Mark Drakeford, Cabinet Secretary for Finance
Members will be aware that the European Council meeting on 17 October was intended to agree the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU 27 and set the terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Despite it appearing there was a deal on the table that was acceptable to both negotiating teams, this was not deemed acceptable at political level within the UK Government.
As has been widely reported there remain significant differences between the UK Government and the EU on proposals to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland, the so called “backstop”. Despite calls from the EU for new concrete proposals from the UK Government following the failure to agree in the run up the Council, the Prime Minister seems to have reiterated the UK’s position rather than to have shown the necessary flexibility to reach agreement.
This further delay in finalising the Withdrawal Agreement is unnecessary and potentially very damaging. Without the Withdrawal Agreement in place, there is no certainty of the transition period and this is clearly impacting on business confidence and investment. If the UK Government had adopted the blueprint to negotiations the Welsh Government set out over 18 months ago, there would be no need for a backstop and they could have made substantial progress on the future partnership with the EU as well as having finalised the Withdrawal Agreement.
We continue to press the UK Government, through my role on the Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiations) and the role of the Minister for Housing and Regeneration on the Ministerial Forum, to show the flexibility necessary to reach agreement with the EU. We have been clear the agreement needs to be one that safeguards the economy and jobs as set out in Securing Wales’s Future.
Given the complexity of the detailed negotiations that will be required, I have also stressed the need for sufficient flexibility on the length of the transition period. While it is encouraging that there is finally some recognition of the flexibility that could be required, yet again we see divisions within the UK Government with the Prime Minister trying to appease those that are actively working towards the no deal exit.
We have been absolutely clear that no deal would be catastrophic to Wales and the whole UK. It must be avoided. Delays in reaching the right deal with the EU only increase the risk of a no deal. With each additional day of uncertainty, more investments and jobs are being put at risk. The Prime Minister needs to face down the hard line brexiteers and agree a deal with the EU so this can be put to the Parliaments of the UK.
I will continue to update the National Assembly as the negotiations progress.