Minister failing to ensure “Welsh democracy is safeguarded” in crucial post-Brexit Trade Bill

(Title Image: Senedd Cymru)

Constitutional Affairs & Justice Committee
UK Trade Bill Legislative Consent Motion (pdf)
Published: 30th July 2020

  • Committee criticises “unsatisfactory levels of engagement” between the Welsh and UK governments over crucial Brexit law.
  • International Affairs Minister has had no specific discussions on the breadth of the UK Government’s ability to make regulations in devolved policy areas as part of the Bill.
  • As things stand, UK Ministers can change the Government of Wales Act 2006 via regulations for a period of five years, which can be extended for another five years without permission.
  • Committee calls for amendments which require explicit consent from the Welsh Government before powers in devolved areas are used.

“The Bill, once enacted, will have significant and potentially long-term implications for….agriculture, fisheries, health and manufacturing. We acknowledge that the negotiation of UK-wide trade agreements remains a power reserved to the UK Government. However, the Welsh Government will be responsible for implementing those trade agreements in devolved areas in Wales, and we do not believe that non-binding intergovernmental agreements are an effective way to safeguard Welsh interests. In our view, this is a high risk and flawed approach”.
– Committee Chair, Mick Antoniw MS (Lab, Pontypridd)

Committee prods Minister to properly engage with crucial Trade Bill

While the Welsh Government has assured the Committee that Welsh interests will be properly reflected in the Trade Bill, the Committee wasn’t happy with what they describe as “disappointing” and “unsatisfactory” work on the part of International Affairs & Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales).

In a foreshadowing of the UK’s Internal Market Bill, the Committee expected discussions with the UK Government to take place given that – as things stand – Whitehall won’t need to consult the Welsh Government before making regulations in devolved policy areas. While there are plenty of non-binding agreements, the Committee believes the Minister has placed far too much faith in that at the expense of ensuring proper scrutiny on future trade matters in the Senedd.

At present, the power is there for five years before a sunset clause kicks in. However, the UK Government can extend this power for a further five years without consulting the Senedd.

The Committee called for amendments to the Bill to ensure the UK Government can’t unilaterally make regulations which amend the Government of Wales Act 2006 – the law which underpins devolution.

Vocal disagreements, but quiet compliance

While the International Affairs Minister was picked out for her own lack of engagement, the Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath), has been vocally critical of the lack of serious engagement on the UK Government’s part.

That said, the Committee posed the question that if the Welsh Government were so concerned about levels of engagement and a “failure to respect the position of the devolved administrations”, why were they so willing to enter into so many non-binding agreements with them?

The Committee added that the Trade Remedies Authority – created in the Bill to provide advice and assistance to the UK Government on international trade issues – will not be obligated to provide the same advice to the devolved governments, a situation they describe as “not satisfactory”.

As things stand, the Senedd is currently required to approve the LCM by 1st October 2020.

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