- Dr Chris Jones – Chair of Health Education and Improvement Wales
- Alec Don – Former CEO Milford Haven Port Authority
- Michael Plaut OBE – Former Chair, CBI Wales
- Tim Peppin – Welsh Local Government Association
- Shavanah Taj – Wales TUC
- Ruth Marks MBE – WCVA
- Councillor William Powell – Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Europe in the Fourth Assembly
- Alex Coley – Business Strategist, Epimorphics Ltd.
- Mark Langshaw – Managing Director, Continental Teves
- Elen ap Robert – Former Artistic Director Pontio at Bangor University
- Tom Jones OBE – European Economic and Social Committee
- Sir Emyr Jones Parry – Former President Aberystwyth University
- Alison Lea-Wilson MBE – Co-founder Halen Môn/Anglesey Sea Salt
- John Whalley – Chief Executive, Aerospace Wales
* A small number of Welsh Government officials were also present in support.
- Professor Colin Riordan – President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University
- Kevin Roberts – Chair of Hybu Cig Cymru
- Dr Hywel Ceri Jones – Former EU Funding Ambassador
- David Jones OBE – Former Chief Executive Coleg Cambria
- Simon Davies – Linklaters
- Martin Mansfield – Wales TUC
- Councillor Rob Stewart – WLGA/Leader of Swansea City Council
- Louise O’Shea – Chief Executive, Confused.com/Admiral Group
- Jill Evans MEP – Member of the European Parliament
- Nathan Gill MEP – Member of the European Parliament
- Dr Kay Swinburne – Former Member of the European Parliament
- Derek Vaughan – Former Member of the European Parliament
Huw Irranca-Davies AM, Chair of the European Advisory Group, opened the meeting and welcomed the EAG members to this twentieth meeting.
The Chair outlined the agenda and explained that the meeting would include:
- an update on developments (including the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill / Act) (Counsel General and Brexit Minister)
- an item on negotiating the future UK/EU relationship (Counsel General and Brexit Minister)
- an item on International Strategy (Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language)
- an oral item on EU Future Agenda (David Hughes, European Commission).
2. Update on developments (including the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill/Act)
The Chair invited the Counsel General and Brexit Minister to update the Group on recent significant developments, focusing on political events and the EU Withdrawal Agreement legislation in particular.
EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill/Act
The minister informed the group that the Welsh Government had concerns about the substance of the Withdrawal Agreement and more particularly the Political Declaration and the concern that the Bill ruled out the possibility of an extension to the transition period beyond the end of 2020, despite this being provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement. The minister highlighted the challenges ahead for the Prime Minister looking to secure a comprehensive new trade deal with the EU by the end of this year and the possibility of leaving without a trade deal. He expressed his concern that this could jeopardise Welsh jobs and damage Wales’ economy.
He explained that the Welsh Government could not recommend legislative consent because the Bill (now an Act) posed a fundamental threat to devolution and did not appropriately reflect the role and position of the devolved institutions within the UK.
This was the unanimous view of the devolved legislatures, all of whom voted to withhold consent to the Bill.
He continued that the Welsh Government were not seeking to block Brexit, and that none of the amendments promoted by the Welsh Government were designed to frustrate the Bill, but sought to improve the Bill. The minister explained that most of the Welsh Government’s amendments were championed by peers, and one was forced to a vote, but ultimately all the Lords’ amendments were overturned by the House of Commons, in a missed opportunity to improve the flaws in the legislation.
It was explained to the group that the Welsh Government set out in detail the reasons why they could not recommend consent. In particular:
- The powers for UK ministers to amend all primary legislation including the Government of Wales Act by regulations, rather than the normal constitutional routes
- The fact that a restatement of the absolute sovereignty of Parliament was not qualified by any reference to Sewel
- The lack of any guaranteed role for the devolved institutions in the negotiation of the future relationship with the EU, despite the fact that the outcomes of the negotiations would impact very directly on devolved competence.
He explained that it was a significant constitutional moment when consent for the UK Parliament to pass the Bill was withheld by all 3 of the devolved legislatures in the UK but that the UK government had pressed ahead to enact the Bill.
He shared with the group that in a letter from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster there was recognition that the UK government’s decision to proceed without consent were clearly unique circumstances and that the UK government remained committed to the Sewel Convention. A written statement to Parliament was issued along similar lines.
The minister explained that the Welsh Government would now be exploring how best to pursue its objectives with regard to a stronger Sewel Convention, building on the steps taken in the context of the Bill.
The Welsh Government would continue to pursue non-legislative approaches to address its concerns about the Act including follow up on reassurances about intentions with respect to the powers and confirmation that UKG would not use those powers to repeal the Government of Wales Act and that it is their firm intention to engage fully with the devolved administrations.
The minister went on to highlight that Welsh Government’s broader programme of work on Frameworks, the internal market and negotiations would also alleviate its concerns about the Act, should success be achieved in these areas.
Baroness Finley and Lord Thomas gave an account of proceedings in the House of Lords, and the minister thanked them and fellow Welsh peers for their spirit of collaboration and efforts made on behalf of the Welsh Government.
