, Special Adviser, European Transition).

Areas covered included: 

Supreme Court ruling 

The Counsel General and Brexit Minister outlined the Welsh Government’s reasons for intervening in the Supreme Court case relating to the prorogation of Parliament. The Counsel General and Brexit Minister indicated that an intervention was important because Prime Minister’s extended prorogation of Parliament would have interfered with this legislative scrutiny at the UK Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales in relation to secondary legislation. The Welsh Government believed that the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling on the matter was, in part, a vindication of its position. The Counsel General and Brexit Minister was concerned with the UK government’s reaction to the ruling and noted that the reaction would only reduce our standing as a country that believed in the rule of law.

Brexit negotiations

The Counsel General and Brexit Minister highlighted that the purpose of the JMC(EN) was to allow the Devolved Administrations (DAs) to represent their interests in relation to Brexit to the UK government. It is the view of the Welsh Government that the JMC(EN) has not been working in practice. This was demonstrated again by the UK government’s refusal to share or consult on the recent Brexit ‘non-papers’ with the DAs.

In terms of the UK government proposals to replace the backstop, set out on 2 October, the Welsh Government believed it was unhelpful for the UK government to present these as an ultimatum to the EU at this stage. Among our concerns, the role of the Northern Ireland Assembly, while there was little sign of an immediate return of power sharing, would simply increase the uncertainty as to whether these proposals would be implemented. These proposals were also likely to lead to some customs infrastructure somewhere in Ireland, which would be problematic wherever they were.

Overall the Welsh Government was sceptical of the likelihood of a deal being agreed and ratified by 31 October. The Counsel General and Brexit Minister reiterated the Welsh Government’s position that there should be another referendum, with remain on the ballot, to decide the next steps of the Brexit process. If this was not possible, then the UK should avoid leaving without a deal.

Chief Economist’s new economic analysis

The Chief Economist shared his analysis and in particular his assessment of prospects, including a worst case scenario of a deep recession with a 4-5% peak to trough drop in GDP in Wales in the period immediately following Brexit, depending on the circumstances in which we leave. He noted the impact that wider world issues could have on making trade deals post-Brexit. There was no reason to change the assessment that, over the longer run, leaving the EU and trading on WTO terms could result in the economy being up to 10% smaller than would otherwise have been the case. This impact could be worse in Wales given its higher levels of EU dependent industry.

Some of the economic effects of Brexit were already being felt, with studies showing lower levels of productivity and business investment (particularly in EU focused businesses). Consumer spending was currently holding up, but the effect of sterling depreciation was beginning to show signs of impacting on this.

GDP growth was expected to continue to be flat, if not negative going forward. The economic effect of Brexit was being further compounded by the ongoing US/China trade disputes and ongoing Eurozone weakness, particularly in Germany.

No Deal Action Plan

The Counsel General and Brexit Minister indicated that the Welsh Government’s central planning assumption was currently for a ‘no deal’ Brexit as it considered this the most likely outcome. The Welsh Government published its No Deal Brexit Action Plan on 16 September. On 1 October Welsh Ministers also made a series of statements on the effects of ‘no deal’ to ensure there was opportunity for scrutiny and visibility of the Welsh Government’s preparations.

It was also intended to highlight the breadth and depth of work the Welsh Government was doing with partners across all sectors in Wales. The broad areas of this work included: UK-wide preparation projects that Welsh Government feeds into, legislative changes, local government contingency support, Welsh Government-directed cross-cutting work, including the European Transition Fund and communication campaigns.

It was noted that the Welsh Government preparations were being limited by a drop-off in engagement from the UK government, despite it ramping up its own preparations. The UK government had committed to increase its engagement.

On 27 September the Wales Audit Office published an update to its report on the Welsh Government’s and wider public sector’s preparations for Brexit. Whilst not underestimating the scale of the challenge it gave a positive reflection on the Welsh Government’s work with partners to prepare for a no deal exit. But no matter how well we prepare, we cannot mitigate the effects of no deal.

A Brighter Future for Wales

The Brighter Future for Wales policy paper was introduced to the Group, as an update on the Securing Wales’ Future published in 2017. The options for Brexit had seemingly narrowed, excluding the ‘soft’ Brexit that the Welsh Government had been advocating to bridge the outcome of the referendum with the needs of the economy and communities in Wales.

