|Alun Davies AC|
|David Melding AC|
|David Rees AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Delyth Jewell AC|
|Huw Irranca-Davies AC|
|Mandy Jones AC|
|Des Clifford||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Dr Robert Parry||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Mark Drakeford AC||Prif Weinidog Cymru|
|First Minister of Wales|
|Aled Evans||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Claire Fiddes||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Sesiwn graffu ar waith y Prif Weinidog||2. Scrutiny session with the First Minister|
|3. Papurau i’w nodi||3. Papers to note|
|4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:29.
The meeting began at 13:29.
Good afternoon. Can I welcome Members and the public to this afternoon's meeting of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee? Before we get on with the main agenda, can I continue with some of the housekeeping rules? There are no scheduled fire alarms today, so if one does take place, please follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location. The meeting is bilingual. If you require simultaneous translation from Welsh to English, that's available on the headphone sets via channel 1. If you require amplification, that's available also on the headphone set, but that's channel 0. Please turn your mobile phones off or on silent, and any other equipment that may interfere with the broadcasting equipment. There are no substitutions today needed. We have a full complement. Does any Member wish to declare an interest at this point in time?
Now we move on to the next item of business, which is the scrutiny session with the First Minister. Can I welcome the First Minister to this afternoon's meeting? Can I also thank him for agreeing to the rescheduling of it based upon the general election that took place? It was important that we had an opportunity to discuss things in a situation where we knew what the future was like, rather than anticipating what an outcome would be. So, I welcome Mark Drakeford. Would you like to introduce your officials for the record, First Minister?
Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Gyda fi y prynhawn yma: Des Clifford, sy'n bennaeth adran y Prif Weinidog, a Rob Parry, sy'n gweithio ar ochr polisi Brexit.
Thank you very much, Chair. This afternoon I have: Des Clifford, who is the head of the First Minister's office, and Rob Parry, who works on the Brexit policy side.
First Minister, happy new year to you. There's been a lot of water under the bridge since you were last in front of the committee, not least with the general election. I think there'll be a lot of detailed questions today, but I think one of the things we're really trying to understand from today's session is where your take is of where we are now with the withdrawal agreement, with the way forward. Do we have something that looks like a way forward that the Welsh Government can engage with, with the new Prime Minister, can engage with the new Brexit team there, and that we can actually work constructively forward? Or are we still in something of an impasse?
Well, I suppose, Chair, that the single most important change since we last met is the new Government. The United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 31 January and then we'll discover that Brexit is anything but done, and we will spend the rest of the year negotiating our future relationship with the European Union. In that sense, the Welsh Government's position is the one that we maintained for most of the period after 2016—that we will be focused once again not on the fact of Brexit, because that will be accomplished, but on the form of Brexit. The fact that there is a withdrawal agreement and a Bill going through the House of Commons does not for a minute mean that we will have stepped away from our responsibilities to continue to advocate for a form of Brexit that protects the vital interests of Welsh people and the Welsh economy.
And have you spoken to the Prime Minister since the election? And those comments you've just made, are those—if you have spoken with him, has that been the nature of your comments?
Yes, I've had a conversation with the Prime Minister since the election. It was relatively brief, but it did in a general sense cover the major issues that we will be facing over the next 12 months, and of course that did include Brexit.
Have you discussed, going forward, a constructive approach between Wales and the UK in terms of our relationship with the EU post Brexit since the election? I'm trying to ascertain whether there is a will from the UK Government to work constructively with the Welsh Government, and vice versa as well.
Well, the Prime Minister assured me in the call I had with him that he fully respected the devolution settlement and would be approaching his task with that in mind. There is a Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiations) now confirmed for Thursday of this week, so that will be the first substantive opportunity since the election to have direct engagement with UK Ministers. We've had other forms of engagement in the meantime, in terms of letters and so on setting out various positions, but in terms of face-to-face opportunities, there will be one on Thursday. It'll be an important opportunity because it will demonstrate the extent to which the UK Government intends to provide for genuine involvement of the devolved administrations in the agenda that now lies in front of them. We will approach it, as we always do, on a constructive basis. We will start from the basis that the UK Government will wish to do the right thing, and then we will judge events as they unfold.
So, are you in a position to share with us, in broad terms, what you will be putting on the agenda for that JMC? Clearly, it will involve also how Wales will be involved in the future relationship with the EU, but are there more specifics that you can share with us at this point?
Well, Chair, the things that we will be speaking up for will not come as a surprise to members of this committee. We will continue to argue for as full and unfettered access to the single market as can be negotiated the other side of leaving the European Union because, from the Welsh economy's point of view, nothing has changed in our view that being able to trade as freely with our nearest and most important market is vitally important to Wales. We will continue to argue for no diminution in the rights that Welsh citizens have enjoyed as a result of our membership of the European Union. In other words, no stepping away from employment rights, environmental rights, consumer rights, human rights. We will argue for continued participation in major EU programmes. Of course, we won't be in the EU, but there are ways in which third countries can contribute and therefore participate in programmes such as Horizon, or the successor to the Horizon programme, Erasmus+, Creative Europe, interterritorial co-operation programmes. So, the agenda is one that's very familiar to the committee, and we will continue to advocate for it.
That's really helpful. I think you've made clear that what has changed as a result of the general election is the clarity now over the fact that there will be a withdrawal from the EU on a specified date. However, the things that were of concern to the Welsh Government previously are still of concern to it now. Is there anything in addition that now concerns you, since the election—anything that has changed in terms of the withdrawal?
Some of those concerns are newly underlined by the withdrawal agreement because, for example, it steps away from a number of the commitments that the May Government gave, and which we broadly welcomed as being steps in the right direction. So, gone are commitments to dynamic regulatory alignment; gone are some of the commitments to enshrining in domestic legislation employment rights that Mrs May had agreed to.
The two substantive changes that I think we will be focusing on are the new Government's approach to migration—with what the Prime Minister describes as an Australian-style points system. We've yet to see any form of detail on that, and yet we will continue to argue that Welsh businesses, public services, universities, depend upon our ability to recruit people to come from outside Wales to carry out those very important functions. And then, I suppose, the other major change—in fact, the only major change in the withdrawal agreement itself—is the new Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol and the impact that that will have on Wales.
Before you move on, Delyth has a question, obviously related to the relationships and some of the topics we'll still be discussing, on the shared prosperity fund.
Thank you, Chair. Have you had any discussions, First Minister, since the election, with the Prime Minister about the future of the shared prosperity fund? There had been an indication that that would be administered from Westminster. Is that still your understanding?
I've not discussed the shared prosperity fund directly with the Prime Minister. It did get discussed during my call with the new Secretary of State for Wales. I don't think it is as straightforward as being sure that this is to be administered by Westminster. That would be a grave mistake, if the Government at Westminster were to attempt to embark on such a policy. The Secretary of State for Wales assured me that he would be a seeker after consensus and that his approach to relationships with the Welsh Government would be one of discussion, and discussion with the aim of securing agreement between us on these important issues. We didn't go beyond those sort of headline statements of intent, but I certainly signalled up to him that the shared prosperity fund would be a very early test indeed of the new Government's intentions.
