Jones tells May: Don't pick Brexit fight with Wales

Carwyn Jones and Theresa May joined forces to announce Swansea City deal Credit: PA, Ben Birchall

The First Minister has written to the Prime Minister warning her not to pick a fight with Wales during talks on leaving the European Union.

Carwyn Jones also tells Theresa May that the election result shows that her government 'has no mandate for the sort of ‘hard Brexit’ which you have championed.'

In the strongly-worded letter, the First Minister,

  • DEMANDS an urgent meeting of the devolved governments with the Prime Minister via the Joint Ministerial Committee
  • TELLS her she has no mandate for a 'hard Brexit'
  • URGES her to use the Welsh White Paper with its plan for 'full and unfettered access' to the single market as a basis for negotiations
  • WARNS the Prime Minister not to take powers to London from devolved areas when they're transferred from Brussels or risk 'a fight you do not need to have'
  • DEMANDS better relations between the UK Government and the devolved nations

Carwyn Jones tells the Prime Minister that his government can be 'reliable and constructive partners' in the Brexit process, but with a clear warning that he could be obstructive if she fails to heed his advice.

You can read the full text of the letter below.

Dear Prime Minister

Following the election results and your invitation from Her Majesty the Queen to form a Government, I am writing with regard to the urgent matter of taking forward theArticle 50 process and to securing the UK’s future prosperity as we leave the EU.

In my view, it is essential that we have an urgent meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (Plenary) in order to have the sort of meaningful discussion of the UK’s negotiating position which your Government was not prepared to have prior to the Election, despite the Terms of Reference we agreed for the JMC (European Negotiations). I believe that this should include the Leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party and of Sinn Fein, even if such a meeting takes place before the formation of a new Northern Ireland Executive.

I hope you will recognise that, given the outcome of the General Election, your Government has no mandate for the sort of ‘hard Brexit’ which you have championed. By contrast, it is of critical importance to build a broad-based consensus across the UK and across parties and civil society about how to take forward the Brexit process. The JMC is, for the present, a fundamental part of that process.

It is clear that, while the concept of a ‘deep and special partnership’ with the EU will command broad support, there is no such consensus around other key aspects of the policy laid out in your White Paper ‘The United Kingdom’s Exit from, and new Partnership with, the European Union’, for example, the determination to withdraw from the Customs Union. And there has been no serious discussion at all within the confidential space represented by the JMC of the prioritisation between what seem to be conflicting goals.

It is also increasingly clear that, given the political situation, it will be impossible to both negotiate a withdrawal agreement and put in place the basis for a future relationship with the EU within two years. It means we must agree within the UK now, and seek the agreement of our EU partners early in negotiations, the form of transitional arrangements to come into effect in April 2019.

For our part, we have laid out quite clearly in our White Paper, Securing Wales’ Future a balanced and coherent approach to leaving the European Union, which puts our economic interests of securing continued full and unfettered access to the Single Market at the heart of its agenda. We have never received a formal response to this document from your Government, but we believe this might form the basis of a UK wide negotiating position that could command considerable support.

We also need urgent clarification of your intentions in respect of the so-called Great Repeal Bill. In particular, we need to know whether as a part of any Bill, you will seek to modify the devolution settlements - in our case the Government of Wales Act 2006 and/or the Wales Act2017.

You will recall that I wrote to you on 6 February, making clear our view (which we believe is supported by the Supreme Court in the Miller case) that, unless there is further Parliamentary legislation, responsibilities for policy areas such as Agriculture, the Environment and Economic Development will continue, following Brexit, to lie with the devolved institutions. I have never received a reply to this letter, but the issues I raised then will need to be addressed now. I have, of course, read the White Paper you published in March (“Legislating for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union”) but this is, at best, skeletal in nature, and more detailed answers are now required.

I have made clear repeatedly the Welsh Government’s willingness to work with the UKGovernment and the other devolved administrations to establish new policy frameworks on matters hitherto governed by EU regulation where such frame works are necessary to prevent the introduction of friction within our own internal market. If you accept this approach, you will find us reliable and constructive partners. If you do not, and attempt to take powers to impose frameworks in respect of matters within devolved competence, or to place new and continuing constraints on the NationalAssembly’s legislative competence in this regard we will have no choice but to oppose such steps and, bluntly, this is a fight which you do not need to have.

If your intention is to proceed with the Bill, we require detailed discussions between our officials ahead of its introduction in Parliament. Your White Paper was deeply ambiguous about the scope of powers to be afforded to Welsh Ministers and this, among other matters, requires urgent clarification.

Finally, in the longer term we believe that the machinery for inter-governmental working between the four administrations needs to be overhauled if we are to be able to meet the challenges of the coming years. Recent experience has demonstrated the fragility of the JMC machinery in meeting the current challenges; we cannot allow it to collapse before we address the issue of new and better arrangements for the long term.

The Welsh Government will be publishing a new policy paper on these issues later this week. I look to you and the UK government to address them in a serious and considered way which pays full respect to the existing devolution settlements. I look forward to receiving your reply.

I am copying this to the First Minister in Scotland, the Permanent Secretary to Northern Ireland Executive, the First Secretary of State, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, and the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

– Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister