|Alun Davies AM|
|David Melding AM|
|David Rees AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Delyth Jewell AM|
|Huw Irranca-Davies AM|
|Mandy Jones AM|
|Michael Gove MP||Canghellor Dugiaeth Caerhirfryn|
|Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster|
|Claire Fiddes||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Rhys Morgan||Ail Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Sesiwn graffu gyda Michael Gove AS, Canghellor Dugiaeth Caerhirfryn||2. Scrutiny session with Michael Gove MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster|
|3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:11.
The meeting began at 13:11.
Good afternoon. Can I welcome Members and the public to this afternoon's meeting of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee? First of all, can I remind Members that the meeting is bilingual? Therefore, there is simultaneous translation available on the headphones via channel 1. There's also amplification on the headphones via channel 0.
We have no scheduled fire alarms today in the building. Therefore, if one does go off, please follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location. Can you please also turn your mobile phones or any other electronic equipment off or on silent so that they don't interfere with the broadcasting? Do any Members wish to declare an interest at this point in time?
Yes, Chair. I'd like to declare my interest as chair of the European Advisory Group, but also the programme monitoring committee's European funding monitoring group and also the investment Wales—[Inaudible.]—.
We move on to the next item on the agenda, which is an evidence session with Michael Gove MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Can I welcome Michael Gove to the meeting via the video link? We very much appreciate your commitment to provide this meeting and for attending. As you know, you will get a transcript at the end of it.
It is important to remind ourselves that events have happened quite dramatically since we arranged this meeting. The Prime Minister has now agreed a deal with the EU. We've had events in Parliament this week. So, we may go a little bit beyond the Operation Yellowhammer issues and 'no deal' preparedness that we had originally discussed.
It's certainly the legal default position that we would be leaving on 31 October. Until we hear from the European leaders in the European Council, nobody can count, necessarily, on there being any extension.
The European Union now, really, decides the fate of the United Kingdom in this period, which is quite a disappointing position for us all to be in, I trust. Do you not believe that it's an extraordinarily irresponsible position to be in, that, seven days, potentially, from a default 'no deal' departure we could be in a situation whereby we don't even know the future of this country in the next 10 days?
The House of Commons had an opportunity to provide certainty last Saturday, when the Prime Minister debated the deal that he had concluded with the European Union, but, at that point, Parliament voted for an amendment that created uncertainty, and, again, there was an opportunity with the Second Reading of the withdrawal Bill, which did secure a good majority for us to proceed in a timely and orderly way, but, again, the House of Commons declined to support the programme motion that would have allowed us to do just that.
You have a responsibility in Government for the well-being of the population of this country and the communities of this country, and I think simply blaming the UK Parliament for your own failures is not really a very convincing argument. But, in terms of where we're going now, I've got great sympathy with the Members of Parliament who voted against the programme motion this week, because we're all legislators here and with you. You've piloted legislation through the UK Parliament and I've piloted legislation through the Welsh Parliament. You know and I know how difficult that process should be and can be, and that it's right and proper that not only in Westminster, but in Cardiff and Edinburgh we're able to scrutinise that legislation and have the opportunity to scrutinise that legislation.
The people of Wales, like the entire population of the United Kingdom, voted to leave the European Union more than three years ago, and since then we've had hundreds of hours of debate and scrutiny in the House of Commons, and I know that the Welsh Assembly has also had an opportunity to debate the issues about how we leave. I think the public are—how can I best put it?—somewhat exasperated with the failure of the House of Commons to ensure that we leave on time, and, of course, every MP acts honourably, every Assembly Members does what they must think is right, but, overall, I think that the public are disappointed that the opportunity to leave the European Union in an orderly and timely way has been declined by the House of Commons.