Group discussion centred on:
- the need going forward for a clear plan and strategy to protect worker’s rights
- the importance of Wales creating a dynamic alignment with the EU in terms of its Environmental rights and to be involved in creating a future Environment Act in order to protect the environmental interests in Wales
- the positive news that Stormont had been reinstated and the opportunity this may bring to develop things bilaterally with Northern Ireland
- the importance of letting international companies know that Wales is open for business;
- seeking alliances with bodies across the UK
- the importance of a unified Welsh voice and a call for a Welsh coalition of government, business and civil society and cross-sector approach to outline our asks to bring about our shared objectives
3. Negotiating the future UK/EU relationship
The Chair invited the Counsel General and Brexit Minister to present to the group on the Welsh Government policy paper Negotiating the Future UK/EU Relationship, published on 20 January 2020.
The mminister explained that the document sets out the Welsh Government assessment of the UK Government’s Political Declaration, which accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement, and its priorities for our future trade, and broader relationship with the EU. He explained that the assessment argues that, while the Welsh Government accepts that we will now leave the EU, changes to the direction of travel indicated in the Political Declaration are necessary to better protect the economic, social and environmental interests of Wales and the whole UK.
The minister highlighted that Welsh Government’s priority is to ensure access to European markets, as this is where the majority of trade opportunities are found. He explained that the Welsh Government has been engaging with the UK government in order to uphold the principle that the UK government should not proceed without having sought the involvement of the devolved administrations, and that the process around ministerial engagement and sign off remains respected.
The document was well received and the group discussion that followed centred on:
- The importance of agreeing a clear process with the UK government that ensures Welsh-specific concerns are taken in to account
- The need for the Welsh Government to focus on a limited number of key asks from the UK government in the upcoming UK-EU negotiations
- The importance of ensuring Welsh involvement in beneficial EU programmes, even where the UK government no longer intends to participate
- The drawbacks and benefits of the Northern Ireland Protocol for Wales and, more broadly, the potential benefits that regulatory divergence may bring
- The importance of positive language and framing of Wales in future discussions around negotiations.
4. International strategy
The Chair invited the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language to present to the Group on the Welsh Government policy paper International Strategy for Wales, published on 14 January 2020.
The Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language explained that the policy document sets out Welsh Government’s approach to international engagement and highlights the steps that will be taken to ensure Wales has an increasing profile and influence in the world.
The minister shared with the group the 3 core ambitions of the strategy:
- to raise Wales’ profile internationally
- to grow our economy and
- to establish Wales as a globally responsible nation
She went on to explain how the Welsh Government would deliver these 3 key ambitions over the next 5 years. She explained that this would help to create and sustain skilled and fair work for people living throughout Wales and contribute to the Welsh Government’s overarching goal of creating a more equal, more prosperous and greener Wales.
The minister went on to emphasise that the main purpose of the International Strategy will be to deliver international collaboration and to project Wales as a globally responsible nation, both of which will help to make Wales more competitive and well known on the global stage. She explained that this would be of benefit to the people of Wales economically, socially and environmentally.
The International Strategy is a guide in a challenging and changing world where relationships constantly change, economies fluctuate and priorities move on.
The document was well received and the members made the following additional points in discussion:
- The fact that the policy document echoed hope, positive language and a can do attitude at a bad time
- how will policy be delivered with budget diversity and where does attention need to be focused
- the need to communicate its benefits to the people of Wales and to encourage an outward looking Wales
- the need to recognise what makes Wales unique, what would keep people here and what the Group could do to help
- the need for all sectors and government to be more joined up
- the importance of investing in our natural capital such as through renewable energy and tidal power and how they can be used to attract business to Wales
- the importance to Wales of new technology such as Hybrid electrics, smart technology and how this can be blended with our social needs, reducing inequality and developing human capital
- concerns that young talented people have to leave Wales in order to progress with their career, as the opportunities do not exist in Wales
- the need to work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and trade and industry to promote Welsh sporting events and to promote Wales at the World Fair in Dubai for example
- the need to change the image of Wales, what makes Wales unique and what are we world leaders on, such as developments around the use of the Welsh language and technology, to stand out in a competitive market place.
5. EU future agenda
The Chair invited David Hughes, European Commission representative in Wales, to present to the group on the EU’s future agenda.
David explained that the Commission’s priorities for the next 5 years is set out in the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen’s political guidelines document, titled ‘A Union that strives for more: My agenda for Europe’ .
David highlighted that the political guidelines focus on 6 headline ambitions for Europe over the next 5 years and beyond:
- a European Green Deal
- an economy that works for people
- a Europe fit for the digital age
- protecting our European way of life
- a stronger Europe in the world
- a new push for European democracy.
David also clarified that these political guidelines are not an exhaustive work programme but rather aim to frame the European Commission’s work. The European Commission would pursue these principles and the aspirations outlined in the guidelines but would adapt and update them as challenges and opportunities emerge.
The presentation was well received and the discussion focussed on the ability of the UK government to negotiate, the likelihood of having a trade deal secured during transition period, and the UK government’s willingness to keep alignment in order to secure the trade deal.
Tributes were paid to David Hughes, as well as to Tom Jones, and our Welsh MEPs, whose terms in office at the European Economic and Social Committee and European Parliament respectively, was ending with the UK exit from the EU on 31 January.
6. Next steps and any other business
The Chair summed up the meeting and confirmed:
- the next EAG meeting was scheduled for 19 March.