The First Minister for Wales, Rt Hon Carwyn Jones, will update the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee on the UK’s Withdrawal from the European Union and the Welsh Government’s response, on 5 November 2018.
The Research Service’s latest Brexit Monitoring Report provides detail on the progress of the negotiations up to 11 October 2018. This blog provides a quick update on what’s happened since then.
EU Council Summit
The most significant event in the ongoing negotiations since 11 October was the EU Council summit held on 17-18 October, during which the heads of all the EU Member States met to discuss Brexit, amongst other matters.
On 18 October, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk made a statement indicating that ‘not enough progress has been made’ to achieve an agreement and that he would be ready to ‘convene a European Council on Brexit, if and when the EU negotiator reports that decisive progress has been made’.
On 22 October, having restated that 95 per cent of the Withdrawal Agreement is now settled, up from the 80 per cent figure quoted in Summer 2018, the UK Prime Minister, Rt Hon Theresa May, provided an update on the outstanding 5 per cent – an agreement on the Irish border. She reported:
[We must make the commitment to] create an option to extend the implementation period as an alternative to the backstop. I have not committed to extending the implementation period. I do not want to extend the implementation period, and I do not believe that extending it will be necessary. What I am saying is that if, at the end of 2020, our future relationship is not quite ready, the proposal is that the UK would be able to make a sovereign choice between the UK-wide customs backstop or a short extension of the implementation period.
Donald Tusk’s statement also highlighted the possibility that:
[…] if the UK decided that an extension of the transition period would be helpful to reach a deal, I am sure that the leaders would be ready to consider it positively.
On 22 October, the Welsh Government’s European Advisory Group published the minutes for its meeting held on 20 September. These minutes highlight that a short extension of the implementation period would be in line with the Group’s call ‘for the UK to request that the EU offers more flexibility regarding timings to secure a mutually beneficial deal between the UK and the EU’. This was reiterated by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Mark Drakeford, in a statement the same day.
There had been speculation prior to the meeting that a special EU Council meeting would be called in November to finalise the Withdrawal Agreement and the associated, non-binding, Political Declaration on the Future EU-UK relationship. It is uncertain whether or not this November meeting will go ahead. However, in a letter dated 24 October, Dominic Raab, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, indicated that he is:
[…] happy to give evidence to the [House of Commons, Exiting the EU] Committee when a deal [on the Withdrawal Agreement] is finalised, and currently expect 21 November to be suitable.
The Welsh Government’s position
During the evidence session on 17 September, at which the First Minister appeared before the Committee, he indicated that there was a lack of engagement by the UK Government with the Welsh Government. He said:
I think part of the problem is that there are elements in the UK Government that don’t see the devolved governments as equals and don’t understand the idea of a discussion with devolved governments…it is hugely important the UK Government understands that, in many areas, devolution operates, and therefore they will need our input into how the common rulebook will function in the future.
Giving evidence to the Committee on 11 October, Robin Walker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union stated:
We want to ensure that we've taken on board the views of the devolved administrations, […] but it's not a situation in which, politically, they can necessarily drive the UK position on these issues more broadly, and that's the nature of the discussions we sometimes have to have in these forums: to explain where we agree, where we disagree, where there is important information we can take on board, but also where we may not reach agreement.
A fifth meeting of the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit was held in the National Assembly for Wales on 25 October. Following the meeting, a joint statement was issued reasserting in relation to intergovernmental arrangements that ‘the consensus view of committees is that the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) mechanism is not fit for purpose’. However, Robin Walker MP did not concede to Welsh Government’s proposal for a Council of Ministers, stating that additional work streams have been created:
I think we've also recognised […] that there needs to be additional machinery to support this process, and the ministerial forum on EU negotiations […] has been set up with the specific aim of reporting back to JMC(EN) on upcoming negotiations on the future relationship.
More recently, the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething AM, and his Scottish Counterpart, Jeane Freeman MSP, wrote a joint letter to the UK Minister for Immigration, Caroline Nokes MP. In that letter they ask the UK Government to reconsider its decision not to include family members in its EU Settlement Scheme and offer to host a pilot of doing so in Wales and Scotland. They said that if the UK Government did not do so ‘we would not feel comfortable actively promoting the scheme to health and social care staff in Wales and Scotland’.
The letter also reports:
[…] earlier ministerial engagement would have provided a more timely opportunity to discuss and agree matters such as including family members in the [EU settlement scheme] while still in its planning stages.
For more information on the extent the Welsh Government has been able to influence the UK Government’s views on Brexit so far, see the Research Service’s recent article on the topic.
Negotiations are currently ongoing to find a solution on the Irish border issue. The next meeting of the European Council is scheduled for 13-14 December, which has been suggested as a workable date to sign off the Withdrawal Agreement with enough time for it to be ratified by the UK and EU Parliaments.
For an estimated Brexit timeline for the coming months, see the Research Service’s recently published infographic. To stay up to date with what the Assembly is doing in relation to Brexit, you can follow the new Brexit and Wales webpage.
Article by Gethin Davies, National Assembly for Wales