Let me say, I agree with you in terms of a lot of what you say there. I think the public is disappointed. I don't think it's the House of Commons they're disappointed in. I think it's politicians full stop, I have to say to you. I've not experienced so much disappointment, if you like, in politics since the expenses scandal a decade ago, and many people, I think, are drawing that parallel between the failure of politics then and the failure of politics today, and I agree with you that people are exasperated with the current situation, but I think Government bares a responsibility. I think Government always bares a responsibility. When I was in Government, I took responsibility for the pursuit of my policy, and I think it would be useful for the UK Government to accept its own responsibility in these matters.
But to return to the key point, I think it's unlikely that we leave next Thursday. So, in terms of your work as the Minister responsible for these matters in the UK Government, I would anticipate—and I was the Minister responsible for contingencies last year and I was planning for leaving the European Union at that time—that you have now or are now putting in place actions and plans for covering the next few months, and I wondered if you could share those with us.
Thank you for your question and I think your broader points are well made. It is the case that we need to be ready for every contingency. As mentioned earlier, the European Council has not decided whether to offer an extension and, if so, on what terms. So, the possibility does remain, for which I have to plan—and I was talking to Welsh Government Ministers only yesterday about this—of a 'no deal' departure on 31 October, but it is also the case that we're thinking about what would happen after 31 October in order to ensure that the UK can leave the European Union, whatever the particular contingency that arises at that time.
I think it's quite unlikely that we're going to leave next week and I think conversations that have been reported within the UK Government in London tell us that you're having a lot of conversations about different options, and, for me, I think it's important for the people I represent, in one of the poorest parts of the country, to understand what the actions of the UK Government are going to be on 1 November, on 1 December—to understand, you know, what sort of Christmas people can plan for.
Well, I think the best Christmas present of all that politicians can deliver would be our exit from the European Union in an orderly way and support for the Prime Minister's excellent withdrawal agreement. In the meantime, of course, we work well with the Welsh Assembly Government in order to ensure that those areas where we have common interests are—. We discuss properly and execute appropriately all the steps required in order to make sure that our economy remains strong and that people can enjoy prosperity and security.
Yes, please. Hello, Mr Gove. I'm Mandy Jones from the Brexit Party. As you said before, people in Wales voted to leave and the people I speak to on the doorstep and outside, in shopping centres and everything are very angry about not leaving yet because Wales did vote to leave, and, actually, Alun's constituency voted 62 per cent to leave. So, you know—?
Yes. So, Mr Gove, what do you actually think about the Welsh Government the other day insisting on an LCM and voting against it, and do you think that this is helping us towards a constitutional crisis?
Before you answer, Mr Gove, for clarification, the LCM has been laid, but there was no vote on the LCM. There was a vote on a motion that discussed the Brexit deal.
Of course. Thank you very much, thank you. On a practical level, I find the relationship that I have and the UK Government has with Welsh Government Ministers to be productive and harmonious. Whether it's Jeremy Miles or Lesley Griffiths, I enjoy working with them and I think that they are good and public-spirited Ministers. However, it is the case that the Labour Party in Wales and across the United Kingdom has not done what it said it would do in its manifesto, which is it has not yet honoured the referendum vote to leave. There was an opportunity to do so in our House of Commons earlier this week and I can't think of any Welsh Labour MP who voted to support the deal that I'm aware of.
I don't want to be too political, but I will clarify that the manifesto, if I remind the Minister, was that we would honour the referendum but looking to ensure that jobs and the economy were protected. I think that's the difference. Delyth.
Yes, indeed. Fair point.
Good afternoon. Hi. I don't think that we will agree that Brexit is the best Christmas present, but we can agree to disagree, certainly, on that point. Could I clarify something that you said earlier about the extension, please? I think that the Prime Minister had written to Donald Tusk requesting an extension, and a few hours afterwards you said to the press that we would still leave on 31 October. Now, how could we leave if article 50 had been extended? Would we have to do that by unilateral decree?
To, again, clarify, the Prime Minister was mandated by law by the Benn Act to send a letter requesting an extension, and he has complied, of course, absolutely, with the letter of the law. But the Benn Act cannot change the Prime Minister's mind or cannot alter the Government's intent. The Prime Minister wants us to leave in good order at the earliest possible opportunity, and that is Government policy. At the moment, we have not yet heard back from the European Union as to whether or not it will grant us an extension, and if it does seek to grant an extension, how long and under what terms or conditions. So, until then, we're in a position of uncertainty, and I regret that as much as anyone.
