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10 April 2019
On 5 April the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister met to discuss the First Minister’s priorities for the remainder of this Assembly term, including issues relating to Brexit. This blog post provides an overview of recent statements made by the First Minister on Brexit ahead of the meeting, as well as a summary of the key issues raised.
“Exit day” reaction
The UK was originally due to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. Instead, the date marked the rejection of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons for the third time. In response, First Minister Mark Drakefordtweeted:
This is a farce of the PM’s making, which risks turning into a national tragedy.
MPs must now put country 1st & find a compromise that can command a Commons majority. If this fails, then the only way forward is to take the decision back to the people through a public vote.
No Deal or Revocation of Article 50?
Three days later on 1 April, the second round of indicative votes in the House of Commons failed to find a majority for a way forward. The First Minister tweeted that “we’re veering dangerously close to a catastrophic ‘no deal’”, adding:
Our options continue to narrow. If this deadlock can’t be resolved & Parliament fail to agree a way forward, then the decision should be taken back to the people through a public vote.
The following day during First Minister’s Questions, Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, asked the view of the First Minister on the results of the indicative votes held on 1 April. The First Minister responded that “we face the most serious moment in this whole Brexit journey”. In response to further questioning regarding the choice described by the Prime Minister of facing either a no deal scenario or revocation of Article 50, he said:
Because of the serious impact that a crash-out Brexit would have on people here in Wales, at that point, if I were casting a vote, I would cast it for revocation, because the consequences are so catastrophic for families in Wales. But for me, it would absolutely have to be that we knew we were in that final moment, because the constitutional and political consequences of using that course of action are really very, very profound.
Scrutinising the First Minister
On 5 April the First Minister appeared before the Assembly’s Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister, providing evidence on a number of Brexit issues including extending Article 50, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, implications for the healthcare workforce, and Wales’ voice in the negotiations.
Extending Article 50
On the morning of the Committee meeting, the Prime Minister wrote to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, requesting a further extension of Article 50 negotiation period to 30June 2019. Confirming that he had read the letter, the First Minister explained that both a short extension and holding European Parliament elections looks like “the worst of both worlds”. According to the First Minister, the “flextension” suggestion put forward by Donald Tusk whereby the UK could leave at a point when it is ready during a longer extension, would at least not create another cliff-edge.
Post-Brexit funding for Wales
The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is due to replace EU Structural Funds for Wales after Brexit. The First Minister confirmed that Welsh Government had not yet seen any detail of the UK Government’s proposals, despite promises from the UK Government to consult on these by the end of 2018. He explained that to keep Wales’ level of funding the same as it is now, the approach used to calculate funding must be based on need rather than on the basis of the population-based Barnett formula. The possibility that Wales may lose funding to other areas of the UK is one of the First Minister’s “biggest fears”. The level of devolution of the fund to the Welsh Government is also still unclear, with the Secretary of State for Wales, in a recent letter to the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, failing to confirm whether funding will come directly to the Welsh Government.
Brexit and the healthcare workforce
On the implications of Brexit for healthcare in Wales, the First Minister recognised the workforce challenge of recruiting and retaining NHS and social care staff who are EU nationals. The EU has a system of mutual recognition for professional qualifications, but the UK will be outside this after Brexit. The First Minister also explained that the UK Government’s proposed introduction of categories of high/low skilled jobs with a £30,000 salary threshold “doesn’t work for Wales or for the health service”. He said:
The UK’s proposals on migration simply compounds the difficulties that Brexit creates rather than helping to solve them.
The First Minister confirmed that Wales will be able to recruit from other parts of the world and intends to expand its recruitment plans. He also confirmed that Welsh Government has used its EU Transition Fund to try and reach EU citizens living in Wales who are less likely to follow the Brexit debate to offer extra help with new immigration rules.
Representing Wales in the negotiations
The First Minister reported that he has done his best to “faithfully represent” the views of the Assembly in discussions with the Prime Minister and will continue to do so in future. He confirmed that the current situation may require the Assembly to be recalled during Easter recess; either if the possibility of ‘no deal’ on 12 April becomes reality, or if a deal is agreed and a Withdrawal Agreement Bill to implement the deal in domestic law is subsequently introduced in Parliament.
The First Minister said that the devolved legislatures have a role to play in such a Bill’s legislative process, and the timings must respect that.
Article by Sara Moran, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales