Wales’ response to the Brexit vote

Tegid Roberts recommends a Welsh Government Department for Europe.

Since the Brexit referendum the UK Government’s response has been slow and ambiguous – A Cabinet office unit for Brexit was initially proposed then abandoned to be replaced with the new post of “Minister for Brexit”, a role seemingly bereft of clear objectives, and led by an MP who has spent the last 20 years on the back benches.

In Wales the Welsh Government response has been muted to say the least and it is time now that Wales itself took action so that negotiations between the UK and the rest of the EU work smoothly and that Wales – a net beneficiary of EU membership – has a decisive role in shaping our future relationship with the EU. As things currently stand, England and Scotland dominate all negotiations with the wider EU and without a concerted strategic plan of action from the Welsh government, this situation is likely to continue.

Wales is not only a net recipient of EU funding into a number of key sectors including agriculture, the arts, sciences, economic development and minority language protection but is also a net exporter of goods and services to the EU to the tune of £2.3Billion surplus per annum. We benefit from, and contribute to, many ERDF (European Regional Development Fund), Horizon2020, ERASMUS and cultural programmes. For example, few may be aware that the hugely successful ERASMUS student exchange programme was actually launched by a Welsh EU Director General [Dr Hywel Ceri Jones). This is but one of the many achievements that have resulted from Wales’ membership of the EU.

The Welsh Government must urgently create a Department for Europe tasked with understanding and developing a strategy for Wales’ continued engagement with the EU and our future relationship with the European partners.

This Department should have a strong Cabinet Secretary with experience of working in Europe who can work across all departments. The Secretary should be supported by a cross-party committee to scrutinise all areas of current engagement and to help devise what our future relationship with the EU should look like. This committee should in turn be advised by a group of external expert advisors brought in from legal, economic, business, agricultural, cultural, and academic sectors.

A Welsh Government Department for Europe would ensure a clear, strategic and accountable voice for Wales in ongoing negotiations. We also need a strong voice in Europe to make sure that we continue to benefit and contribute to the areas we are already involved in and to develop relationships with the EU in sectors that we are not currently fully engaged with post Brexit. 

Tegid Roberts is Director of Cadarn Consulting.

8 thoughts on “Wales’ response to the Brexit vote

  1. Tegid Roberts is quite right to propose an energetic process to deal with the impact of Brexit on Wales but the comparison with Scotland is not appropriate. The Scottish Government is headed by a party committed to leaving the Union. This is not the case in Wales.

    Assume for a moment (I know it’s a stretch but bear with) that the leaders of the Brexit campaign can be taken at their word on the protection of Welsh funding post-Brexit, whether for regional development, farming, academe or whatever. If the Brexit negotiations are ‘successful’ Westminster will be channelling all the replacement funds for Wales from the Treasury (won’t they). Surely this makes Westminster and the Minister for Brexit the point for energetic and public engagement, to address which the Welsh Government should create a department along the lines Mr Roberts proposes.

  2. Dr Roberts is right that something has to be done but wrong to suggest that setting up a new structure is that something. It is a mistake at the UK level and would be a mistake at the Wales level.

    Establishing a new office is a standard politicians’ response to a problem because it looks as if something dramatic is being done. In fact it is a substitute for action and almost invariably counterproductive, because it clutters up the structure and obscures where responsibility lies.

    The correct response is to instill a sense of urgency into every part of the existing structure, especially those parts responsible for export and business development. The EU-subsidised model of the Welsh economy described in the article is done. We need to accept that and start building an alternative …now.

    However, there is no sign of that happening and no doubt something along the lines suggested by this article will be adopted. This is Wales after all and it is unlikely that the Assembly will waste such a prime opportunity to put money in the pockets of its particular friends. It is a fair bet that these will be the same people who got European money because they are also particular friends of the EU. Far from being derailed, the gravy train will continue under new management.