I certainly do regret the uncertainty, but just to clarify again, please, because the Prime Minister can't, by his own mind, change the law, and the law did compel him to send that letter to Donald Tusk—
—under what circumstances could you justify the fact that you had said, a few hours after that letter was sent, that we would still leave? I'm just trying to work out what the mechanism would be for us leaving if article 50 had been extended.
I think you're referring to my being interviewed on the Sophy Ridge programme on Sky News, and the point I made then, in advance of the House of Commons voting on the Second Reading, was that the opportunity was there and, actually, we managed to secure a majority of 30 at Second Reading, so Parliament willed the end, leaving on 31 October, but it didn't then vote for the means by which we could do so, because Parliament didn't support the programme motion that would have allowed us to get on with delivering Brexit.
Okay. Would you agree with me that it might have been slightly misleading, then, to have said that we will definitely be leaving on 31 October? Because we may well be in a situation then where article 50 has been extended.
It lies in the hands of the European Council to decide that, and it lay in the hands of the House of Commons to ensure that we didn't need any extension, but the House of Commons declined to agree to the programme motion that would have allowed us to press ahead.
Okay. So, you would not agree that it was misleading. But I won't press that point.
Can I ask you about the question of consent, please, Mr Gove? Yesterday the Prime Minister, in response to a question from Ian Blackford in PMQs, had said—well, he was asked whether the devolved legislatures' consent would be respected before the withdrawal agreement Bill could be passed. Now, he certainly responded in a negative way to that. We have been contacted through an LCM. Our explicit consent has been requested for the passage of that Bill. That puts us in a very odd position whereby we already know from the Prime Minister's words that he's not going to be paying any heed to whether or not we give that consent. Do you think that that has rather damaged the Sewel convention, and possibly devolution?
No, but I can understand the concern that lies behind your question. We would obviously like a legislative consent motion to pass. If the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament were to pass those motions, then that would be a very, very good thing. But, ultimately, I think it's just a statement of constitutional reality that treaties, international treaties, are for the UK Government to agree and the UK Parliament to ratify. But, of course, one of the reasons why I'm delighted to be able to answer questions from your committee, albeit that I'm sad that I'm not with you in person, is because I do think it's critically important to make devolution work in all our interests and to respect the particular place and the particular mandate of the Welsh Assembly and its Ministers.
Well, I wish that that had been communicated rather more effectively by the Prime Minister yesterday, Mr Gove. You say that you would like that to happen, it would be a very good thing. I understand that, as part of your responsibilities, you hold responsibility for the union. If I can put it bluntly, how do you think the union can survive when the powers of the devolved institutions are sidelined in this way?
I don't think it's the case that the powers of the devolved institutions are sidelined. I think, for devolution to work, it does require—and I think this lies behind your questions as well—mutual respect. And that means both respecting the competence of the devolved administrations and their Governments, but also the devolved administrations recognising those issues that are reserved to Westminster and fall within the competence of the UK Parliament to conclude and decide.
So, for the devolved administrations very much to know our place, then.
No, I think Parliament in Westminster should know its place, equally. There are some people who would argue for independence for Wales—that's obviously not my position—
I know, and it's a long and honourable tradition in Welsh politics, obviously, and I respect it, but I don't believe it's the majority view. I think the majority view of the people of Wales is that they want to make devolution work and therefore they would want to ensure both that the Welsh Assembly was respected but also that the UK Parliament continues to act in those areas that are reserved.
Can I intervene, on that question? In your response to the committee, you highlighted that you believe the Government should uphold the Sewel convention with respect to the LCM, and you have laid an LCM. Now, I will put a hypothetical situation to you, where both the Scottish and the Welsh institutions reject the LCM and do not give consent. As you quite rightly pointed out, it's an international treaty, which the UK Government believes is a reserved matter. The reason, perhaps, that consent is not given is because of issues of devolved competencies that they are both worried about. Is it, therefore, your understanding in that scenario that the UK Government would still go ahead with the Bill, even though consent may not have been received from either of those institutions?