Thank you for that answer. With the new Secretary of State, he's said, hasn't he, that he doesn't want to have any petty arguments with the Welsh Government? Is that how you interpret that—that he would want to be an arbiter than, I suppose, an arbitrator?
In the sense I said earlier, Chair—of wanting to start from a point of view where we assume the good intentions of the UK Government, and we only move away from that if events prove that not to be the case—let me say that I felt that the new Secretary of State was going out of his way in that telephone call to say that he looked forward to a constructive relationship with the Welsh Government and that he would be prepared to invest time and energy into making that relationship work.
And, finally, on this point, First Minister, obviously, we hope that this is not the case, but, if the shared prosperity fund were to be administered from Westminster, do you think that that would undermine devolution? What do you think the impact of that would be and have you communicated that to the Secretary of State?
I think that would be a very serious moment in the history of devolution, because if administration of a shared prosperity fund were repatriated to Whitehall—let's be clear that that's what that would mean: the powers in that area currently rest with this National Assembly, so they would be being recovered and repatriated to Westminster—that would be a very important moment. But, equally, it would be a very serious moment in terms of the ability to deliver effective regional economic policy on the ground in Wales. Because, even if you set to one side for a moment, which I definitely wouldn't, the issues of principle and of the devolution settlement, just in sheer practicality terms, Whitehall doesn't have a presence on the ground in Wales 20 years after devolution. It just doesn't have people and offices and capacity here to do the detailed work that delivering regional economic policy requires. So, there would be a very serious implementation deficit, as well as all the concerns that we have about the principles.
Yes. I'm grateful to you for your earlier answers, First Minister, which illuminated a number of the issues I think we're concerned about. We've had the opportunity now to start reading through the legislative consent memorandum that the Government has published around the withdrawal Bill. I think all of us on all sides are always disappointed when a Government cannot propose that we do provide consent—I know that's the position of the Welsh Government as well, and you outline in some detail in paragraphs 52 to 57 the reasons for that. And, I have to say, I agree with the reasoning and the reasons that have been provided in there.
You've explained that you've had a brief telephone conversation with the Prime Minister, that you've had a similar conversation—probably more detailed—with the Secretary of State, and that you've got a JMC on Thursday. I'm wondering to what extent can these matters be resolved through structured negotiation, because the issue that you've touched upon—. You've touched upon a number of issues, but one of the issues you haven't touched upon, which I know is a matter of concern for people on all sides of politics, is that of—I think it's clause 36—parliamentary oversight. That's a fundamental part of our democracy, and putting forward a piece of legislation that removes parliamentary oversight from the activities and decisions of the Executive on any matter would be a bizarre approach to take, but on a matter as important as this it becomes unconstitutional in my view.
So, to what extent are you able to pursue these negotiations? Because I think all of us would prefer, even in the time constraints available to us, a situation whereby there was an agreed LCM placed before this place that could enable us to move forward in agreement with the United Kingdom Government and the United Kingdom Parliament.
So, can I begin, Chair, by disagreeing with that last proposition? The Welsh Government does not look for constitutional brinkmanship. We're not trying to create a situation in which there will be a constitutional fallout over this Bill. So, if we were able to recommend that the National Assembly provided legislative consent, that's what we would like to do.
So, we will pursue the matters set out in the LCM—the memorandum—at the meeting on Thursday, but we will also pursue them through amendments that we hope to have laid in the House of Lords. There will be a meeting this week with Members of the House of Lords, cross-party, who have an interest in Welsh affairs and Welsh matters, in which we will promote a number of amendments that we have drawn up that we think would go a long way to addressing the concerns set out in the LCM, and there will be one in relation to parliamentary oversight. Because, of course, there was a clause in the previous withdrawal Bill that did guarantee parliamentary oversight, and that clause has been withdrawn from the latest version of the Bill. Our amendment would go a bit further than the original clause, because it will seek to enshrine the oversight of devolved administrations, or our essential interests, in that clause as well.
Now, we will pursue those amendments in good faith, because we think there are powerful arguments for all of them, and if they were to succeed, and if the Government were to accept the arguments that we are making, then there would still be an opportunity for us to come back to the Assembly with a different set of conclusions.
Time is terribly short for all of this. This whole process is truncated beyond the point of reasonableness, it seems to me, but we will attempt whatever we can within it. If we can't make progress on these matters, then the position is the one set out in the LCM—that the Welsh Government cannot recommend to the National Assembly that consent should be agreed.
Thank you, First Minister. I was going to come on to the LCM later on; we'll probably come back to that. Before we go back to Huw—and I know that David will want to come in on this as well—
—one question from me is: can you give us an idea as to when the LCM will be debated within the Assembly, because, as you quite rightly pointed out, there is a very tight timescale?
Well, I can give you the working hypothesis, Chair, but it's caveated with all the things that our timetable has to be synchronised with the Westminster timetable, and if that shifts, then ours shifts. But at the moment, the legislative consent motion will be laid on the fourteenth and debated on the twenty first.
As you say in paragraph 52, you're very concerned about the lack of parliamentary oversight on the negotiations for a future relationship with the EU, and I just want to tell you, First Minister, that, on 9 December, the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan, wrote us, and I'm now going to quote this sentence—this is about international agreements, so it's not specifically about the future relationship, but I think it is deeply analogous in principle—and she said:
'It is for the executive branch of government, in light of views expressed by the relevant legislature, to agree negotiating mandates, and to be held to account for those.'
That doesn’t seem to me to be oversight—giving permission as the negotiations go along—so, presumably, you will be speaking to your ministerial colleague and informing her of the current policy position that you've adopted.
Chair, David is right when he said that Eluned was writing to you about a different matter—she wasn't writing to you about the withdrawal agreement Bill, and it is not just the Welsh Government's belief that there should be parliamentary oversight; the last Conservative Government believed that there should be too, because it published a Bill in which that clause was included. So, it’s not just for me to talk to Eluned Morgan, it's for Conservative politicians to ask why the—
I agree that, you know, it's—[Inaudible.]—and my view may be that, but your Minister has a different view.
In relation to future trade agreements, which is what she was writing about—not in relation to the withdrawal agreement.
I see there are some analogies between them, but they are not exact ones. And in relation to this Bill, then we believe that the last Conservative Government had it right and that there should be parliamentary oversight—augmented as we would see it—by entrenching the rights of devolved administrations when we have rights as well.
I only have one other question, Chair, and it's actually to do with the strange situation that we are now in. I think you've put quite lucidly the position that you are not going to stand in the way. You're going to—all things being equal—help to enable what has been the expressed will of the people of the United Kingdom in the referendum, but also expressed through the last general election, which is that we withdraw from the European Union. However, there are some significant—still—remaining issues that have to be dealt with for the good of Wales.
