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Attendees

  • Huw Irranca-Davies AM – Chair
  • Jeremy Miles AM – Counsel General and Brexit Minister
  • Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd – Former Lord Chief Justice
  • Baroness Finlay of Llandaff – House of Lords
  • Rachel Sharp – Chief Executive, Wildlife Trusts Wales
  • Professor Colin Riordan – President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University
  • Kevin Roberts – Chair of Hybu Cig Cymru
  • Professor Jo Hunt – Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University
  • Dr Chris Jones – Chair of Health Education and Improvement Wales
  • Dr Hywel Ceri Jones – Former EU Funding Ambassador
  • Alec Don – Former CEO Milford Haven Port Authority
  • Michael Plaut – Former Chair, CBI Wales
  • David Jones – Coleg Cambria OBE
  • Tim Peppin – Welsh Local Government Association
  • Ruth Marks MBE – WCVA
  • Councillor William Powell – Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Europe in the Fourth Assembly

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

Apologies

  • Alex Coley – Business Strategist, Epimorphics Ltd.
  • Mark Langshaw – Managing Director, Continental Teves.
  • Elen ap Robert – former Artistic Director Pontio at Bangor University
  • Simon Davies – Linklaters
  • Martin Mansfield – Wales TUC
  • Tom Jones OBE – European Economic and Social Committee
  • Councillor Rob Stewart – WLGA/Leader of Swansea City Council
  • Sir Emyr Jones Parry – Former President Aberystwyth University
  • Louise O’Shea – Chief Executive, Confused.com/Admiral Group
  • Alison Lea-Wilson MBE – Co-founder Halen Môn/Anglesey Sea Salt
  • Kevin Crofton – Llywydd, SPTS Technologies Ltd
  • John Whalley – Chief Executive, Aerospace Wales
  • 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

1. Introduction

Huw Irranca-Davies AM, Chair of the European Advisory Group, opened the meeting and welcomed the EAG members to this 19th meeting.

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

  • an update on developments (Counsel General and Brexit Minister)
  • an item on Reforming our Union (Hugh Rawlings, Director, Constitutional Affairs)
  • discussion groups on 2 key issues:
    • the UK Internal Market (led by Mike Plaut, supported by Welsh Government officials)
    • Trade (led by Kevin Roberts, supported by Welsh Government officials).

2. Update on developments

The Chair invited the Counsel General and Brexit Minister to update the group on significant developments, focusing on the level of ambition around future partnership in the Withdrawal Agreement / Political Declaration.

Areas covered included:

British-Irish Council

The Counsel General and Brexit Minister informed the Group that on 15 November 2019, the First Minister and the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services attended the 33rd meeting of the British-Irish Council hosted by the Irish Government in Dublin. He expressed his disappointment that the Prime Minister and the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP were not in attendance.

It was explained that at this meeting the First Minister stated that the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration in its final form should be remitted to the British electorate for decision in a referendum, to prove a choice between the UK’s withdrawal in accordance with the negotiated terms or its continuing membership of the European Union. Moreover, that whatever the decision on Brexit may be, the United Kingdom remained a voluntary association of 4 nations and that the UK required significant constitutional reconstruction if it was to survive and that it was an appropriate time to review the role of the British-Irish Council, particularly in the context of Brexit.

Level of ambition around future partnership

The Counsel General and Brexit Minister explained that the future relationship sketched out in the Political Declaration is a far looser one than the relationship set out by Theresa May and the form of Brexit advocated in Securing Wales’ Future.

Starting with the future trading relationship, the Brexit Minister explained that the UK government was seeking a free trade agreement with the EU. He expressed concern over the potential for significant non-tariff barriers to trade for both goods and services, as all credible evidence showed that the imposition of non-tariff barriers would be damaging to the economy and that there was no evidence to suggest there were significant economic gains associated with the flexibility to set domestic rules and regulations. He emphasised that the interests of Wales were overwhelmingly served by retaining full and unfettered access to the Single Market and participation in a customs union with the EU.

The Brexit Minster emphasised that the UK government should commit to continued participation in EU programmes, which have brought benefits to Wales, such as, Horizon 2020, Erasmus and Creative Europe. The minister also stressed the need for UK government to continue its partnership with the European Investment Bank.

He explained, that the Welsh Government would question the approach that the UK government was setting out for immigration and explained that if the UK government was ambitious for the economy then businesses, public services and the third sector needed access to the wider labour market.

The Brexit Minister expressed concern over the UK government’s hardening on the current trade position during the General Election campaign and stressed that whatever form the future UK government would take after 12 December, the Welsh Government would continue to protect Wales’ interests and that the Brexit set out in Securing Wales’ Future should be the ambition adopted by the UK government.

