The EU referendum and Wales

Published 16/05/2016   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

Article by Gregg Jones and Robin Wilkinson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

This article is taken from Key issues for the Fifth Assembly’, published on 12 May 2016.

What will the outcome of the EU referendum mean for Wales and the Assembly?

On 23 June 2016 the UK will vote in a referendum to decide whether to leave or remain in the European Union. What does this referendum mean to Wales and how the Fifth Assembly engages in EU affairs?

Implications of remain

A remain vote would see the New Settlement for the UK in the EU, negotiated by the Prime Minister in February 2016 come into force. The so-called ‘red card’ for national parliaments to veto planned EU legislation is an aspect of the new settlement with particular relevance to the Assembly. The Fourth Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee wrote to David Lidington, the Minister for Europe, in March 2016 calling for reflection on how the UK’s devolved legislatures’ interests would be taken into account in this system. The Fifth Assembly may wish to pursue this matter further in early discussions with the UK Parliament, the other devolved legislatures and the UK Government. Remain would mean continuing the interplay between Wales and the EU on subjects devolved to Wales and other related matters. This is of particular relevance for agriculture and rural affairs, including animal welfare and food safety, as well as environmental policy, fisheries, energy, education and health. Similarly the Welsh Structural Funds programmes, funding from the Common Agricultural Policy, and scope for Welsh participation in the various EU programmes such as Horizon 2020, Territorial Co-operation, and Erasmus+ would remain unaffected, as would Welsh interaction with the European Investment Bank. The Welsh Government would continue to have responsibility for transposing EU legislation within areas devolved to Wales, and liability for any transgressions in these areas. Within the Assembly itself, there would likely be discussions in the weeks following the referendum as to whether EU affairs should continue to be mainstreamed – as in the Fourth Assembly – or whether a specialist EU committee should be established to scrutinise these issues.

Implications of leave

The first step, to make the vote effective, would be for the UK Government to notify the European Council of its intention to leave in order for the process set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union to come into effect. This Article sets out a two-year timeframe within which a withdrawal agreement is to be negotiated by the UK and the European Council (representing the other 27 Member States). This two-year period can be extended with unanimous agreement of all parties concerned. The devil will be in the detail and it is difficult to state upfront how exactly this would take place, as it would be the first time that a Member State had left the EU. Part of this process would be discussions around the future relationship between the UK and EU post-separation. The decision over this arrangement could have a significant bearing on the shape and outcome of the final settlement agreed, and the impact on Wales. Issues that would need to be addressed in the negotiations, and that would be of particular relevance to Wales, include:

  • the UK’s contribution to the EU budget and to EU funding programmes, including what happens during the current programming period (which runs to 2020), and any ongoing commitments that could run beyond a UK exit;
  • the UK’s future participation in the Single Market and in EU trade negotiations, including application of rules on competition, state aid, public procurement, standards, and consumer protection;
  • the impact on mobility of workers and students, including access to employment and educational opportunities;
  • the status of existing EU law in the UK;
  • withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy and the impact on geographical indicators (such as Welsh lamb and Welsh beef); and
  • the future of UK and Welsh representatives in the EU institutions.

All of these matters would clearly be of interest to Welsh stakeholders. They raise a number of important questions that would need to be addressed, such as:

  • how will the Welsh Government (and the other UK devolved administrations) be involved in the formal negotiation
  • how will Welsh interests be addressed and reflected in the UK Government’s negotiating position;
  • what role will the Assembly (and the other devolved legislatures) play in monitoring and scrutinising how the Welsh Government engages in this process and how the UK Government represents Welsh interests and concerns; and
  • how will the Assembly organise the work of its committees and Plenary business to ensure Members engage effectively in this process.

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee expressed its concerns at the UK Government’s lack of engagement with the Assembly during the EU reform negotiations. The Scottish Parliament raised similar concerns, which suggests that this will be an important area for further discussion should the referendum lead to a Brexit. The Committee also recommended in its Legacy Report the establishment of a dedicated Assembly committee to engage in any withdrawal negotiation process. This issue will no doubt figure in discussions about new committee structures at the beginning of the Fifth Assembly.

Key sources:

Promoted by the National Assembly for Wales Commission, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, CF99 1NA