So, my question is this: in the rapid pace that this will now move—. It's to do with communication. How will you communicate to the Assembly and to this committee, in this rapid pace, after the JMC, after further negotiations, at the speed of change, whether things are good or bad? But, as importantly, if not more importantly, how do you explain the Welsh Government's position to the people of Wales? And I'm parking my own views on this for the moment, but how do you explain it to the people of Wales that you're not objecting, putting up these obstacles for the sake of obstacles, and that there's a reason behind this and that you want to—all things being equal and if I'm taking what you're saying—to actually enable the will that's been expressed for withdrawal to now proceed? Because that is tricky and it could impact on the standing of this place and the Welsh Government.
Thank you, Huw. So, in terms of how we will keep the Assembly informed of what will be a rapidly developing picture, then we will try and use all the normal things that we do. I can't imagine there has been a single subject in the whole history of devolution that has not received more airtime in committee, on the floor of the Assembly and in everything we do than Brexit has already. I'm here today and I'm in front of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee next Monday; I think the Counsel General is in front of this committee within the next week or so; there will be statements on the floor of the Assembly; there will be—. All the normal things we will do; we will use them all to make sure that we keep the Assembly as informed as we can.
In relation to how we explain the position we're in to the general public, I've been trying, at a press conference this morning, to answer that question, and I'm trying to do it by boiling it down to the simplest of phrases, really, the fact that Brexit is over. Brexit is going to happen; we are leaving the European Union. The form of Brexit is not over, because having left, all the big decisions about our future trading relationship and other relationships with the European Union are still to be negotiated, and the fact that we have left does not for a minute mean that the Welsh Government, on behalf of people in Wales, does not have a series of views about how the form of Brexit should be agreed, because it will have such a major impact on daily life here in Wales.
First Minister, I wonder if I could just return to the issue of the shared prosperity fund. I thought you were trying to move us on a bit and imply that we're not a million miles away from a way of seeing through this in terms of mutually appropriate levels of influence and governance between the UK and the devolved administrations, because—. You used the word 'administrative' several times, and I find it difficult to think how a UK Government could administer these given that economic development is a devolved function. But, of course, it's devolved and therefore requires shared governance at the moment, because the programmes that are set at a European level are not trivial. They clearly set out the parameters of what is permitted and then try to give a high level of latitude thereafter. And it seems to me that something analogous, perhaps a bit lighter than the one currently operated by the EU—. It does seem to me that a UK Government role at that level is required, simply because we will be arguing, amongst other things, for funding of this programme above and beyond Barnett as something that really is important to rebalance the UK economy and requiring considerable resources to achieve that, and we're going to have to have Treasury and UK Government sign-up into that and an element of shared governance that follows. Is that a fair description of where we may end up?
Well, the fundamental position is the one that we've summed up in this way, Chair, that, in the end, in relation to regional economic development, the position must be, 'Not a penny less, not a power lost'. Those are the two touchstones for me. Now, within those two principles, there are ways, I think, that we can come to an agreement with the UK Government, and what David has described is not a million miles away from the best conversation I ever had on this topic, which was with David Lidington when he was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when he fairly pointed to the fact that the current way that the European Union operates regional funds is that there is a programme, a set of high-level rules that operate across the whole of the European Union, and then we have the powers that we have to implement our programmes in a way that allows those decisions to be made here in Wales. I'm not going to end up in a quarrel over wordings on a tin. If it's called a 'shared prosperity fund', so long as we get all the money we had before and we have all the power we had before, I will live with the label, and if the label includes a very broad description of the fact that this is a fund designed to enable regional economic development activity to be carried out in different parts of the United Kingdom according to the priorities and needs of different parts of the United Kingdom, then I'm not going to quarrel with that, either.
So, what David said was not a million miles, as he said, away from that. But the further you move away from it, and the more in which a UK Government seeks not simply to have a broad description that is true in all parts of the United Kingdom, but to want a role in specific decision making, that would cross a very important line.
Well, I'd encourage you in that pragmatic attitude. I do think that type of approach would be in the best interests of Wales. It does take us, naturally, into this whole issue of developing shared governance. It seems to me that an awful lot of the policy co-ordination that will now occur within the UK, which formerly occurred within the girdle of the EU, it's important that we transfer into UK governance now this concept of shared decision making and shared governance. Because, in terms of state aid, agricultural subsidies and environmental standards there does need to be that sort of coherence in policy making, and a core that isn't moved away from, then, so that we have a stable framework in which to operate these various levels of Government responsibility now between UK and devolved. Is this language becoming more commonplace in Whitehall? In your conversations with David Lidington, I'm sure you've been quite erudite on shared governance, but I just wonder, is it permeating through to the sense that this Government seems to want to shift some influence and policy-making responsibilities to the regions of England, for instance, and have a less centralised approach? In your view, are we moving in that direction, which I think would be a useful way for the second stage, perhaps, of devolution in this country to start to operate, where it's seen to include England as well as the current devolved administrations? Indeed, the Prime Minister was head of a quasi-devolved institution in terms of being London mayor, which is quite an interesting thing to build on, possibly. But I'd just like your reflections on the opportunities here.
At this stage, Chair, I would say that there are contradictory indications. So, there are some indications of that more positive sort, and yet one of our objections to the latest version of the withdrawal Bill is the very bold clause it has in which it says the UK Parliament is sovereign, full stop. We have argued, as David will know, in our 20-point plan, for moving on from that sort of way of thinking, 20 years into devolution, and instead of having an idea of the UK constitution that everything is held in London and then it's shared out on a grace-and-favour basis to others, and can be taken back whenever they like, we should regard sovereignty as dispersed amongst the four UK nations and shared together for common purposes when we choose to do that. That's a very different model, but one that I think will need to be entrenched over the next five years if the UK itself is going to continue to succeed. So, there are some signs that their thinking might move in that direction, but you couldn't say yet, given the very short period of time since 12 September, that a straightforward sense of direction has been developed. In my phone call with the Prime Minister I did remind him that we'd had our first conversation about all of this when he visited Cardiff earlier last year, and that we'd sent him a copy of the 20-point plan immediately afterwards to make sure that he had easy access to it. There's a commitment in the Conservative Party manifesto to a—is it called a 'convention'? I'm sorry if I've got that—
A royal commission on some of these matters. It's a really serious agenda. I think I read immediately after the election one quite senior commentator saying that the result of the election was to resolve matters in relation to one union and to open up a whole Pandora's box of issues in relation to another union, and that's why I think a genuinely serious or a committed sense of a different way of doing things is necessary.