Well, at this stage—and I absolutely understand why you put the question in the way that you do—I want to work to ensure that we can get an LCM. So, anything that might be said or done to reduce the chance of an LCM passing I would not want to say or do. The Speaker of the House of Commons, my friend John Bercow, often quotes Lord Whitelaw, when Lord Whitelaw famously said that he tended to cross bridges only when he came to them. But my further hope would be that we could find agreement between the UK Parliament and our other Parliaments in the United Kingdom. And, in that spirit, I want to make sure that we continue to work together as harmoniously as possible.
And in that spirit, as you've highlighted, if that situation arose, clearly it highlights the deficiencies in the situation between the different devolved nations across the UK and the relationships that exist between the institutions. Are you, therefore, looking beyond that to look at the constitution to ensure that there's more parity of esteem between the institutions, so that if consent is requested and is not given, that is respected?
Well, I think it's important to have an ongoing conversation about how we make sure that devolution works in everyone's interests, and I wouldn't want to pre-empt any of the conclusions of that conversation or the inter-governmental review that we have committed to engaging with the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Government. I wouldn't want to pre-empt that by coming to any precipitate conclusions, but I think it's important that we discuss respectively how we can make devolution work in the interests of all.
I'm one of these people who wants to make devolution work and wants to maintain and strengthen the union, and I want to be a partner with you in doing that.
Yes; thank you.
And it is important, therefore, that the United Kingdom institutions—both the Government and the Parliament—appreciate and understand, therefore, how we can look towards finding ways through these matters. I suspect that the Welsh Parliament will not give consent to the current Bill in its current form, and I suspect that the Welsh and the Scottish administrations will continue to find common cause in dealing with these matters.
It would be useful for us, I think, and certainly for those of us who support the unionist cause, if the United Kingdom Government could give a clear commitment to sit down and to talk to the Welsh Government, and Parliament to Parliament, about how we can create structures that will enable that consent to be given.
I understand the point that you make about competence and I understand the point that you make about the competence of the UK institutions as well as the Welsh institutions—I don't challenge that. But in making those decisions, and in making those treaties and in making those laws in the United Kingdom institutions, you are also having a significant impact on devolved competence, and it cannot be right that the powers and ability of the Welsh Government to run its responsibilities is determined late in the evening in Westminster without the consent of these institutions here.
So, my feeling is that Sewel has probably run its course, quite frankly. I think that Sewel has probably run its course. I think the word 'normally' is probably the wrong word to be in Sewel, and I think we probably need to find a structure that will enable us to resolve our disagreements where they are. The Joint Ministerial Committee structure doesn't work in doing that, and I say that as somebody who has sat on JMCs, and I suspect that we need a structure outside of the UK Government. Would you support that sort of approach to those sorts of discussions? I'm not trying to pin you down, if you like, or put words in your mouth, but I am looking for an alternative way to hold this union together.
I think that's a very, very fair point and, again, in your comments there you said that you wouldn't want to put words into my mouth, and, so, again, I think it is worth exploring. And I take your point about Sewel. I'm not sure that is right, actually, but nevertheless, I think it is important that we have an ongoing conversation between the UK Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament and with respective Ministers in order to try to make sure that the institutions can work in the way that you mentioned. And the point has been made by the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales that the act of leaving the European Union, as well as obviously leading to additional powers for each of the respective Parliaments, also means that we need to reflect on the relationship between them in order to make sure it works well.
