Jonathan Edwards - Herald Column

Brexit Phase 2 – What Happens Next

Today is Brexit day. By the time readers wake up tomorrow, the British State will no longer be a member of the European Union. The Brexit debate will move to the second phase, the transition between the official divorce and the future relationship. For some today will be a day of celebration, for others a source of deep regret.

In my first contribution to the new parliament I warned the Prime Minister against boxing himself into a corner by placing an arbitrary deadline for phase 2. Time pressures will be on the side of the European Union and the British Government will face a stark choice – either align fully to get a comprehensive free trade agreement by December or diverge from European standards in which case the best we can hope for is a bare boned trade understanding or at worst a catastrophic no deal. I will be calling on the British Government to consider removing the arbitrary December deadline to allow enough time to get the trade agreement right. I will also be calling for close alignment to preserve access to the main destination of Welsh exports. It is economically illiterate to argue that trade deals with the likes of Australia, New Zealand and the Us can replicate the European market.

However, it appears that the British Government will decide to diverge economically from the EU. Therefore, as Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price AM outlined at the beginning of this week we will have to adapt to new realities and look at measures which could help Wales. One possible option would be to argue for a change in procurement policies to enable a strategy based on boosting Welsh businesses. Secondly, we will argue for the necessary fiscal firepower to be devolved to Wales to enable our national government to intervene in the Welsh economy. For instance, there would be no legal reason not to devolve VAT, APD and corporation tax to Wales – all potential vital job creation leavers for the Welsh Government.

I will continue to press for democratic oversight of all trade deals negotiated by the British Government. The EU Withdrawal Bill gives no formal role for the House of Commons in approving the policy of the British Government. Therefore, on the biggest issue facing this parliamentary term, the House of Commons is effectively a talking shop. When it comes to the final deal with the EU and all other trade deals there must be democratic approval of any negotiations concluded by British Government trade negotiators. In the United States, Congress has final say over any US trade deals.

In the EU, all Member States (and within certain states like Belgium regional governments within their boundaries) have a veto. Due to the impact trade deals will have over the Welsh economy, I will be arguing that they should also be endorsed by our national parliament in Cardiff. Wales currently faces the ridiculous situation whereby Wallonia in Belgium will have more say over EU trade deals than we will have over UK negotiated trade deals.

Thirdly as I wrote in the Herald a few weeks ago, I will argue that Carmarthenshire doesn't lose any of its European cash. I regret to inform readers that I expect our communities to be completely shafted by the British Government.

I will be calling on the British Government to continue participation in pan European Higher Education projects such as Erasmus, Creative Europe and Horizon. In my view it is important that Brexit does not limit the life opportunities of our young people. International academic collaboration is vitally important for our Higher Education institutions as well as a significant source of funding. For instance between 2014-18 over £40m of Erasmus funding was awarded to Wales, with over seven thousand of our young people participating in projects.

I will work with others to develop the concept of an Associated European Citizenship for UK citizens. Often missing in the debate surrounding freedom of movement is that it is a reciprocal right. In other words, one of the consequences of Brexit is that UK citizens lose the right to live and work freely in all EU Member States.

Lastly, due to the importance of migration to our economy and in particular our public services, I will be advocating that the Welsh Government be allowed to issue visas where we have specific skill shortages. The Health Service immediately springs to mind where the we are very reliant upon the recruitment of staff from outside the UK. I will of course continue to argue that the Welsh Government needs to do more to ensure that our own medical schools train more Welsh doctors and nurses to provide the skills needed by our health service in Wales.

All the difficult decisions have been left for the 11 months remaining of phase 2. It made far more strategic sense to conduct these negotiations whilst we were within the EU. The British Government will be hoping that Brexit fatigue helps them avoid scrutiny.

Far from getting Brexit done the words of Churchill come to mind – "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."


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