28 January 2019
With two months until the UK leaves the EU, on Tuesday 29 January the Assembly will debate the reports of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee (‘the Committee’) on Preparing for Brexit – a look at key sectors. The Committee published three reports at the end of 2018, focussing on ports; healthcare and medicines; and the food and drink sector. These build on the Committee’s earlier report on how the Welsh Government is preparing for Brexit, (PDF, 744KB) which was published in February 2018.
Preparedness of Welsh ports
Following the Committee’s 2017 inquiry into the implications of Brexit for Welsh seaports, this follow-up report on preparedness of Welsh ports considered implications for Cardiff Airport in addition to seaport and freight issues.
The EU plays a key role in aviation, maritime and road transport. However, the extent to which wider international law provides a post-Brexit fall-back for these modes of transport varies. While the maritime sector is largely liberalised at a global level, international law provides a more limited alternative for road haulage and aviation (see our recent blog post UK-EU Future Relationship: transport).
The political declaration published on 22 November 2018 addresses aviation, road, rail and maritime transport – including a commitment to a comprehensive aviation agreement and measures to facilitate the flow of people and goods.
However, despite the UK Government’s publication of no deal guidance in autumn 2018, as well as contingency plans published by the EU and also the Irish Government, the impact of a no-deal Brexit for Welsh ports and their users remains uncertain.
The Committee’s seven recommendations addressed key issues in relation to:
- Capacity and infrastructure at Welsh ports – the Committee called on the Welsh Government to publish its contingency plan for port traffic;
- Future customs arrangements – two recommendations, one addressing support for Welsh companies trading internationally to transition to future customs arrangements, and a second seeking the Welsh Government’s views on the Northern Irish backstop;
- The implications of no-deal – recommending the Welsh Government improve communications with ports and their stakeholders on no deal preparations;
- Technical solutions for future customs arrangements – the Committee sought an update on discussions with the UK Government on IT systems;
- Road haulage permits required post-Brexit – recommending the Welsh Government work with stakeholders to ensure they can access permits; and
- Future environmental regulation – the Committee recommended that the Welsh Government outline whether it intends to change its approach post-Brexit.
While the Welsh Government response accepted all seven recommendations, on the first recommendation – to publish its port highway contingency plan – it commented:
It would not be possible to publish at this stage options for managing traffic relating to Holyhead given the potential for commercial sensitivity.
The response does not explain why traffic management options are commercially sensitive – particularly given some operational detail not provided in the Government’s response appeared in the media before the response was received. However, the Minister for Economy and Infrastructure’s 22 January statement to Plenary on the implications of “no deal” Brexit for transport did address planning arrangements for ports, providing some further detail.
Preparedness of the healthcare and medicines sector
During the initial inquiry into Brexit Preparedness, the Committee heard many concerns about the impact of Brexit on the healthcare and medicines sector and the need for a stronger steer from the Welsh Government about how they should be preparing.
The Committee published its follow-up work on the preparedness of the healthcare and medicines sector in Wales (PDF, 215KB) on 3 December 2018.
The Committee’s recommendations addressed issues relating to:
- Communication with the sector – the Committee called on the Welsh Government to provide assurance that Brexit-related risks and preparedness plans will be communicated with all levels of the health and social care sector in the run-up to exit day.
- The supply of medicines – the Committee asked the Welsh Government to outline details of its discussions with the UK Government on the coordination of its Brexit preparedness and the work underway to ensure that there is sufficient warehouse capacity to meet any potential stockpiling requirements.
- Mutual recognition of standards and reciprocal arrangements – the Committee made two recommendations, one asking the Welsh Government to outline how it is pressing the UK Government for continued regulatory cooperation between the UK and the EU in terms of access to medicines and clinical research after Brexit, and a second recommending that the Welsh Government calls on the UK Government to guarantee continuing access to medical radioisotopes after Brexit.