Good afternoon, Minister. We're in the happy position in Wales that we have some of the foremost constitutional experts in the UK here, as do Scotland for obvious reasons, and they'll be interested in the way that the Sewel convention is currently being interpreted. And I spoke to a couple of the fellows in this strange, anorak profession this morning, who posited that question: why ask for consent? Why lay the LCM that is seeking consent of the National Assembly for Wales, if it's only a convenience it would be nice to have? Because that casts the Sewel convention as a form of nicety rather than anything else, hence my colleague's question: has the Sewel convention run its course? Why lay the request, if you're not intending to listen to the response?
I think we would definitely listen to the response, and that's why I mentioned earlier that what we hope to do is to work towards agreement across the United Kingdom about how we leave the European Union. And I mentioned, I think, in response to the Chair's question that I wouldn't want to do or say anything at this stage that would prejudice the chance of us having the maximum amount of consensus behind our departure.
Yes. I think it's only fair to Mr Gove to remind the committee that on Tuesday, the First Minister of Wales said that this is a 'remain' Government that would not give consent to any deal that took us out of the EU. So, the Sewel convention can't operate in these circumstances because there's not reasonable interaction here in Wales. Sewel only makes sense if reasonable consent is not withheld, but you play the game and you accept the constitutional parameters as we have them. So, I do say to opposition Members that it's absolutely impossible for the British Government to get a consent motion through because of what the First Minister has said.
I think you've made your point—[Interruption.] Alun, I think he's made his point. It's a rhetorical question, in one sense, and Mr Gove hasn't got to answer that question. Huw, going back to your questions on specific details you wanted to raise.
Yes, thank you, Chair. Minister, I've got some specific questions. Within the now revised particularly political declaration, but also the withdrawal agreement with some slight amendments, can I ask where the explicit protections are for disabled people? I understand that there's been no equality impact assessment across the proposals here. Previously, we've been under a set of rules where the protection for disabled people is explicit. I've done my best to read these massive documents as fast as I can—I find nothing specific.
I think it is the case that ahead of the European Union, it was the case, I think when William Hague was Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the predecessor department of the Department for Work and Pensions—he introduced landmark legislation that has subsequently been built on to ensure that the rights of people living with disabilities are respected. And there is nothing in the agreement or the political declaration that would lead to any diminution of the rights and the entitlements of people living with disabilities.
You're not contradicting my assertion that there's nothing explicitly, within this agreement anyway, that refers to that.
There is nothing that in any way would lead to the diminution of the rights of people living with disabilities. Again, I absolutely appreciate, because I know, in view of your proud record of campaigning for people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, that, naturally, that would be one of the first areas that you would turn to. But in broad terms, there are a number of very important points and principles of how we treat everyone in this country with respect that wouldn't need to be in the withdrawal agreement because they're already matters of domestic law and good practice. It will, of course, be the case in the future, I'm sure, that the opportunity will exist in legislation to further improve the support that we give to people living with disabilities.
Okay, thank you, Minister. If I could turn to something else that I'm struggling to find made explicit within it, even though it was much more explicit under Theresa May's previous proposals, which is the issue of the European arrest warrant, particularly in the rewriting of this, which I think most commentators would say has now brought the political declaration to something that is a more dilute form than was previously there—it's more around a free trade agreement, so things have been stripped out, and, of course, it's your prerogative to do that. But the problem with that is that things get stripped out alongside it, particularly issues around security. So, what assurance could you give us on something as fundamental to our international co-operation on security as the European arrest warrant, because it is no longer here?
I think it's the case that, a little while back, the Home Secretary wrote to Frans Timmermans, the current commissioner who is responsible for these issues, to say that even in the event of 'no deal' we would want to continue to have access to the law enforcement and national security tools that we've built together while we've been in the European Union. There's been no change in that intention or that policy. It is the case that the Home Secretary would want to ensure that we maintained not just co-operation on the European arrest warrant but co-operation in other areas of law enforcement and national security.
Okay, thank you for that. I only have one final point for now, Chair, and I think this comes, Minister, to the issue of the time needed to look at this, because these aren't ones that I'm conjuring up out of air. I'm literally having conversations by the hour now with people who are saying, 'Where is this? Where are the protections?' And you're giving us some helpful answers, but we don't have the time, actually, and I suspect there are a hundred other ones.
