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Introduction

  1. After more than 40 years of EU membership the economic and governmental functioning of the UK is inextricably linked with the EU. The task of implementing the UK’s exit from the EU will require governments to create new regulatory mechanisms and to minimise the negative impact of change, to put in place the necessary legislation, and establish new processes and systems, including in some instances building new infrastructure and new IT systems. Where regulatory functions are currently performed at an EU level, it will be necessary to ensure domestic systems and resources are in place to exercise these functions.
  2. The UK government has overall responsibility for preparations for the UK’s exit from the EU and it is vital the Welsh Government coordinates its work on preparedness with the UK government.
  3. The Withdrawal Agreement, assuming it is ratified, means that any new arrangements will need to be in place by January 2021. The transition period provides a more realistic period within which the issues can be resolved, though the potential scale of the implementation work and lead times involved still represent a major delivery challenge.
  4. The Welsh Government continues to press the UK government to systematically share detail on their preparedness work including work needed to address deficiencies in EU-related legislation and to collaborate with devolved administrations. In many areas, there are likely to be advantages for the Welsh Government to participate in cross-UK systems. Such co-operation could help secure sufficient flexibilities for Welsh policies on devolved matters.
  5. There has been significant progress in recent weeks, particularly with BEIS and DEFRA, the 2 of the Whitehall departments most affected by Brexit. However there are still key gaps in our knowledge and a lack of a shared experience and the inter-governmental machinery necessary to support genuine collaborative working.

Risks

  1. The risks related to preparedness work (and the associated legislative work) vary across departments but involve significant risks in terms of:
    • public protection (e.g. food safety, animal health, access to medicines)
    • environmental protection (e.g. chemicals regulation)
    • jobs, prosperity and the economy (e.g. enabling trade, farm support).

The Welsh Government is setting up effective monitoring across departments and centrally to ensure these risks are managed.

Welsh Government work and engagement with UK government

  1. The Welsh Government is working to secure much stronger, structured engagement and joint working with the UK government as a whole and Welsh Government officials are seeking to identify and where possible take forward preparedness work internally.
  2. A large volume of correcting subordinate legislation which will need to be enacted before the UK leaves the EU. The UK’s exit from the EU gives rise to an unprecedented volume of work to modify EU-related legislation to seek to ensure that it is operable and that there is legal continuity and certainty on the day after exit day.
  3. Individual Welsh Government departments have been pressing their Whitehall counterparts to share information and to collaborate on their preparedness work programmes with inconsistent results. In parallel, the European Transition Team has been working to try to unlock the sharing of information via the Department for Exiting the European Union. Ultimately, teams with overall responsibility for operational readiness for EU Exit will need to lead on the detailed discussions with UK government policy departments as this is where the responsibility and detailed knowledge lies. The Welsh Government will explore with UK government where there are possibilities to develop preparedness on wider bases, e.g. Wales and England, GB or UK.

Health and social services

  1. Welsh Government officials continue to see a slow but steady engagement with officials at the Department of Health. Positive initial exchanges on the non-contentious areas of organ transplants and public health threats, took place in November 2017. In more challenging areas, such as Reciprocal Healthcare, the WG are not receiving information on the proposed scope and planning scenarios to enable productive discussions to take place with Welsh Ministers. Similarly, little information has been received to date on specific proposed changes to legislation, limiting Welsh Government’s ability to effectively plan the necessary changes.
  2. Many of the Welsh Government policy leads for all key subject areas are in informal dialogue with their policy counterparts in UK government and the other devolved administrations, largely through pre-existing communication channels. However, this work has not yet been developed into a robust and structured UK approach.
  3. For many of the health-related operational readiness elements under consideration, the Welsh Government does not anticipate significant divergence within the UK. Indeed, for many areas continued strong alignment with the other UK administrations is anticipated, e.g. standards related to organ transplants or responding to public health threats. The ongoing lack of detailed planning for alternate scenarios (negotiated or no deal) is hampering Welsh Government’s ability to assess fully the scale of the potential impact of Brexit on the provision of health and care services in Wales. Work is progressing with nominated leads in the NHS and social care organisations to identify the potential impact of and mitigating actions in the key areas of risk arising from Brexit. Notably at this stage this work involves building on the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency analysis of supply chain risks for medicines and vaccines.

Business, energy and industrial strategy

  1. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have recently begun to engage much more substantively with devolved administrations. A regular forum on Brexit issues takes place between BEIS and the devolved administrations. More specifically, there has also been an additional meeting to scope out areas of shared interest to BEIS and the devolved administrations in relation to Operational Readiness. Defining these areas and building trust on information sharing remain challenges for the WG in this area.

Environment and Rural Affairs

  1. Building on the Ministerial engagement between the Welsh Government and UK and devolved administration counterparts there has been detailed engagement with Defra on readiness work. This was discussed at the last Ministerial Quadrilateral meeting in February. Defra have shared the headline summaries of their day one readiness projects, and more detailed programme plans behind some of these with Welsh Government officials.
  2. These day one readiness projects fall under 3 main areas. First, putting in place systems to facilitate ongoing trade with the EU when the UK is no longer part of the Single Market, including the development of major new IT systems e.g. for tracing trade in high risk animal, plant and food product imports. Secondly, to replace systems currently run at EU level and ensure UK level delivery both for regulatory assessment (e.g. of chemicals, pesticides, food) and physical infrastructure (e.g. vaccine banks). Thirdly, to put in place UK specific policy and delivery frameworks to replace the Common Agriculture Policy and Common Fisheries Policy. Defra have been working intensively on these for the past year, including committing significant resources to new IT build.
  3. The Welsh Government has assigned leads for each of these projects and they are engaging with Defra to understand the detail of these projects and ensure Welsh interests are taken into account. The Welsh Government does not have the capability (e.g. on IT build or technical scientific assessment) to put in place stand alone Welsh systems for these projects.
  4. In parallel, the Ministerial Quadrilateral has commissioned work on joint decision making which would underpin work on operational readiness and the work on UK-wide frameworks.

Other areas

  1. In general, engagement in other areas of the Welsh Government is less developed, though it is worth noting that there has been an initial meeting of the HMRC Welsh Ports and Airports Border Planning Steering Group looking at operational issues.

Conclusion

  1. Significant coordination between the UK government and the Welsh Government is essential to ensure preparedness for exit. Wales cannot achieve a successful exit without meaningful UK engagement and we recognise the UK government has overarching responsibility for the UK’s overall preparedness.
  2. There may be some areas where it may be the pragmatic and sensible option to consider what preparedness issues can be addressed by identifying joint UK, GB or England-Wales solutions. There will be cases where it will not be possible or desirable to put in place stand-alone Welsh arrangement and others, where to do so would be very a demanding and resource intensive task, with substantial ongoing costs and a risk to delivering other Welsh Government priorities. Engaging in wider UK, GB or England and Wales solutions will require the establishment of appropriate decision making processes and dispute resolution aspects to protect Welsh Ministers’ responsibilities and similar issues have been highlighted for UK frameworks.
  3. Welsh Government officials continue to work internally on preparedness and to push the UK government for greater collaborative working and engagement. In this context, this meeting is an opportunity to:
    1. consider how we can try to gain stronger, structured engagement and joint work with the UK government on the preparedness work, both at a portfolio level, and through the overall JMC process; and
    2. discuss the need and issues around joining in wider UK, GB or England and Wales preparedness solutions on particular issues.

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