After Brexit…

Emyr Jones Parry says that Wales needs to step confidently onto the global stage if we are to make a success of external relations post-Brexit

This article originally appeared in the welsh agenda, issue 60, published in May 2018. 


Global Britain?


The advocates of Brexit conjure up a vision of a Global Britain, outward looking, exercising a leadership role free from the shackles of the European Union. In regaining our sovereignty, Britain will press the case for free trade, support the rules based international system, and invest in new partnerships, notably in Asia and Africa. A Westminster Committee recently asked how much of this approach was rhetorical, a branding exercise?


Certainly meat needs to be put on these bones and the substance spelt out more clearly. The case for free trade is well established. It leads to increased prosperity and economic growth. But in practice trade negotiations are tortuous, dictated by national self-interest. Agriculture is invariably sensitive with pressure to protect individual sectors. Agreeing free trade in Services is always difficult and the protection of sensitive industries the norm. Successive WTO and GATT Rounds illustrate the point forcefully. Britain may champion free trade but will enough other countries join us soon enough to produce early agreed benefits?


Free trade attracts adjectives – unfettered trade, tariff free trade, frictionless trade, unhindered trade. The most complete free trade arrangement excludes tariffs and duties, eliminates non-tariff regulatory barriers, prohibits government aid to producers and unfair competition, and ensures that rules are enforced. Those conditions are only fully embodied within the Internal Market of the European Union. When we leave, any future deep special relation with the EU can only offer less economic benefit than today’s access, and no new external UK agreement with a third country or regional grouping will be able fully to reproduce these advantages.


Much is rightly made of Britain’s international assets – our defence spending and military capability, a generous aid budget, permanent membership of the UN Security Council, membership of G7 and so on. But we should be careful of claiming the leadership credential. A leadership yes and powerfully so. However, a leadership role requires those who want to be led. We shouldn’t assume this is readily available. The Commonwealth has no real political structure or unity. Nor do most third countries share British interests and values in the same way as our European neighbours. Perhaps above all in the EU we share much and have the habit of working together within an institutional structure. It will be much harder to influence others after Brexit than it has been to take a leading role within an EU of 28. During the UK Presidency of the EU in 2005 when I set out the EU position in the UN General Assembly, the EU represented 20% of the global economy and 7% of the world’s population.  The representative of the UK post Brexit will represent 3% and 1% respectively and will have to work even harder to have real influence.


Foreign policy is adapting to the challenges the United Kingdom faces. These are increasingly global – environmental, cleaner energy, climate change, terrorism, cyber attacks, migration flows and demographic change and more. They have in common the need to work with friends and the like minded to find collective responses. Of course Britain will have national objectives, but Britain alone will not be able to deliver solutions. It will be a real challenge to exercise influence and leadership, and will require strategic direction, backed by sufficient resources. Leaving the EU may offer an opportunity but it will come with a requirement to adopt a new strategic approach backed up by increased resources.


Global Wales?


Foreign and defence policy are issues reserved for the British Government and Westminster. Yet of course policies put in place and decisions taken will impact inevitably on Wales. A few examples illustrate this. A free trade agreement with New Zealand would directly affect the Welsh sheep industry. Similarly, an UK external agreement with a third country or institution which includes areas devolved within the United Kingdom should as a minimum have been discussed with the devolved administrations.


The terms of the UK’s future relations with the EU will be vital for Wales: 60% of our exports of manufactured goods go to the EU. Free access to the EU market for manufactured goods, and unhindered movement of components to and from the EU will be crucial for aeronautical, automobile products. Agricultural exports similarly.


This underlines a truism. The most important partner for the Welsh Government before and after Brexit should be the British Government. The closest cooperation and consultation should be routine, and should involve all the devolved administrations.


Future decisions on immigration will be pivotal for Wales. Despite the rhetoric of the referendum, immigrants play a vital role in Wales, in social care, the NHS, in our universities, the food industry, and much more. Their presence is a real contribution to the quality of Welsh life. This needs to continue.


A strong Welsh voice and greater influence in London is needed, on UK and international policies, and this voice should be better heeded. But post Brexit, projecting the Welsh voice globally becomes more necessary also. We need to tell the story loudly – an outward looking, very special Wales which should be more assertive post devolution.


There are many ways in which Wales is represented to the world. The arts, music, culture and audio-visual representations are powerful ambassadors for Wales. The Welsh universities underline the quality of our higher education and the research carried out, much of it in cooperation with international partners. We are well known for our sporting prowess, and not only rugby. Premier League Swansea City and the Wales football team’s recent 6-0 victory over China in Nanning promote Wales to a huge audience. Welsh business and tourism play their part, as do many other industries.


It is the internationally recognised state, the United Kingdom, which is the member of international organisations. This limits the possibilities for Wales. But every opportunity should be taken to ensure Welsh participation where it can be secured. Welsh universities want to maintain their participation in EU programmes. Creative Europe, another EU programme, is important for our cultural sector. Offices of the Welsh Government abroad can play a part, especially on economic issues, but they will have to establish a role in their host country. Wales must look for opportunities to make its influence felt. The lead and projection by politicians will be determinant if there is to be a concerted, stronger voice to defend Welsh interests externally as the opportunities and challenges of a post Brexit world emerge.


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.


Sir Emyr Jones Parry is a Former United Kingdom Ambassador to the United Nations.