Let me just ask one other. I've had a discussion this morning with an individual involved in a sector that's very important for Wales, which is the aerospace industry—as it is for other parts of the United Kingdom as well. And the conversation we've had has been around the issue of the free trade element of this, which, of course, is the prerogative of your Government to decide how the arrangements are taken forward, but the commitment that was previously there about no diminution of the regulatory alignment that will allow these businesses that have a truly transnational, European agenda to thrive and survive—well, it's been described to me this morning by one person involved in that as, 'This is Singapore on the sea.' Now, this is not somebody from the trade union council in Wales—. Are you still there, Minister?
Sorry, we lost the link there for a second, just as Huw was talking about Singapore on the sea.
Yes, with that. That response, that diminution now of the regulatory alignment that was previously promised.
I recognise how important aerospace is to Wales, particularly to jobs and communities in north Wales, but across the whole of the country, and I had the opportunity to talk to representatives of the manufacturing sector earlier this week, and one of the things that I talked about in the context of this deal is the fact that we hope to retain membership of a variety of European agencies, including the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, the appropriate agency for safety in aviation, along with the European Chemicals Agency and so on. And that's because there's obviously no need, and, indeed, it would be counterproductive, to seek to abandon some of the shared principles we have on issues like aviation safety. There are, by definition, both European and international agreements to which we would wish to adhere in order to ensure that we can continue to play our part in, for example, the co-operation that has led to Airbus being such a successful business.
Thank you, Minister, and, look, I'm going to stop calling you Minister and call you Michael for a moment, if I can—
But could I ask, in that meeting that you had—and I suspect that that was on the back of representations that have been made to you by the Chemical Industries Association, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the Food and Drink Federation and aerospace, who wrote to you with exactly this concern—did they come out of that meeting assured that their futures are okay?
I hope so, but, again, you would have to ask any of the individuals there. But it was certainly the case that I felt—and, again, I wouldn't want to put words in anyone's mouth—that the points that I was able to draw out I think were reassuring to them, but I'm sure that there may be other questions or other concerns that they might have, which I would also be able to reassure them on.
Can I also come back to your answer? You've talked about wanting to still be involved with many European agencies—
Then, that clearly gives an indirect—. Indirectly, you are talking about regulatory alignment for those agencies. So, there will be a commitment by the UK Government if it wants to combine with those agencies to the regulatory alignment in those areas.
Mr Gove, could I ask you about the impact assessments? Has your Government conducted an impact assessment of the effects of the Prime Minister's deal, considering it's going to put a border in the Irish sea, and the impact that that will have on Holyhead?
We have done a huge amount of work to look at a range of issues that—
Have you done an impact assessment? I'm sorry to interrupt you, but could you just specify if an impact assessment has been done?
Not in the sense that some politicians have sought to do. Some people have said that we should have an economic impact assessment. It's difficult, I think, to have an economic impact assessment because there are so many variables in play. I always remember the words of J. K. Galbraith, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, who said that economic forecasting was invented in order to give astrology a good name. And, among other things, I think it's important, of course, for all of us to look at a variety of economic factors, but no impact assessment can ever give us the unvarnished truth, because, by definition, it is impossible to predict with certainty how something as multifaceted as the UK economy will grow and develop in the future.
Oh, gosh. I find that quite astonishing, actually. So, no impact assessment has been conducted on the impact this will have on congestion in Anglesey.
If you're talking about the situation in Anglesey, I've had the opportunity to visit Holyhead and I've talked to people in local government there. So, forgive me, if your question is about whether we've looked at what the specific impact of any deal might be, or even no deal might be on Holyhead, businesses in Holyhead and beyond in north Wales, then we absolutely have looked at how we can do everything possible to mitigate any adverse impacts, and also to help business to take advantage of new opportunities as well.
Well, my question is specifically about whether an assessment has been made of the impact of this particular deal on Anglesey, because if no impact assessment has been done on that particular deal, I'm not sure how you could ask this Parliament to give our consent when we can't know what the impact is going to be on that port—it's the second-biggest port in all of the UK, and many, many jobs depend on it.
