Carwyn Jones, First Minister
It seems very likely that the European Council will agree later this week that sufficient progress has been made in phase 1 of the Brexit negotiations with the EU to allow the talks to move onto phase 2. I welcome this. The Welsh Government has argued consistently for rapid progress on Phase 1 so that negotiations on the critical issues of the future relationship between the UK and the EU and the duration and nature of any transition period can get under way. There is no time to lose and that is what must now happen.
Reaching this agreement took longer than should have been necessary, owing to a lack of clarity and realism on the part of the UK Government. This is a matter of regret because it has created uncertainly in the business community which in turn may have led to delays in making important investment decisions. It has also meant that EU citizens living and working in Wales, and elsewhere across the UK, have had to live with debilitating uncertainty and question marks about their future status. This is a poor reward for the outstanding contribution they have made to our economy and national life.
The Welsh Government has consistently stressed the importance of retaining a soft land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and I am pleased that a way forward has been agreed which guarantees that this will be the outcome of the final agreement. We believe that the best and most rational outcome will be for the whole of the UK to remain fully aligned to both the Single Market and the Customs Union. This would also protect the interests of the Welsh ports and their commercial relationship with Ireland, another key concern for the Welsh Government. Phase 2 negotiations should get going as soon as possible after this week’s European Council.
Agreeing a transition period, which will provide businesses with the confidence to plan for the medium term, is a particularly high priority. This is vital to secure jobs and our future prosperity.
As the talks move into Phase 2, covering the transition and the UK’s long-term relationship with the EU, it is vital that the Devolved Administrations are fully and properly involved. Phase 2 talks will involve questions which come directly within the remit of devolved institutions, such as engagement with EU programmes during the transition period, participation in programmes like Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ after Brexit and the extent of alignment of devolved powers with EU regulation as part of a future UK-EU deal. It is essential that the Devolved Administrations are represented directly in these talks. We have raised this many times with the UK Government and now is the time for them to deliver. As we have seen, it is vital that the United Kingdom’s negotiating position genuinely reflects the interests of Wales and the whole of the UK.
In our White Paper, Securing Wales Future, which we published jointly with Plaid Cymru, we set out our priorities for Brexit, arguing for:
• full and unfettered access to the Single Market, based on continued regulatory alignment between the UK and the EU and the safeguarding of employment, environmental and consumer rights;
• continued alignment with the Customs Union unless and until there was firm evidence that the benefits of leaving the Customs Union outweighed the costs of doing so;
• an approach to migration that safeguarded the rights of EU citizens already living and working in Wales and which, in the longer term, put the needs of the economy first; and
• a transition period to ensure that such an agreement could be negotiated;
We are pleased that as the negotiations have progressed, the UK Government has increasingly moved closer to our position, which we believe, establish a sound and durable basis for a mutually beneficial relationship between the UK and the EU. We will be arguing these points at the JMC (EN) this week and we will issue a further statement after that.