Post General Election Brexit

It was explained that consideration had been given to post General Election ‘Brexit’ priorities, interdependencies, mobilisation, and intergovernmental engagement and that all of these different work strands were inter-linked and would depend on the UK government’s willingness to properly engage with the devolved administrations.

Group discussion centred on:

  • The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) delegation visit on 12 and 13 November organised by Tom Jones, WCVA and Cardiff University. 46 public, private and voluntary organisations were present to discuss future relations with the EU. It was reported to the Group that EESC colleagues were very impressed with the commitment shown and a summary report would be circulated to the EAG when available, hopefully in January. It was hoped that the EESC would endorse recommendations and seek to take them forward with the European Commission
  • The importance of considering EU strategy and policy for the 2021-27 period
  • The need to stay in touch with our EU partners and increased concerns that relationships with EU partners would be influenced by whether the UK leaves the EU and the realism that to continue to seek relationships would require resources and money
  • Concerns over how little the Political Declaration focused on policies such as arrest warrants and data exchange
  • Environmental organisations were still working on multiple outcomes because of uncertainty around legislation and regulation
  • The need to secure an adequacy decision to allow the free flow of personal data from the EU to the UK

3. Reforming Our Union

The Chair invited Hugh Rawlings, Director, Constitutional Affairs and Inter-Governmental Relations, to present to the group on the Welsh Government policy paper Reforming our union: shared governance in the UK, published in October 2019.

Hugh explained that the document sets out the Welsh Government’s views on the reforms that are required to put the Union on a sustainable footing for the future and advocated a model of shared governance, which includes a set of 20 propositions. He explained that the propositions were organised under the headings of General Principles; Legislatures and Legislative Powers; Executive Powers: Governments, Agencies and Civil Service; Finance; Justice and the Courts; and Constitutional Reform. Hugh also clarified that while the document was set in the context of Brexit, it was not exclusively about the UK leaving the EU.

The document was well received and the members made the following additional points in discussion:

  • The need for financial settlement in Wales in order to invest time and money into our changing landscape
  • The potential impact on devolution
  • The need to champion a UK government that services the 4 nations in a fair and equal way
  • The acknowledgement that it does not talk about the environment, climate change and economic climate and how to get a UK framework with environmental justice
  • The need for more clarity on whether “not normally” was to remain a part of the Sewel Convention.

4. Discussion groups

The members divided into 2 discussion groups, with Mike Plaut, Georgina Haarhoff, Deputy Director, European Transition Policy, and Enfys Dixey, Head of Economic Competitiveness Policy, leading the groups on Internal Market and Kevin Roberts and Tom Smithson, Head of Trade Policy, leading on Trade.

5. Feedback from discussion groups

The following main points made in each group were reported back to the full Group by the rapporteurs (Mike Plaut – UK Internal Market; and Kevin Roberts – Trade):

UK Internal Market

  • Establishing a UK-wide regulatory system would depend on whether the UK Government had an interest in continuing to follow EU rules
  • The need for progression not regression versus the need for a period of stability in light of the economy was discussed
  • Using social media would be important to communicate Wales’ culture and produce through the new standards
  • Establish a mechanism for adjudication / dispute resolution
  • Importance of ensuring a level economic playing field
  • Welsh Government incentivising business, emphasise the long term, and consider unintended consequences
  • Engaging with stakeholders and the public: consider engaging with stakeholder groups and networks with an interest in this area, e.g. consumer groups
  • Communication of our standards is key – across the UK and beyond
  • Consider how we can incentivise higher standards (of, for example, goods) within Wales and successfully tell the story.

Trade

  • There was a big risk of creating trade barriers during negotiations if deals were agreed with countries practising lower trading standards
  • Considering the potential impact of new trade deals on public and animal health must be a priority
  • We need to be clear about our priorities in Wales and to communicate these effectively and transparently. The use of infographics was highlighted as a useful mechanism to illustrate product journeys and complex supply chains
  • Consider the full toolkit available to Wales to influence UK approaches, beyond the normal intergovernmental machinery
  • A need to identify offensive interests and opportunities for Wales, not just focussing on defensive interests
  • Priorities discussed for Wales included services, environmental and labour protections, Intellectual property, procurement, food standards, and seeking to future-proof agreements given the potential for technological change
  • Suggestion to publish Welsh Government priorities for trade negotiations.

5. Next steps and any other business

The Chair summed up the meeting and confirmed:

  • the next EAG meeting was scheduled for 30 January.

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