And have new opportunities as well. Obviously, if these are not handled well, then there would be greater disruption, particularly in the relationship with Scotland, presumably. But there are opportunities, generally, as well, I think, and that should not be lost sight of. And I believe the Dunlop review is impending, so again that, presumably, is something you will be looking at very, very carefully. I just wonder: have you had, since the general election, any discussions with Nicola Sturgeon and possibly some of the very senior players in regional government, effectively, I suppose we could call it, in England—people like Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, because figures like him could be quite significant in this new approach, should it emerge?
Chair, I have had a post-election discussion with the First Minister of Scotland, which we focused on the withdrawal agreement Bill and the amendments that we hope to have moved in the House of Lords, and our mutual interest in those matters. I haven't yet had conversations with English regional government figures, but I do think it's a really important point and something that I think we will need to do more formally and systematically in 2020 than we have up until now. We have mayors at both ends of the east of Wales, in Bristol and in Liverpool, as well as in Manchester, who have significant powers and changing patterns of responsibilities as well, and of course the mayor of London, who we generally have had more contact with. But an opportunity to get together with some of those figures in order to have these conversations about the way that the UK will function constitutionally in the future would be, I think, something that would be on our agenda for this calendar year.
And my final question—it's a sort of macro one, really. Your approach to the legislative consent memorandum—it's still very cautious, and, ultimately, you don't feel that you're able to get over the line and support it. And I just wonder: is that the best way of ensuring maximum leverage in your negotiating position? I particularly point to paragraph 53, which talks about the transition period. The Government has decided it will not extend the transition period—it's going to write that into the Bill—and that's the framework. I notice the French and German Governments have shifted a lot since this amendment was put into the Bill, and they clearly want to get as full an agreement as possible during 2020. It will leave a lot, I think, for future negotiations, on some of the minutiae of trading relations, and clearly there's going to be a fair bit of ongoing work there. But it seems to me the French and German Governments have moved on, and said, 'Well, this is the framework. We will get three quarters agreement', or whatever, 'in terms of its coverage. There'll be a body of work to continue with, but we want to make this work, we want a full, deep, special relationship.' Wouldn't it be better for you to just say, 'We'll work with the UK Government in achieving that'? You could enter your reservations, but to actually say you cannot consent—it does seem to me a strange thing to do when you should be trying to maximise your influence at the moment. Given that we've just had a general election, the momentum behind this is very considerable now, to put it no stronger than that.
I think the issue in relation to the transition and extension period is one of about 10 or 12 reasons that we set out in the consent memorandum, so if it were the only objection, then I think David's arguments would have more weight. We would still be fundamentally opposed to this approach to negotiations. This constantly creating new cliff edges has served us very badly up until now, and this one will serve us very badly again. If you've seen what Michel Barnier has said about the negotiating priorities that the EU will have now in the next 12 months, he says, firstly, it will be the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and the setting up of the joint committee; secondly, it will be negotiating what he described as a vital minimum agreement with the UK Government—a vital minimum agreement covering only trade and security, and setting aside all those other issues that would otherwise be capable of being accommodated within an agreement if a proper time were given for its negotiation. And the third priority that he says the EU will have will be to prepare for a 'no deal' exit, because the trouble with reinserting into the Bill yet another drop-dead date is that, by June of next year, we will be faced with leaving the European Union without a deal on 31 December next year, and there's just no need for it. It serves nobody's interests at all. This is a Government with a five-year term. Why does it have this self-imposed deadline that it hangs around its own neck and makes its life, and the prospects of a decent agreement, so much more difficult?
So, we are absolutely sure it is the wrong thing to do. Yes, it's a Government that has been elected. Yes, it has a mandate. That does not mean to say that it's beyond scrutiny.
And just for correction, First Minister, it's this year, not next year, now we're in January.
I'm sorry. I'm in danger of mixing up 'this year' and 'next year' in January.
Yes. To take us back to the shared prosperity fund, there was agreement, I think, in terms of delivery of the programme, any potential programme, that it's done on a shared basis, in the way that was described and agreed in that earlier exchange. However, I think we also need to take a step back from that as well, because the high-level and strategic objectives and programmes weren't imposed by Brussels, of course, but agreed by member states, and there's a fundamental difference in those two different propositions. I remember as a Welsh Minister being part of general affairs council, as part of the UK delegation, agreeing the programmes that are coming to an end at the moment, and it is important, in terms of our negotiation with the United Kingdom Government, that we remind them that the European programmes were agreed by those who would also be implementing them, and that they were never imposed upon us—they were agreed by us. And in terms of many of the programmes we're currently ending, they were actually proposed on the basis of Welsh innovation and Welsh suggestions and Welsh proposals. I think your official, Mr Parry, was a part of those conversations as well, and it's important, therefore, that, in terms of negotiating a shared prosperity fund, we negotiate the whole of that and not simply the implementation of it.
And that is shared governance, to be fair. I don't demur from that at all.
If there were to be some high-level description of the key purposes of a shared prosperity fund, we would expect those to be agreed rather than devised on our behalf.
Thank you, Chair. Which commentator was it who said that about Pandora's box?
Oh, I'll have to—I was going to say I'll have to read that, but presumably that was on the Marr show.
No, I think it was an article that he wrote for the BBC.
It was an article—I'll have to read it. Thank you.
First Minister, I wanted to come back to what you referred to as all the big future decisions, the negotiations on the future relationship and how this place, or the Government, will have a role in that. Now, the negotiations are going to begin in 25 days, I think, and as far as we know there are no agreed structures in place, are there, as things stand, about what role we will have or what role the Welsh Government will have and how it will all fit together? What are your main concerns about that and how is the Government going to be addressing that?
Well, Chair, my view has always been that the devolved administrations should be involved in the negotiations on future trade agreements from end to end, that we should be part of the initial discussions on a negotiating mandate, and that when a trade agreement depends for its implementation on devolved responsibilities, we should be involved in the negotiations. And, when it comes to the implementation phase, there should be a mechanism for making sure that we share between us, the four devolved parts of the United Kingdom, the practical ways in which implementation will take place.
I think there are two main reasons why I feel that. One is that I think that that properly respects the dispersed nature of responsibilities in trade, because although we're not responsible—. The negotiation of a trade agreement is a reserved matter, but its implementation relies on powers that are dispersed, and therefore for those reasons we should be there. But the other reason is that, if you are involved in a negotiation, you are much more likely to be committed to its outcome than if you're excluded from it and simply told at the end what it is that you're expected to do. And there is some very interesting research that looks, in Germany, the United States and in Canada, at what happens if a federal-level Government simply seeks to instruct the subnational level on what it must do and how it doesn't happen because people are not committed to that set of outcomes, because they've had no opportunity to shape them or to be a part of the discussion. So, it seems to me that involvement leads to legitimacy and legitimacy leads to successful implementation of agreed outcomes. And therefore it's absolutely in the interests of the UK Government to make sure that all parts of the United Kingdom are able to play their proper part.