6 thoughts on “After Brexit…

  1. “We need to tell the story loudly – an outward looking, very special Wales which should be more assertive post devolution.”
    Based on the content of this article it’s difficult to conclude anything other than what Cymru needs to assert loudly to the UK and world is that Cymru is not England.
    I said England rather than UK, the nation state with its four constituent parts, because I don’t think a credible argument exists for similar efforts to be made to assert that Cymru is not Scotland or that Cymru is not Northern Ireland.

    “The most important partner for the Welsh Government before and after Brexit should be the British Government.”
    The situation is that a partnership between the British government and the Welsh government is important to the British government in the sense that it’s important to them to avoid one and avoid needing one.
    Occasions when a Welsh government and a British government have agreed are examples of a British government getting what it wants aligning with what a Welsh government wants. Proof of a meaningful partnership would include examples of a Welsh government getting something that a British government did not want it to have. I don’t think that happens.
    I’d like to hear how a Welsh government can set about changing that.

  2. Another way of looking at it would be to use BREXIT as an opportunity to get rid of the EU’s NUTS1 Regions, Wales being UKL, and the existing largely failed regional structures, and replace them with areas based on their natural connectivity that make more economic sense. The NUTS1 structure was based on WW2 emergency planning – it wasn’t devised with the economy in mind. Though they are now described as statistical regions their ultimate purpose was to transfer governance from Westminster to Brussels – each Region was going to have an elected legislature, a development and planning agency, and 2 seats on the Committee of the Regions. This plan fell apart in 2004 when the people in the North East voted against a Regional Assembly. After BREXIT there is no rationale for keeping it.

    It doesn’t take a genius to realise that Wales would therefore be split into three and linked with the North West, the West Midlands, and Somerset & Avon for planning purposes. Clearly people who want ‘more Wales’, having lost ‘more Europe’, will not like this but the latest ONS figures still show that Wales has around £13.25 billion more spent on it than it collects in income. It’s time to stop pretending Wales is a country, wasting countless millions duplicating and sometimes actively competing against facilities which already exist at UK level, sucking what appears to be a very small amount of talent out of the private sector, and get on with balancing the books in a joined-up way.

  3. How do we build confidence in Wales? Do the Welsh and Wales lack confidence or is it a perception that we lack confidence?

    First the Welsh should pull together for the sake of Wales and our mutual benefit. That is not going to happen. A section of Welsh society constantly attempt to destroy all confidence in If you are investing in another country and you read the daily repetitive statements of, “we have failed”, “we cannot rule ourselves”, “we need someone to tell us what we should do”, would you invest in that country? I wouldn’t. The Abolish Wales Party know that and are actively seeking to drive jobs and investment from Wales. Another tactic is to attempt to partition Wales into as many parts as possible. I live in an area, Monmouthshire, which is particularly targeted by the English. There is nothing we can do to unite all Welsh people to pull together and have to manage the 5th columnists who are trying to destroy Wales by ignoring them, everyone else does.

    To build confidence in Wales we need to know how much tax is actually raised in Wales. Mess-Minster doesn’t keep Welsh and English taxes separate and the ONS figures on how much tax is raised in Wales is pure guess work. The way taxes are counted downplays the amount of tax which Wales contributes to the UK economy. The first step in building confidence is to see separate Welsh and English taxes

  4. @John R Walker – You’ve nailed it.
    ” It’s time to stop pretending Wales is a country”
    It’s honest and accurately describes the view of Wales.

    We should apply that strap line on every occasion the Northern Powerhouse, Great Western Force and Brummie Massive(?) promote their programmes here. Same goes for when the Labour and Tory parties in Wales act as their cheerleaders and little helpers.

  5. How unfortunate that the level of discussion has descended to this level in this forum. Brexit has polarized rational debate in the UK at a time when Wales is coming to terms with a change in governance, albeit under a limited set of powers compared with Scotland, or other small countries and regions in the EU.

    There are clearly limits on the ability of Welsh Government to establish inter-governmental relations with other jurisdictions, but it’s not impossible. I am reminded of an organization of several years ago called the Four Motors of Europe which established a relationship with the Province of Ontario. Canada, within the parameters of our respective responsibilities. A change in government and tighter budgets in Ontario brought an end to the relationship as far as certain sectors were concerned, but some of us who were around at the time felt that there were more pluses to be gained from the arrangement than to walk away from the table, which is essentially what happened when the government changed.

    There is more to “looking outward” that the occasional inter-jurisdictional meeting and the drafting statements of mutual intent. It involves networking, the establishment of cross sector working groups to explore opportunities with potential partners, whether in trade, higher education and post-graduate research, culture and heritage, or the management of the environment and natural resources. The building of trust with potential partners.

    Time to think and act outside the silo.

  6. Ken Richards

    I agree, but with Brexit isn’t the UK an inward looking country? The UK has turned it’s back on the worlds largest free trade block and we will be shackled by WTO regulation. “British” nationalist parties are popping up like zits. There is a rise in right wing nationalism in the UK. Let’s be completely honest a rise in right wing English nationalism which involves rolling back devolution. Increasing it seems our future is independence or becoming a neglected backwater / colony of England. They are using the same negative tactics and moving goals, expose one lie and they will move onto another lie, they used during the Brexit referendum.

    Until recently I have not supported Welsh independence, we will be better off starting a part of the UK. But now it’s time to put economies to one side and put the long time interests of Wales and our children and grandchildren first and step away from the right wing madness which is overwhelming the UK. in Wales MUST include the independence option.

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