Wales to host British-Irish Council meeting in Cardiff

Mark Drakeford Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Government leaders from across the UK and Ireland will be in Cardiff today (Friday) as Wales hosts a summit meeting against a backdrop of Brexit-related tensions.

The British Irish Council (BIC) was set up in 1998 as part of peace talks in Northern Ireland and meets twice a year.

This will be the 36th summit meeting of the leaders.

Michael Gove will attend for the UK Government as will the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland along with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and leaders of the governments of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. 

From the Republic of Ireland, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney will also be attending the talks. 

Officially the summit is meant to be focussing on the issues of language and early years development but it takes part against a backdrop of Brexit and increasing tensions between the EU and the UK as well as between the UK government and devolved administrations. 

It’s reported that the UK Government is planning to suspend parts of the Brexit deal which affect Northern Ireland. 

That deal established what’s known as the Northern Ireland protocol, designed to prevent border checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU, after Brexit. 

It effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market, although when Boris Johnson agreed to it in 2019 he said it would not lead to checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain. 

But it’s fiercely opposed by Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland and is said to be disrupting trade between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, something that’s particularly noticeable in Welsh ports such as Holyhead.

Lord Frost

The UK Government’s Brexit minister Lord Frost has set a deadline of December to resolve the dispute, demanding that the EU stops carrying out so many checks.

He’s said that the “only way forward” would be for the UK to trigger Article 16 of the Protocol if it can’t be settled by then. 

Article 16 of the agreement allows either the UK or the EU to suspend any part of the deal but the action could lead to a trade war. 

The EU has warned that such a move could be "serious for Northern Ireland as it would lead to instability and unpredictability".

There are also tensions within the UK between Boris Johnson’s government and the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland. 

There are tensions within the UK between Boris Johnson’s government and the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland

Plans to replace EU funding have been criticised both for the lack of detail and for being a means of sidelining devolution by taking powers to fund projects in previously devolved areas.

One Welsh Government minister accused the UK Government and the Conservative party of “treachery” for failing to meet Brexit promises to match the amount of money which came to Wales from EU aid.

For the last two decades, Wales has received significant funds from the EU, estimated at around £375m a year in aid known as ‘structural funding.’ 

As part of Brexit and election pledges, Boris Johnson’s government has repeatedly promised that Wales and other devolved nations will receive at least as much from proposed replacement funds.

A number of funds have already been announced, but details of the main replacement, known as the Shared Prosperity Fund, remain unclear even a year after they were last promised to be near.  

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart is far from impressed with the cooperation deal Credit: PA

This week the Welsh Secretary promised that those details would be forthcoming later this month but that the SPF wouldn’t be the only money replacing EU funding.

“We have been very clear about when that is coming through [with] a further announcement this year and into next, but[there is also] the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund, the community ownership fund and all of those other funds which have been such a success in Wales.”

That these meetings are still being held, 23 years after they were first established is a sign that talking helps keep the peace in the face of difficulties. 

Those sort of talks are never easy and there have been tense meetings before. But for a meeting conceived as part of a peace process, those taking part can expect a great deal of conflict.

Mark Drakeford said that the summit was a “timely opportunity to support dialogue and collective action between our governments.

“This is more essential than ever given the current challenges we all face.

“The council plays a unique and critical role in developing positive relationships between its members."

The last meeting of the British-Irish Council took place in June in Fermanagh.