Welsh minister attended UK Gov trade meeting with EU – but wasn’t allowed to contribute
A Welsh minister has attended a UK Government trade meeting with the EU – but he wasn’t allowed to contribute.
The Welsh Government’s Economy Minister Vaughan Gething has said that it is “deeply unsatisfactory” that representatives from the devolved governments were only there as “observers”.
He went to the first meeting of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement Partnership Council meeting as an observer, along with Ministers from the other Devolved Governments.
The meeting was co-chaired by Lord Frost, the UK Government’s Minister of State at the Cabinet Office and the European Commission Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič.
It covered sanitary and phytosanitary measures and customs and trade facilitation; fisheries; law enforcement; visa fees; participation in Union programmes; and updates on the institutional frameworks.
Gething has written to Frost following the meeting to express his dissatisfaction with the current set up and demand that Welsh Government ministers be allowed to take part as full participants.
He said that many of the areas covered in the meetings fall within “devolved competence” and added that he wants to UK Government to agree “joint positions” with the devolved administrations, before putting them to the EU.
In his letter to Lord Frost, Vaughan Gething said: “It is important that out role, as part of the UK delegation, is not limited. The Welsh Government must be able to contribute on issues that fall within our devolved competence as active participants at meetings of the UK-EU Partnership Council.
“Our responsibilities for implementation and the real impact that the TCA is already having on businesses and citizens in Wales make it vital that we fully involved in agreeing UK positions and have the opportunity to represent our direct interests in the meetings.
“It was therefore deeply unsatisfactory that the Devolved Government were only in attendance at the first meeting of the Partnership Council as observers. This cannot be the position as we move forward.
“We respect your position as co-chair reflective of the status of the UK Government leading interactions with the EU on these matters.
“However, this does not preclude the ministers from the Devolved Government from being active participants to support UK positions being advanced.
“We want to work constructively on a four government basis to agree joint positions and advance them directly with the EU.
“This is an opportunity to demonstrate common purpose and clarity to the EU that all governments with implementing responsibilities support the positions being advanced by the UK delegation.
“The Welsh Government cannot credibly support a position where ministers are invited to meetings but have no active role.
“It will also be crucial that the structures and engagement which underpin these meetings are established to operate in a manner which will facilitate genuine joint working and development of agreed UK positions which are supported by the Ministers of the Devolved Governments.
“This must include genuine participation and involvement in the working groups and specialised committees which cover issues in devolved areas. There can be no exception to genuine participation in those areas where we have implementing responsibilities.
Gething also asked for the Welsh Government to be invited to meetings about the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He said: “Finally, I repeat the position I set out in our meeting on 8 June that Welsh Government ministers must be invited to meetings of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee when matters in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol are discussed.
“The movement of goods between Wales and the Island of Ireland has profound implications for ports in Wales and we must be involved in the discussions that take place in the Joint Committee.
“It is astonishing that the UK Government continues to express surprise that the Northern Ireland Protocol is diverting trade away from direct Great Britain to Republic of Ireland routes.
“In March 2020 Welsh Minsters shared with UK Government Ministers independent research on the implications of the Northern Ireland Protocol on Wales. This research was clear that trade diversion was expected.
“The scale of the implications for Wales was predictable and predicted. It is now very real and of direct interest to the Welsh Government.
“I fully recognise the challenges to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol but it is essential that the UK Government works constructively with the EU. Unilateral action only undermines the work that is needed to build relationships with the EU.
“I urge the UK Government to resolve differences through joint work and constructive engagement. That is the approach that we wish to take.”