EU referendum being treated like a referendum on devolution, minister says

Westminster and the Senedd. Picture on the right by Richard Szwejkowski (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Brexit referendum was not a referendum on devolution and should not be treated as such by the UK Government, Wales’ environment minister has said.

Lesley Griffiths criticised proposals by the UK government to create an internal UK market from next year – seen as a “power grab” from the devolved administrations by many commentators.

The plan aims to prevent new barriers to trade within the UK, which should also help Westminster conclude trade deals. However, it has been criticised for failing to take into consideration the views of the devolved governments on issues such as food standards.

“We’re very concerned,” Lesley Griffiths told the Grocer. “There are parts [of the proposals] which are devolved and they are just ignoring them. The EU referendum was not a referendum on devolution,” she said.

“So we shouldn’t be seen as [just] a stakeholder or someone they feel they should have to consult. We are equal partners around the table.”

 

‘Nothing is happening’

Lesley Griffiths added that she could “only imagine the damage” that’s going to be done to Wales’ food and drink sector by Brexit.

She bemoaned the “lack of clarity” and information available to a Welsh food sector already hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and said the lack of progress in negotiations was “hugely concerning” for businesses.

With just five months to go until the end of the Brexit transition period and export markets to the EU in particular so crucial for Welsh producers, ministers in Cardiff were “very unhappy” at the lack of progress in negotiations, the MS for Wrexham said.

“Every Welsh government minister pressures their [UK government] counterpart on the issue at every opportunity,” she told the Grocer, while suggesting she had little confidence in a breakthrough before the end of the year.

“Producers are faced with the parallel challenge of the pandemic and the EU transition and the outcome of trade negotiations, which is impossible to predict,” Griffiths said.

“I met with my counterparts in Defra and across the UK last week, where we just repeated the same things – we need to know about these trade negotiations.

“On EU negotiations, nothing is happening as far as I can see. We’ve really pushed the UK government to extend the Brexit transition period – but they’ve refused do that.”

Negotiations with the US and Japan “aren’t going particularly well either”, she added. “So it’s hugely concerning for our food and drink sector.”

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