Now, I'm perfectly open to the idea that that proper part would be outlined in a way that makes it clear what devolved administrations can't do, as well as what we can do, but unless we have that sort of systematic agreed way of participating, my fear is that the negotiations will lack expertise, because there will be things that the people doing it won't know about Scotland, won't know about Northern Ireland or Wales, and the wrong sort of decisions will be made, and that the outcomes of those trade negotiations will prove, at the worst end of the spectrum, to be very conflictual, and even at the best end of the spectrum will be more complicated than they otherwise would need to be.
Thank you for that. I share your fear. At the end of the last session, the Government had amended a motion that was put to the Assembly, and the amendment called for this place to have a formal role in negotiations on international agreements when devolved competence is engaged. What will your Government do if that is not granted, if those worst fears do come to bear?
Well, our efforts for the time being are focused on securing those arrangements, because I think all the arguments I just made ought to be compelling arguments from the UK Government's perspective. I'm not arguing for a role for devolved administrations out of some sort of sensitivity about our own powers or our own position, I'm wanting to argue for a properly thought out, set down, guaranteed role for devolved administrations in all of this, because that will be the right way to get the best deal. And I'm going to focus on that for the time being, rather than focusing on what happens if we don't get the right outcome.
Thank you. In terms of trying to secure that, then, you've spoken in the past about drafting amendments to the withdrawal agreement Bill so that that is put on the face of the Bill, that there would be a role formally for devolved administrations. Is that still something that you would seek to do?
Well, we're in discussions, Chair, at the moment about the amendments that we will lay. As I said, we'll be meeting in the House of Lords this week. The Scottish Government will send a representative to those discussions as well. We will have to agree in the end a package with supporters in the House of Lords that they think will represent the best chance of securing support, so there are a lot of potential things still on the table, but we won't have a complete sense of what that package of amendments will be until we've had the chance to have those discussions this week.
Thank you. There's one final question I'd like to ask on this, please. It's a specific question about citizens' rights. The Bill as it stands—let me get this straight—establishes an independent body that would monitor the implementation and application of citizens' rights, and it specifies that the Secretary of State must notify the Welsh Government of any member they wish to appoint to that who knows about conditions in Wales. But if the Welsh Government were to disagree with that appointment the Secretary of State could, as I understand it, still go ahead with that appointment or appoint someone else. Is that something that you will seek in any way to change, and does that concern you, that that might lay the groundwork for how the imbalance of power will continue?
I think we have a different concern about the independent monitoring authority as it now appears in the current withdrawal Bill, because the agreement we have struck with the UK Government over making sure that there is somebody that represents Welsh interests and who we would be content to see appointed—I think that will hold. So, I think we've gained some good ground there. But this Bill allows functions of the independent monitoring authority to be handed on to other public bodies where the same agreement about there being somebody on that public body who understands and represents Welsh interests has not been handed on as part of that deal. So, another amendment that we are trying to construct would be one that says that if responsibilities of the independent monitoring authority are to be discharged now through somebody else, then the same concession that we have agreed about there being a Welsh—I'm going to use the term 'a Welsh rep'—on the independent monitoring authority, that the same must apply to any body to which responsibilities are handed on. And at the moment we don’t have that assurance.
And would you also wish to change it so that the Secretary of State couldn't overrule the Welsh Government's view on that rep, for want of a better word?
Ideally. I think you'd want that. But I think the agreement that we have with the UK Government on this gives me at least satisfaction that that's not their intention. The whole intention of them putting the name to us is that it'll be a name that we agree to that goes forward.
First Minister, in all of this, it strikes me that, because of the timescale we're up against, a lot of this needs unparking really rapidly and progressed really rapidly, and you have your clearly established positions, albeit that you want to now progress this if you can get through some of these. And I just wonder: are we missing something here? I'm not saying this in a flip way, but is your offer to the Prime Minister, 'Look, bring your team down to Chequers and let's bash this through with a proposal that we're trying to get to a point where we can get agreement on mechanisms, on inter-governmental mechanisms, on the issues about future trade negotiations, on the issues about the withdrawal agreement. Let's talk about where we differ and let's bash this through away from the glare of everything else there. Let's see if we can get to a way forward that deals with the time constraints that are in as well.' Because otherwise my worry is, we will still be where we are.
Well, Chair, I think there are two different time tracks here. There is the desperately constrained time tracks for the withdrawal agreement Bill and things to do with independent monitoring authority and the political oversight issues that we've talked about, and there is next to no time to resolve those things, although we will use whatever opportunities there are. Some of those other things—our role in future trade negotiations and so on—there is a little bit more time. They don't have to be resolved by 31 January. And so—. I wrote to the Prime Minister, Chair, setting out a number of the key tests that I thought there would be there as to how future relationships between the Welsh Government and the new UK Government would evolve. One of them was the shared prosperity fund. One of them was the way that our participation in trade negotiations would be resolved. So, although there are not acres of time, there is a bit more time beyond 31 January to resolve those things. We're yet to have a reply to that letter, but the Prime Minister has only newly returned from holiday, so we'll wait a little bit longer.
But how much of this—? Sorry, Chair. How much of this is to do with a leap of faith on both sides and establishing a genuine interpersonal trust that goes beyond letters, beyond understandings, beyond the formal exchanges, beyond even official—and, actually, First Minister to Prime Minister saying, 'Prime Minister, I think I can offer you something here of a way forward but you need to work with me on this and I'll do it with you', and that could lay the ground work for—? I'm not saying that this can happen or whatever, but it seems to me that the way you get these breakthroughs are with the excellent efforts of officials and the formal stuff but also the saying, 'Let's bash heads together here. Let's talk this through'.
Well, I think two points, really, Chair. First of all, I think these are genuine tests for the new Prime Minister because on the resolution of them I believe the future of the United Kingdom rests—
—but I don't want to say again something I remember saying last time, Chair, that the conduct of relationships between Governments has to move beyond interpersonal relationships. We can't conduct them on the basis that we're lucky when we get somebody in the room who understands things and wants to work with you and unlucky when that person is sent off to do some other job and somebody who doesn't have those characteristics comes through the door instead. That's why our 20-point plan is all about there being guaranteed, entrenched mechanisms of inter-government operation rather than the chance of personality, even though the people you are with at the time have the responsibilities while they have them and have to demonstrate that they are going to conduct them in a way that will protect the vital interests of the UK.
Since we've moved on to the LCM, I'll move on to some questions from Mandy Jones.
Thank you. Good afternoon, Minister. What assessment has the Welsh Government done of the possible constitutional crisis that could be caused if the Welsh Government doesn't give legislative consent to this new withdrawal Bill? If this place doesn't give consent, what are the Welsh Government's next steps? It's easy enough to tell us what you're not going to do, but can you tell us what you are going to do?