The Brighter Future policy paper set out the Welsh Government’s new position of remaining in and reforming the EU. The paper highlights our 6 priority areas and comparing the impact of no deal vs remain. The paper aims, in part, to change the debate from the immediate impacts of a ‘no deal’, to the longer term economic damage and adverse systemic change it is likely to usher in.

Group discussion centred on:

  • The extent to which the service sector would be impacted by Brexit. While they would not experience as much of a shock as manufacturing or agriculture, both sectors tend to be interwoven and reliant on each other. A loss in goods output would likely lead to a reduction in the need for services etc. Furthermore, the EU single market reduces non-tariff barriers for UK services and there would likely to be some negatives from the impact of losing those.
  • The effect of the UK government’s contradictory statements to the UK and EU audiences, which could potentially undermine our credibility with the EU. The commitment to uphold EU standards on workers’ rights and environment against its ‘red tape’ challenge was given as an example.
  • The ability of the Welsh Government to safeguard regulatory standards and other Welsh interests in a ‘no deal’ scenario where a UK government intended on pursuing a de-regulatory position.
  • The likely outcome of any future referendum on EU membership. Members advised that the Welsh Government and others advocating remain needed simpler, clearer and more positive messaging around the benefits of retaining EU membership.
  • The need for the Welsh Government to set out a positive, long term vision of post-Brexit Wales to inspire citizens and counter the increasingly harmful negativity and division arising from the Brexit process. The Welsh Government’s Economic Action Plan and International Strategy were signposted as the beginnings of this.
  • The effect of Brexit on particularly vulnerable communities. Ni considering the human cost of Brexit, the Counsel General and Brexit Minister assured members that the Welsh Government had made allocations to support specific high risk groups and would be monitoring the impacts as they arose. However, the Welsh Government, or even the UK government, would not be able to fully mitigate the negative impacts of a ‘no deal’.

3. Brexit and migration

The Chair invited Bethan Bateman, Head of Future Migration to update the Group on UK government Future Migration policy and EU Settled Status.

Areas covered included the uncertainty around the UK government’s White Paper on immigration and the proposals for a points-based immigration system.

The Head of Future Migration highlighted the importance of responding to the MAC’s Call for Evidence on the salary threshold and points-based system by 5 November.

On EU Settled Status, The Head of Future Migration gave on overview of the scheme and highlighted the risk of some people not applying. Officials clarified that all groups of EU citizens legally resident in the UK up until December 2020, will continue to be entitled to the same services after Brexit as they are now. WG officials requested help with widely disseminating this message and invited members to also consider how best to get messages around applying for EU Settled Status across to stakeholders and networks.

Group discussion centred on:

  • Workforce implications for the creative industries
  • the increasing challenges facing the health and social care sector, IT sector, FE/HE sector, including student mobility, food processing, and agency workers.

4. Roundtable: Sector priorities and prospects

The Chair invited Simon Brindle, Director, Brexit Strategy to lead a roundtable on Sector Priorities and Prospects. Simon encouraged Group members to share their views on the specific challenges likely to be faced in their sector in Wales immediately following exit and in the short and medium term, focusing on economic, environmental, social, intergovernmental relations and public services issues.

During a roundtable discussion members considered sector priorities and prospects given a planning assumption of a no deal Brexit. EAG members were invited to share further thoughts on the particular issues faced across sectors in Wales immediately following exit and in the short and medium term to inform Cabinet’s deliberations.

Described as a compass holding us to a course the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act was, and remained, an important statement of intent which needed to be delivered in spite of Brexit. The Act was perceived as a catalyst for change. The Act should be considered in a holistic way, and thought given to how to operationalise it as a framework for the future, ensuring wealth creation and prosperity to support our public services. Economic and environmental goals were not mutually exclusive and should not be looked at in isolation. Our culture and arts offered a way of rebuilding communities post Brexit.

5. Next steps and any other business

The Chair summed up the meeting and confirmed: 

  • he would arrange for a few WG headline messages to be circulated to EAG members for further dissemination to networks and partners
  • Welsh Government official would provide a summary of EU funding initiatives which have benefited Wales since 23 June 2016
  • a possible additional meeting to be scheduled around the deadline of 31 October
  • otherwise, the next EAG meeting was scheduled for 5 December.

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