- The workforce – the Committee requested that the Welsh Government outlines details of its timescales for completing its research on the implications of Brexit for the social care sector including how it intends to ensure that its findings can be considered. The Committee also asked the Welsh Government to provide an update on its plans for recruiting and retaining health and social care staff after Brexit.
The Welsh Government accepted the Committee’s five recommendations (PDF 529KB) saying:
- Communication with the sector – the Chief Executive of the NHS in Wales and the Director of Social Services in Wales write to chief executives and directors of health and social services across local authorities as and when required to update on developments and to highlight areas which require actions to be taken in preparation for Brexit. The Welsh Government is also working with stakeholder organisations to help ensure a “clear, coordinated communications approach”, including through four main stakeholder groups.
- The supply of medicines – Wales will be part of a UK-wide approach to ensuring continuity of supply of medicines and medical devices. Welsh Government officials have regular engagement with the UK Department of Health and Social Care “to review progress and assess the adequacy of arrangements”. At the moment, it is not advising health and social care providers in Wales to stockpile medicines and medical devices.
- Mutual recognition of standards and reciprocal arrangements – the Welsh Government outlined the legislative measures that have been taken to ensure access to reciprocal healthcare rights as well as continued regulatory cooperation between the UK and EU after Brexit. With regards to access to radioisotopes, Welsh Government have been liaising with the UK Government and “discussions are ongoing”.
- The workforce – the Welsh Government has commissioned research on the social care and child care workforce “to understand the contribution of non-UK EU workers and identify any vulnerabilities which might exist if recruitment and retention of EU workers is negatively by the UK Government’s migration policy on leaving the EU”, which will be published in March. Plans are also underway for a “recruitment and retention campaign”.
The Minister for Health and Health Services’ statement to Plenary on 22 January provides further information on the Welsh Government’s activity “to mitigate some of the substantial and known risks of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.”
Preparedness of the food and drink sector
The food and drink sector is one of the most highly integrated across the EU with supply chains spanning the Single Market (often on a just-in-time basis), free movement of labour and alignment of regulatory standards. Current free trade arrangements between the UK and the EU are particularly important for lamb exporters as around a third of all Welsh lamb is exported to the EU.
A number of Welsh producers also participate in the EU’s Protected Food Name Scheme (i.e. Geographical Indications, or “GIs”), however the UK Government is planning for a new UK GI scheme after Brexit (see our blog post on protected food names).
The Committee made three recommendations (PDF 185KB):
- Post-Brexit food and drink strategy – The Welsh Government is currently updating its strategy and the Committee recommended that the new strategy should promote more export of Welsh products to non-EU countries.
- Geographical Indications – The Committee asked the Welsh Government to set out its discussions with the UK Government on establishing a new UK scheme after Brexit, and whether it had raised concerns over the limited consultation time period (4 October to 1 November).
- Mitigating the effects of a no-deal Brexit on food supplies – The Committee requested that the Welsh Government outline details of work underway to support business to mitigate the effects of a no-deal Brexit on food supplies.
The Welsh Government accepted the recommendations (PDF 214KB) saying:
- Post-Brexit food and drink strategy – The new approach will include support for exporters and the Welsh Government will continue to lobby the UK Government for the most advantageous outcome for Wales in trade negotiations.
- Geographical Indications – The Welsh Government worked with the UK Government to develop and promote the consultation on the new UK GI scheme and has no concerns over the timescales involved. The Welsh Government is ‘reasonably confident’ that Welsh products with EU GI status will be able to retain this status after Brexit.
- Mitigating the effects of a no-deal Brexit on food supplies – Large retailers are confident they can maintain food supplies in a no-deal Brexit scenario ‘although choice of some fresh produce may be more limited for a period’. The Welsh Government is working with the UK Government to emphasise the importance of import checks at ports and road haulage logistics within the UK for food supply to Wales. The Welsh Government has also established a number of initiatives to provide support to businesses.
The Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs’ 22 January statement to Plenary on the implications of a no-deal Brexit for her portfolio provides further information on the Welsh Government’s activity in this area.