Well, I said in answer to an earlier question, Mandy, that we don't come at this looking for a constitutional crisis. We're not trying to create constitutional brinkmanship here, but, in the end, the Assembly has its own separate right to decide whether or not it thinks a piece of legislation at Westminster reflects the vital interests of Wales, and, as it's constructed, our conclusion is that this Bill doesn't, therefore we shouldn't consent to it going ahead, and what should happen in those circumstances is that Wales is taken out of those parts of the Bill that we don't consent to our being involved in it. Do I think that that is what will happen? Well, I'm afraid I probably don't and the precedent case here is the Scottish Parliament's refusal to give consent to the 2016 Act—
Eighteen, sorry. I'm not on top of my dates for once. The 2018 Act, where the Government invoked the 'not normally' clause and said that, 'While it wouldn't normally override the view of the Scottish Parliament, this was not a normal set of circumstances', and, therefore, that he was going to press on and pass the legislation even though the Scottish Government—Scottish Parliament, rather—had denied its consent. I'm afraid I would expect that that is what will happen in this case. I don't believe the Scottish Parliament will consent to this Bill, I don't belive the Welsh Assembly will consent to this Bill, and I think the Government will go ahead regardless.
Now, your question's a good one: what do we do in those circumstances? Well, you will have seen that we have published a set of proposals for how the Sewel convention, which is what is being used here, can be properly entrenched. The Supreme Court found in the Miller case that Sewel could not be determined by the law courts, that it was just a political convention between Parliaments.
Now, what I would like to see—instead of the UK Government simply being able to say, 'Oh, this is not normal,' I would want to see a process agreed that sets out how they come to that decision, what do they have to do in order to come to the view that this is not a normal set of circumstances and that the Sewel convention should not apply, that they should have to publish that line of argument that leads them to that conclusion, that they should have to put that line of argument separately to the House of Lords and to the House of Commons, and that they should allow a devolved legislature that has taken a different view also to submit a document setting out why we, in this case, have come to a different conclusion, and that the House of Commons and the House of Lords, separately, should be given the power to decide whether or not they have agreed with the UK Government that they are right to override what we have done.
Now, if you begin to do that, you begin to give the Sewel convention some substance and some flesh, and you begin to move to a point where, if you felt that it had not been properly abided by, you could go to a court of law and argue that out in front of an independent panel of judges. So, my solution to what will be a very difficult constitutional moment, if the UK Parliament overrides the express view of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, is that the process by which it has done that cannot continue to be one in which it is an apparently arbitrary decision of the UK Government, in which they don't have to explain to anybody why they've come to the conclusion that they have come to, and that we need a process in which they have to set out their process of reasoning, expose that to external scrutiny, allow others to comment on it, do that in the forums that the House of Lords and the House of Commons provide, and, ideally, from my point of view, that set of procedures should amount to a sufficiently codified set of arrangements that you could go to a court of law if you believed that they had not been properly followed.
Right. You said around 25 minutes ago that the last UK Government actually had the withdrawal agreement right and you actually agreed with it, but now you're saying that—. We know from Plenary and everything else that there's no way that you actually agreed with any of that withdrawal agreement from the last UK Government. By saying 'no' to this withdrawal agreement, is the Welsh Government actually saying that a 'no deal' is better than this withdrawal agreement? It seems like the Welsh Government's been going round in circles for the last three and a half years.
No. I certainly didn't say that I thought that the last withdrawal agreement was satisfactory. I said that it had provisions for parliamentary oversight in it and that that was preferable to the current version, where parliamentary oversight has been withdrawn from the Bill. All we will do is to do what we have done throughout this period, which is to say that, when we leave the European Union, because we are leaving the European Union, there are terms on which we leave that make a difference to the future of people in Wales and, if you get the terms wrong, then the future of people in Wales will be harmed, and, if we get the terms right, their futures will be defended. We're leaving—that's now beyond our power to influence—but that cannot mean for a moment that either the Welsh Government or the National Assembly gives up on arguing for a form of Brexit and terms of Brexit that defend Welsh interests. That's what we will do when we consider the withdrawal agreement Bill, and that's what we will do when we come to consider all the negotiations that will follow after 31 January.
Can I ask, First Minister, are there any red lines? You talked about—you want to see amendments put forward and you're hoping to talk to the Lords to get those amendments placed. Are there any red lines the Welsh Government has as to when it would say, 'Well, we can't give a recommendation to approve an LCM until those particular points are met'? You haven't got to tell us those, but just whether the Welsh Government's looking at some things that it thinks it cannot go beyond.
Let me say that the objections that we have are not all of equal salience. We talked a moment ago about the transition period, and if that was the only thing we objected to then we'd be having a different sort of conversation. So, there are aspects of the Bill that we think are even more injurious to the current settlement. I'm reluctant to use the term 'red lines', because I think it served Mrs May very badly as a negotiating strategy, and I'm not intending to adopt it myself.
I was very interested by the idea about codifying the Sewel convention. Is there precedent for something like that in any federal system that you're aware of?
I've not looked, really. I know that, for example, the relationship between the Länder and the German federal Government in these matters is set out in statute, and there are legally binding rights that the Länder have, and legally binding obligations that the federal Government has to observe the views of and the responsibilities of the Länder. So, there certainly are other places that have a much more codified sense of how these relationships work than our rather sort of fast and loose reliance on convention and understanding.
Whilst we're still on the LCM, we note that the explanatory memorandum and the Welsh Government didn't seem to indicate clause 20 requires consent, but the Welsh Government's not reflected that in its LCM. Do you have a view as to why the Welsh Government didn't comment upon clause 20?
I'm going to hope that somebody here can help me with that more immediately than I can, but if we can't, if we don't have the answer immediately, then that's one of the ones we will come back to you on, Chair, if that's possible.
Before next Monday? Because clearly there's a tight timescale and we wish to consider the LCM next week.
Could I just ask a quick supplementary on that? Could you outline to us as well in writing if there are any areas of dispute between yourself and the UK Government on the areas where consent is required?
I suppose the question I also want to ask is: should there be a role for devolved legislatures in the developments in EU law during the transition period? Because that's something we've looked at in the past, and clearly it's an important question, as to what will the role be of legislatures in implementing EU law that's made during the transition period.
My understanding, Chair, but subject to others with more understanding than me, is that the withdrawal agreement does commit the UK Government to the implementation of EU law that is passed during the transition period, and there are some minor abilities to exceptionalise some aspects. But, essentially, during the transition period, we remain in step with EU law, including any new law that is developed during the transition period. And that means that, if everything goes according to the current timetable, the Welsh Government will end up coming back to the National Assembly towards the end of 2020 with further updating statutory instruments, so that the state of the statute book when we come to the end of the transition period is updated to take account of those changes and the Assembly will have its opportunity to debate and discuss those in that way.
I understand that the Bill will actually indicate that the House of Commons and the House of Lords will have some form of scrutiny role, but not the devolved legislatures. That is why there's a question as to the role of the devolved legislatures in this, rather than just purely the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
I'm not sure that I'm understanding the question entirely. The House of Commons and the House of Lords, as I understand it, will have no different role than they have now in the way that European law changes over this period. But, transposition of that changed law into domestic law will have to happen, and that will be done in front of the National Assembly as it is done in front of the House of Commons.