Absolutely, and one thing is certain: if the deal is passed, then Holyhead will be in a stronger position than ever. If we have a 'no deal' outcome, that will create challenges for Holyhead, and that's why we believe that the deal is in the best interests of the UK economy overall and all those who work in and around Holyhead as well.
Finally, Mr Gove, do you not think that it would have been appropriate to have conducted an impact assessment on this before asking for MPs and, indeed, the devolved legislatures to vote on this deal?
I think what is appropriate is just to run through all of the arguments, and one of the arguments here is that we will have both a withdrawal agreement and, I hope as a result of the political declaration, a free trade agreement with the European Union, with no tariffs, quotas or quantitative restrictions, and that means that we can continue to enjoy good trade with our friends and neighbours. It is striking that the Irish Government and the Taoiseach believe that this is a good deal for Ireland and for Ireland's economy as well, and given, of course, that Holyhead is such an important port for the Irish economy, I think the fact that you have unanimity between the British and the Irish Prime Ministers about the benefits that the deal brings is powerful evidence.
I think that an impact assessment would be more powerful. But if I could finally, if I may—
I want to ask one question on the impact assessment, if it's okay, and I think Huw wants to as well, and then I'll come back to you. You indicated that—. Obviously, I understand the argument that impact assessments, in a sense, are, shall we say, guesses, because we don't know the circumstances, and there are so many variables that exist. But surely you must have some form of assessment because you need to understand what likely figures on funding you need to have available to mitigate any possible impacts as a consequence of that deal. So, what I can't understand is why you're not doing anything to ensure that you know the figures you may be needing.
I would say two things. The first thing is that we've done extensive work to look at what the impact of no deal might be, and Operation Yellowhammer, project Kingfisher and so on are the fruit of that work. In the event of a deal, as the Governor of the Bank of England has indicated, then we can expect a boost for the economy, and I think the point was also made by his predecessor, Mervyn King, on television on Sunday, that rather than a negative, it would be a net positive if the deal were agreed.
Yes, but I understand that some of the £39 billion that would have been part of the withdrawal agreement was already allocated to compensate for a 'no deal' situation, but if a deal is arranged, that money is now going as part of that agreement. So, it's a question of where you would find the money to be able to compensate, even if there's a reduction and a halfway house between 'no deal' and remaining.
If we get a deal, then that would be good for the economy overall. Part of that deal, of course, is fulfilling our obligations to settle what is being called our bar bill with the EU. So, in those circumstances—and we're going to have a budget, I think, on 6 November—the Chancellor will be able to reap the benefits of a good deal, the economic growth that follows, and we can carry on with more policies to encourage growth and investment.
Michael, I take your very erudite and charming point about economists and how much faith we should put in them, but one thing we do know from the political declaration as it's reshaped is that this is going to pull Wales and the rest of the UK out of the customs union and the EU single market. Now, this will clearly have implications, particularly for manufacturing and agriculture in Wales, because of the potentially significant non-tariff barriers to trade, even if tariffs are ultimately removed. So, what I'm curious about is, even if you're not doing a larger piece of economic work looking at the impact of this, why the work is not being done and hasn't been done on the basis of those clear implications on what those implications will be for Wales and the UK, because we're doing this, it seems, in a leap of faith.
I can say a little bit about agriculture and food because of my previous ministerial responsibilities; I know how important it is to the Welsh economy and to the life of so many communities in Wales. Yet, it is the case that, if we get the free trade agreement that we want, there won't be any tariffs or quotas. It will be the case that there is the possibility of some sanitary and phytosanitary checks being required, but it's also the case that, in the nature of the best in class free trade agreement that we want, those checks are conducted absolutely minimally because there is confidence in the regulatory integrity of the UK's institutions when it comes to questions like animal health. So, I'm confident that, if we conclude the right free trade agreement, Welsh farmers will have the opportunity to continue to sell superb Welsh lamb into the European market, but also there'll be an opportunity for us to do trade deals elsewhere. And, given the growing market that there is for lamb in other parts of the world, it should be, if we get the free trade agreement, a win-win. Similarly, and again I think in response to your earlier point about manufacturing, in those areas where there are just-in-time supply chains, then we would want to ensure, and I think the EU would also want to ensure, that there were no barriers at the border to getting parts into the UK and getting finished goods from the UK into the EU.