  3. You forgot to tell us how much this proposed WG Department of European kite-flying is going to cost and who is going to pay for it? Wales already has a £12-16 billion annual deficit depending on how you work it out. By the time the WG can organise it there probably won’t be an EU anyway…

    You also forgot to mention the enormous benefit we derive from all the academics in Wales toiling away in their Jean Monnet Centres of Excellence. Not! With a bit of luck they’ll all get shut down as part of the BREXIT settlement but I’m not holding my breath… Those of us with our eyes open are not looking at BREXIT any more we’re looking at the death of the EU. So let’s grow up and have a UK government Department for EU Damage Limitation and Picking Up the Pieces…

  4. There’s a long play to be considered in addressing the Brexit situation.

    Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, participants in the referendum in Wales voted in favour of Brexit. The numbers between “In” or out” were close, with reports of “if I had only known,” and “second thoughts.” The First Minister acknowledged the result of the referendum in Wales soon after the vote, and signalled publicly that he had been in touch with the First Minister in Scotland.

    A meeting of the British-Irish Council was held recently that included the First Ministers of Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales and like-minded others to discuss Brexit. The official account of the meeting suggests that the game’s afoot, to borrow a phrase from Arthur Conan Doyle.

    Summer is a great time to re-arrange matters and develop a new course while Westminster takes the heat.

  5. Any dispassionate observer would acknowledge that some EU programmes work better than others. Co-operation on scientific research and the Erasmus programme are among the more successful. I expect the UK government will wish to continue to participate in these, paying an appropriate subscription, even when outside the EU and perhaps outside the customs union. If it does not, then Wales has a clear interest in being able to participate. So Tegid Roberts is right. Wales needs to have a focus to determine what relations we want with the EU after Brexit and in the first place to pressure the UK government to negotiate for those and, if that fails, in the second place to see what Wales can obtain as a region. No-one is currently responsible for doing that and if it is left to the First Minister to co-ordinate an all-government response experience suggests the response will be insufficient.

  6. Roberts appears to be against democracy! Like the majority of the Welsh electors, I voted to leave the E.U.
    In the recent referendum. I gave no instruction to anyone to try and negotiate to get more money out of Europe.
    However if negotiations such as Mr Roberts proposes are to be undertaken,we must first revisit legitimacy of having a Welsh Assembly and its powers. Lets have a second referendum on who has the power to negotiate for the British electors of this region of Great Britain!
    Perhaps we should also ask the question:-
    “Has the Welsh Assembly improved the lives of the Welsh People? “

  7. Whatever department or task-force is set up, call it what you will, it will be busy for the next 10 years, sitting back and hoping for the best is not a luxury we have. Once Article 50 is invoked we have 2 years to leave the EU and the UK can then negotiate a trade treaty with the EU (the procedure is very clear on this, Article 50 is for leaving the EU, once we have left the EU we can then negotiate a trade treaty). Mess-minster expects Brexit to occupy them for at least the next 10 years. The WAG need to act to protect Wales during Article 50 talks and much more important after Article 50 has finished and we are out of the EU and trading under WTO until we can negotiate a trade treaty with the EU. Labour, Tories and PC need to pull together on this for the next 10 years and put aside their political differences for the good of all of Wales (UKIP having gotten their way have already walked away from taking any responsibility)

  8. Tegid Roberts’ response is logical and potentially very effective. Whether we are in or out, the EU will loom large in our economy for the foreseeable future, and we need the ability to respond and react effectively to protect our interests, to keep out trading surplus and regional funding.

    I would, however, not limit the department’s remit to the EU; Wales is affected by and has an opinion on events and actions across the world, and there should be a way of reacting systematically to them and ensuring that we do not suffer unduly (e.g. economy) or can help more effectively (e.g. refugees) without having to do so through Westminster – who will, almost by definition, not see it from our point of view. This already happens on an ad hoc basis, but having a strong and consistent outward view would liberate us from always having to see things from the narrow British perspective.

    The lack of initiative by the Welsh Government during the last two months has been breathtaking (could not plan for a ‘no’ vote because they were in ‘purdah’ I remember someone saying) – at least they are now trying to take decisive action in reaction to the referendum vote, albeit behind the curve. A department such as the one proposed would be constantly keeping an eye on developments beyond Westminster, that might be waiting to trip us up, and would more likely lead to us taking effective action in good time.

    This proposal has merit independently of the result of the recent referendum, but given that the damage now likely to occur is greater here than in any other part of the UK, it is now much more urgently needed. The voters can vote to cut off their noses, but who is it that is expected to staunch the bleeding, and what happens if it doesn’t stop?

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