On that, the Scottish Government has spoken about introducing continuity legislation in order to ensure that they do keep step. Obviously, they'll have their own reasons for doing so, but would the Welsh Government, for any reason, be minded to do something similar?
Well, Chair, at the moment, I think if we were having to decide that today, our view would be that we already have the powers in the different areas for which we are responsible to make sure that regulations in Wales keep pace with changes in regulations in Europe, where the Assembly would want to do that. The Scottish legislation, as I understand it, although it hasn't been published yet, is intended to transpose wholesale into Scottish law any changes that are made in Europe, regardless of whether the Scottish Parliament approves of that or not. There's to be no approval mechanism, as I understand it, for the Scottish Parliament; it's just a wholesale transposition. And of course, as you say, there are reasons for that that the Scottish Government would have in terms of its idea of its future relationships. At the moment, we believe that we have the powers in the different areas for which we are responsible and if we wanted to stay aligned with regulatory changes in Europe, that we could come to the National Assembly and seek its approval, and that that is the way we would do it.
Does that mean that we have ruled out completely the idea of drawing all these powers together in a single legislative continuity Bill? No. I don't think we have a closed mind to that. The Scottish Government, again as I understand it, doesn't intend to take this Bill through the Scottish Parliament on any accelerated timetable, so it's not something that there's a really pressing need to decide on immediately. We will watch carefully to see that legislation when it is published and continue to keep the position under review. But, as of now, we think we can achieve what we want to achieve with existing powers, and to do it in a way that would give the National Assembly the ability to come to a view on the things that we would want to do, rather than to do it on that sort of wholesale transposition basis.
Thank you very much for that, First Minister. In terms of taking this matter forward now—over the coming, say, 15 months of our mandate here—we saw the Queen's Speech before Christmas, on 19 December, and that outlined the United Kingdom Government's legislative programme for the coming parliamentary session. Now, in terms of where we are, could you outline to us where you believe the Welsh Government's legislative programme is as a consequence of recent changes, and what you would anticipate the Welsh Government seeking to do in terms of a legislative programme over the coming 15 months?
Chair, our legislative programme is very packed and it is going to require an enormous effort by both the Welsh Government but also by committees and Plenary sessions of the National Assembly to accomplish the legislative programme that was announced back in the summer. There will be some further European-related, Brexit-related legislation, but it will flow from Bills that will appear first in front of the House of Commons. So, we are expecting, in addition to the withdrawal agreement Bill, an agriculture Bill, a fisheries Bill and a trade Bill as a minimum, which will provide powers to Welsh Ministers in the immediate future, which will then allow us to come forward with comprehensive Welsh-only legislation—certainly in the agricultural field and certainly in the fisheries field and potentially in the environmental principles field. I don't expect that we will have Welsh-only legislation in those areas on the statute book by the time this Assembly term ends, but I would expect that there will be significant preparation for that that would allow the incoming Assembly in 2021 to embark on that agenda.
I'm grateful to you for that. Let's use the agriculture Bill as an example. The powers that, as I understand it, the Welsh Government were seeking in that Bill were powers that would enable Welsh Ministers to maintain a payments system or systems in place over a somewhat limited timescale—two or three years—whilst legislation was developed here in this Parliament, and this Parliament had the opportunity to make that legislation law.
We've had two years—is it, since then—of failed efforts in Westminster to get this legislation onto the statute book, which has meant that we've had two years here where we haven't had those powers in place. Now, as it turns out, we haven't required those powers, either. I accept that. But, I don't understand fully where we will be in a year's time, because we will—. Assuming that the UK Government now does have the votes in the House of Commons to get its legislation passed, there will then be a means for Welsh Ministers to continue making payments under existing statutes, into and beyond the next Assembly election, one would assume. But we don't appear to be in a situation whereby we can legislate ourselves. Now, I don't understand why the UK agriculture Bill prevents us from legislating ourselves. I'd be interested in understanding that. I don't understand why we feel the need to hold back, if you like, whilst these issues are being debated in the House of Commons.
Well, first of all, Alun Davies is quite right, the agriculture Bill does not prevent us from doing something; what it will allow us to do is to take the immediate actions that we need over the remaining period of this Assembly term to make sure that payments to farmers continue and the system that we have does not break down. In the meantime, we will pursue, with the farming community and others, the proposals set out originally in 'Brexit and our land' and now in 'Sustainable Farming and our Land', which marks a very significant change in the way that farmers will be rewarded in future.
I think that those changes are so significant—and have given rise to a very lively debate with different rural interests—that it is worth us spending the rest of this Assembly term continuing to develop them, and to have published a White Paper before this Assembly ends, so that we are ready to legislate in the next Assembly term. Because the conversation will be more mature, the proposals will, I hope, be ones that have commanded a broader set of agreement than we have had in the discussion to date, that it is worth giving the time for that to happen. And the fact that things have all taken longer than was originally expected means that legislating in the very last phase of this Assembly term, at a point where we have an enormous legislative load in front of us already, that it is better to do it in the way that we are proposing: to have the immediate powers we need through the agriculture Bill, to take the time we need to make our own proposals mature, and to have the conversations we need with those most affected by them, and to have reached a settled policy point in a White Paper by the end of this Assembly term so that legislation can follow swiftly in the next Assembly term.
The only thing—a slight footnote here, now—that would make me change my mind about that would be if, when we see the agriculture Bill, it doesn't have in it all the things that we believed we had agreed with the previous administration in relation to the agriculture Bill as we last saw it. So, I just want to enter that small caveat, really. All I'm saying to you now relies on discussions we had with the previous administration and, as we've seen, this withdrawal Bill is not the one that we saw from the previous administration. And if the agriculture Bill turned out not to be the one that we are expecting, then we might have to think again. But, assuming that it is, then I think it will give us everything we need for the short run and allow us to plan for the medium to longer term with the time that we need to do it.
It also assumes that the Government's re-elected, of course. Because if a different administration is elected in 2021, then it's unlikely, one would assume, that they would simply pursue the policies of the current Government unamended. It's more likely, I would have thought—. Certainly, as an incoming Minister, I would have anticipated they would want to start that process again. So, it's an assumption to make, but I certainly—
Well, yet another reason for the re-election of a Labour Government.
I will certainly be doing my best to ensure that that happens.
But, moving on, in terms of the fisheries legislation and the environment Bill, the environment Bill is a curious piece of legislation, I think, assuming it lives up to its billing. In reorganising the governance of environment policy in England, it also seeks, or sought, in a previous example, to extend its reach into Wales, and, I think, partly, in Scotland as well. And that, to me, seems a very curious Bill. First of all, it seems to be trying to do different things at different times, which is never a good thing, but it also means: is our environment policy, therefore, in a secure place, or are we going to find ourselves unable to deliver environment policy over the next 15 months?
