Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs
The result of the European Union membership referendum will have reverberations across the country for years to come. There is uncertainty as we wait for the next Prime Minister to trigger the negotiations on the terms of UK withdrawal and our future relationship with the European Union. The result has a very significant impact on the Environment and Rural Affairs portfolio. The Welsh Government’s priority is to protect the interests of Wales and the First Minister has set out the Welsh Government’s 6 key priorities arising from these changed circumstances.
Agriculture, fisheries, animal health, protection of the natural environment and biodiversity are fundamentally wired into European policies with legislation and funding. On 4th July, the First Minister and I met with stakeholders to discuss what our priorities should be in the negotiations ahead and for the policies that may emerge following the UK’s exit. The devolution settlement had given us significant control over our policies and actions in these areas and we must design solutions for the Welsh context.
Many stakeholders are seeking reassurance in relation to funding. The Common Agricultural Policy alone was to bring €2.6bn to Wales for the 2014 – 2020 programme period and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund a further €14.7m. The First Minister has clearly stated we will press during the negotiations for continuity in all the major EU programmes until the end of 2020 and for continued access to EU markets.
Pillar 1 of the CAP (direct payments to farmers and land managers) is an annual scheme and will continue on an annual basis until the UK’s exit becomes final. We will know that date in advance and I will inform stakeholders in order they have time to plan.
The Rural Development Programme (Pillar 2) is more complex. The First Minister has sought assurances from the Prime Minister that whenever the EU funds cease, an equivalent amount will be given to the Welsh Government to allow continuity in the planned Programme. To date, he has not received that assurance, therefore, there is uncertainty as to our future funding streams. Anyone currently holding a contract can be assured Welsh Government will honour it. Where stakeholders are applying for a scheme that is in progress, we advise them to continue with the process. Where their project will complete in a relatively short timescale, we will be more confident of being able to fund it. However, where a project extends beyond 2018, we now have to delay the decision until we are sure of our future funding. This affects our Glastir 2017 applicants, since their contracts would run until 2021. We are pausing work on these but will update stakeholders when we receive further information from the UK Government.
I must emphasise we are still in the EU and all the rules, regulations and penalties that applied on 23 June still apply today and will continue to apply for the foreseeable future.
The process of preparing to leave the European Union is complex and we do not have all the information we need. We have the assurances of the Prime Minister the Welsh Government will be involved in negotiations and we need to be fully informed to be able to fully participate in that process. We have a strong track record in representing our stakeholders’ interests in Europe and we will continue to do so.
Monday’s was the first of a series of meetings I intend to hold across the sectors to hear at first hand from stakeholders and representative organisations of their concerns and their ideas. Although the seriousness of this situation should not be understated, it also brings opportunities for us to look fundamentally at why and how we do what we do. The stakeholders we met showed great willingness to work together for positive outcomes and this collaborative approach will be our hallmark as we prepare for this changed future. We agreed to hold a further meeting during the Royal Welsh Show. There was a real commitment in the room for developing policies together that will be best for Wales for the future. I firmly intend to build on that positive foundation.