Changes needed before Welsh Government can support draft Brexit deal

(Title Image: UN Human Rights Blog)

In the first proper discussion on the draft Brexit agreement in the Senedd, the First Minister this afternoon outlined the Welsh Government’s position and what needs to change.

A debate and vote in the Assembly on the draft agreement – which will have no constitutional weight but will be symbolically important – is set to take place either next week or the week after. One unconfirmed rumour is that it might take place in an extraordinary plenary session next Thursday (29th November).

“The worst political crisis I have seen”

From the outset, the First Minister said the furore surrounding the draft agreement was “the worst political crisis I have seen”, with hardline Brexiteers in the Tory party seeking to enforce a “no deal Brexit” by wanting to trigger a leadership election.

There were many parts of the draft agreement the First Minister approved of: a secure transition period, reciprocal protection for EU and UK citizens rights and recognising the importance of the Good Friday Agreement and preventing a “hard border” between the north and Republic of Ireland.

He later outlined what needed to change in order to secure Welsh Government support, namely a long-term customs union:

“Listen to business”

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) was disappointed with the tone of the statement and said that while the First Minister was calling on the UK Government to listen to business and others affected, perhaps he needs to reconsider.

“Indeed, he (the First Minister) will also be aware of the views of the chief executive of Aston Martin, Andy Palmer, who has said that the draft Brexit deal was ‘good enough’. Therefore, perhaps it’s the First Minister who needs to listen to the views of the business community, which has made it clear that Labour should work with business, not seek to control it.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies

Paul Davies did, however, accept some ambiguity on certain details such as fisheries, the long-term vision for farming and the potential impact of Brexit on Welsh ports.

The First Minister thought longevity was the key problem as it could just lead to the same uncertainty in December 2020 (when the transition period ends). We need to know the long-term relationship between the UK and EU.

“At best naive and at worst reckless”

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr), noted the absence of any mention of Wales in the withdrawal agreement, but with the repeal vote on the Continuity Bill coming up later in the afternoon he was unwilling to let the Welsh Government off the hook despite his party’s rejection of the draft agreement.

“….surely the Welsh Government’s decision to place its trust in the Westminster Government in handing over our powers to them is at best naive and at worst reckless. Can the First Minister explain….the timing, not just in the light of the case that is before the Supreme Court but also the simple fact that the UK Government may collapse in the next few weeks? Therefore, why not postpone this decision to see how things develop, as he said, at this time of the greatest political crisis probably in our lifetime?”
– Adam Price AM

Echoing his answer in First Minister’s Questions, the First Minister said that the repeal of the Continuity Bill is part of the inter-governmental agreement and it was essential to keep it in good faith.

“First of all, I also want to reiterate how shameful it is that Wales has not been consulted meaningfully on the withdrawal agreement. It’s not good enough, as the Finance Secretary said yesterday, just to listen to what we say and then go away and we hear no more. The last of Labour’s six tests is: does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK? And, it certainly does not.”
– Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North)

Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) warned that “non-regression clauses” (which essentially say that things will remain the same as they are now) are unenforceable and he had particular concerns over what this would mean for workers’ rights, and Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) made a similar point with equalities. The First Minister reassured him that the Welsh Government would resist any attempt to dilute those rights.