Mark Drakeford, Cabinet Secretary for Finance
On 12 December I attended the Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiation) in London. The JMC (EN) was chaired by the First Secretary of State. The communique is attached.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union gave an account of the negotiations which concluded with an agreement on Phase 1 of talks. The UK Government is confident that the European Council will agree later this week that “sufficient progress”, as determined by the EU negotiating brief, has been made and that the way is clear for phase 2 talks to begin. The terms of the phase 1 agreement have been widely reported and the Welsh Government’s general response was detailed in the First Minister’s Written Statement to this Assembly earlier this week.
I repeated the Welsh Government’s welcome for the progress made on Phase 1. I noted that the Welsh Government is particularly pleased by the commitments both to retain the soft land border in Ireland while also preserving common arrangements across the whole of the United Kingdom. We have been clear throughout that no arrangements should be agreed which disadvantage Welsh ports and transit routes to Ireland relative to those in other parts of the UK.
I emphasised that the Welsh Government remains committed to retaining full and unfettered participation in to the Single Market and to remaining part of a Customs Union with the EU. We believe that this is the clearest, most advantageous and rational way to secure the interests of business in Wales and the UK as a whole. We believe that the strength of this case, which we have made consistently since the publication of our White Paper Securing Wales’ Future, is underscored by the position agreed to by the UK Government in Phase 1.
The Welsh Government is pleased that both the UK and the EU accept the rationale for a transition period after the UK’s formal exit from the EU. Again, this is a position we have argued for consistently, although we think it is a mistake to constraint this artificially to a two year period. We believe, based on available evidence, that detailed trade talks will take longer and that creating as much certainty for business as possible is what should drive the transition period. We further believe that the UK risks being placed in a disadvantageous position in negotiations if it is tied an inflexible transition date.
Phase 2 of negotiations will determine the future relationship of the UK Government with the EU. The powers devolved to the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales are deeply embedded in these discussions and we are absolutely clear that devolved administrations must be fully engaged in the preparation of UK negotiating positions and the negotiations themselves. This is vital both for the proper and respectful representation of devolved issues but also so that the EU can be assured that the UK negotiating team is fully representative of the interest of the whole UK (we saw last week why this is so vital). I believe that the existing JMC (E) mechanism offers a template which could usefully be followed. Further discussions will be held at official level to take forward the matter of how devolved administrations can best be integrated into negotiations.
Following a meeting last week with the Minister for Immigration, I outlined the Welsh Government’s position on EU migration, which we see as essential to our economy. Our position is that the needs of the economy should drive policy and that mobility within Europe linked to employment is in Wales’ interests.
Progress has been made on UK Frameworks, and I welcomed this. Core principles have been agreed and officials have done useful scoping work. I registered concern, in the light of some suggestions about differential approaches for Northern Ireland, that this approach can only work if it is underpinned by a shared commitment from all administrations to regard frameworks as binding over the longer term. Agreeing governance processes for implementing, reviewing and updating frameworks is a crucial part of the work which now needs to happen.
Finally, I was clear that the Welsh Government cannot recommend that the National Assembly gives legislative consent to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill unless issues surrounding the devolved powers of the Welsh Government and National Assembly for Wales are resolved in amendments which should be agreed before the Bill leaves the House of Commons. The UK Government agreed there should be further specific discussion at official level around potential solutions.