Well, Chair, I don't believe there was an environment Bill, in the end, in the Queen's Speech, which may, if I've got that right, point to some of the tensions in those discussions that were going on in the run-up to the last general election. Environmental principles in Wales are for Wales to determine. The environment is a devolved matter to the National Assembly for Wales, and we will not be signing up to anything that hands over responsibilities that ought to be discharged here to anybody else. That's not to say for a minute that on some environmental things, we don't understand the need for agreement between the four nations and common frameworks, and all the things that we've rehearsed here many times, but, as you know, the fundamental thing there, Chair, is that that is all by agreement, and nothing happens by imposition.
First Minister, in the last session, Michael Gove, assured—well, he didn't assure this committee, but he told this committee that no impact assessment had been made on the revised withdrawal agreement Bill and protocol on the impact that would have on Holyhead. I know that your Government have, in the past, asked for more information on that. Have you had any more information on the impact that will be had on Holyhead?
No, Chair, we haven't, and it really is, I think—. It was completely unacceptable that the UK Government should have concluded that protocol without any economic assessment of it published alongside it. We have commissioned some work from the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex that we will publish, I think, later this month, which is an independent piece of work looking at the economic impact of the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol generally, but specifically, on Wales and Welsh ports. But, even a lay person's reading of the protocol, it's inescapable, it seems to me, that there will be less trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and vice versa, and that having Northern Ireland simultaneously in two separate customs and legal jurisdictions means that there will be an impact directly on ports in Wales. Goods going into Northern Ireland, according to the agreement, as I understand it, will have to be identified as to whether they are at risk of onward transportation to the Republic of Ireland, and hence, into the European Union.
Where will that at-risk assessment be made? Well, I can't see how it will not have to be made before goods have left Great Britain. And, in our case, that may mean them being made at Holyhead or being made in Fishguard, with all the extra impact on the work of those ports. And if there's regulatory unalignment, if regulatory standards in Great Britain were to be lower than the European Union, then before any goods get into Northern Ireland, they will have be assessed for that. That will be particularly problematic in the case of perishable goods, and a very significant slice of goods that go through Holyhead are perishable. It just seems to me inevitable that there will be new barriers to trade, and that that will have an impact on Wales, now that the Prime Minister has concluded, in a way that the previous Prime Minister said that no British Prime Minister could ever agree, that the border will be down the Irish Sea.
Michael Gove actually told the committee—well, he did reassure us that there would be greater opportunities for Holyhead as a result of this deal. So, I take it that you would agree that that seems very, very unlikely to happen.
I look forward to the report of the trade observatory, in case it does identify any additional opportunities. But most opportunities appear to me to be having to employ more people to carry out more checks that will make trade more difficult.
First Minister, we do believe that there was reference to an environment Bill in the Queen's Speech.
Was there? Oh, okay, sorry—apologies. It's not on my list.
So, you may want to perhaps have a look at that one again, particularly as they deem it an exciting environment Bill. But can I ask a couple of questions in relation to—? We've talked very much about the LCMs and we've talked very much about the relationships. As you may well know, it is understood that the Department for Exiting the European Union will end, and cease to exist, as of 31 January 2020, as we leave the EU. What's the future, therefore, for JMC(EN), and what's the future for, perhaps, the discussions? Who will undertake the discussions, as far as you're aware, on the future relationship with the EU?
Well, they'll be led by the Cabinet Office, and the Cabinet Office has always been the lead department in relation to the JMC(EN). And at various times, as you know, responsibilities over Brexit have shifted between DExEU and the Cabinet Office, with some regularity, really. So, our view, as you know, is not to be too concerned about the internal organisation of Whitehall departments, but just to say that the JMC(EN), as it is constructed, is not an adequate vehicle to bear the weight of Brexit negotiations and discussions between the four component parts of the United Kingdom. We need a wholly different, much more codified, agreed, reliable, not dominated by one party set of arrangements, and the JMC(EN), even when you try and make it work—and nobody, I think, could argue that it has genuinely discharged its remit—isn't the right vehicle.
And can you confirm, therefore, that the current Brexit Minister will be the lead character for the Welsh Government in any proposed EU negotiations, debates or discussions that the Welsh Government is involved with?
Okay. Interesting. Also, as David highlighted earlier, the Lord Dunlop review was obviously on the restructuring. We've been waiting for the review of the structures for a long time. Have you got any idea as to when that will be published and we could have an understanding of what structures might be in place for the future?
I understand that the Dunlop review will not long be delayed and that the work is largely complete. Lord Dunlop told me, when he came to Wales, and I gave evidence to him, that he had secured an agreement from the incoming Prime Minister that his report would continue to be regarded with the seriousness with which it was commissioned. So, although it was commissioned by a different Prime Minister, and a different administration, that the same weight would be attached to it, and the same seriousness would be attached to his conclusions, and that he'd agreed to continue with the work on that basis. So, we look forward as well to its publication, and to it being treated with the seriousness that has been promised.
One, please. First Minister, do you have an update on when the new JMC on trade—that's been fully established now, has it? Do you know when the first meeting is going to be on that?
It hasn't been established. We are waiting for communication from the UK Government as to whether that will go ahead in that format.
That's our preferred format, but we're waiting to hear from the UK Government, as part of these wider discussions.
Can I also clarify a point? In the letter that the Secretary of State for DExEU wrote to Jeremy Miles, he indicated that discussions and draft versions of the withdrawal agreement Bill had been shared with the Welsh Government. Can you confirm that they were the earlier versions, or were they the versions presented in December, following the general election?
Just for confirmation, because it is important that we clarify that point.
Any other questions from Members? You're finishing early today, First Minister. Can I thank you for your evidence this afternoon? Clearly, we have a long way to go this year with events and changes that will happen as a consequence of departing the EU on 31 January this year. We will look closely at those events and the Welsh Government's actions. But, as you know, you will get a copy of the transcript of this meeting and if there are any factual inaccuracies, please let the clerking team know as soon as possible, so that we can have them corrected, and keep in touch.
Will Members now move on to the next item of business, which is papers to note? We have three papers to note. The first one is the correspondence from the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language regarding the Assembly scrutiny of international agreements. This was received following our publication and agreement of the report on international agreements. I therefore propose that we await any further consideration until we have a final response from the Welsh Government to that report. Are Members content? Thank you.
The second one is correspondence from the Chair of the Assembly Electoral Reform Committee regarding the potential implication for Assembly committees of any changes in the size of Assembly. Are Members content for the clerking team to draft a response, which we will consider at a future meeting? Thank you.
The third one is a copy of the letter from the Secretary of State to the Counsel General regarding the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. Are Members content to note that? Thank you.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Item 4 on the agenda is a motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content to do so?
Therefore, we now move into private session for the remainder of this meeting.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:56.
The public part of the meeting ended at 14:56.