Do you think, Michael, that it would be reasonable—as a former UK parliamentarian and now here in the Welsh Parliament here in the Senedd—for these things to be just explored a little further, teased out, so we can get some of these detailed answers on the record, and so on? Because one of the problems here is the rush at this. And we're not talking here necessarily about months more, or so on, but enough time for you to give answers, others to give answers, and for us to scrutinise properly. That's the real frustration here at the moment.
I understand that. I think one of the things that the Prime Minister has committed to doing is, once the withdrawal agreement, which we've spent a lot of time looking at, is agreed, then we then move on to discuss our whole future partnership with the EU. And the Prime Minister is committed to making sure that, in the UK Parliament and elsewhere, we have the fullest possible engagement in making sure that we are clear about our negotiating mandate, clear about which rights are going to be protected, and clear about that mechanism. So, again, to take one specific point, there was some concern that, as we left the EU, when it came to environmental matters, without the power of the Commission to start infraction proceedings and the power of the European Court of Justice to issue fines, environmental protections would be lesser. But we succeeded in satisfying the EU, with our plans in our landmark Environment Bill, that we would have a watchdog and a set of principles that would guarantee just as strong, if not stronger, protection for the environment. So, that risk, as some saw it, has been taken off the table. But I think that, during the process of discussing how a free trade agreement would work, we would be able to provide the reassurances that you understandably seek.
Mr Gove, because we are fast approaching the end of our scheduled time but we were delayed at the start, would you be able to continue until about 2.15 p.m.?
Yes, of course. Absolutely.
I was interested in your answer to Huw, and I was very pleased to hear your answer to Huw, about how you see the oversight of negotiations for the future relationship. Clause 31 of the withdrawal agreement Bill doesn't currently provide for any role for any of the devolved administrations, except that a report will be received by the Parliaments and by Governments at the end of that process. You said to Huw that you wanted to have the greatest and widest possible conversation. It might well be useful therefore were you to amend clause 31 to structure that conversation in such a way as to enable the Welsh Government and the Welsh Parliament to debate and discuss the objectives that the United Kingdom Government are setting for those negotiations, in the same way as you're providing for in clause 31 for the UK Parliament to have a conversation and to vote on those objectives.
I know and I genuinely appreciate that that offer is made in a sincere spirit of co-operation, and I will discuss it with my Cabinet colleagues.
Mr Gove, you're being very candid with us this afternoon and we welcome that. If I can just push your candour a little further, you spoke earlier to me about the honourable tradition of independence and that you respect that call. Could I ask, if the Welsh Government were to be in the position in the future to call for an independence referendum, would the UK consent to that happening?
Well, I would sincerely hope that we wouldn't be in a position where—
No, no—I quite understand. That is a decision above my pay grade, but I'm so proud of the fact that Wales is in the United Kingdom that I hope that Wales will be. And I—
I'm just—. Sorry, Mr Gove, I'm asking because of, obviously, your responsibility for the union, and you had referred to this earlier, so I'm asking off the back of that, really, just your opinion.
I quite understand. One of the things I would say—and obviously I'm a Scot, not a Welshman—but one of the things that I think has been fantastic is the way in which Wales's cultural identity—the language, literature, distinctiveness—has flourished within the United Kingdom. It was a Conservative Government that was responsible for S4C, and it's also been the case I think that the distinctive cultural expression of Welsh identity, I think, is incredibly important. And, of course, there have been Plaid Cymru politicians that have played their part in making sure that the UK Parliament can respond, and my own preference is to ensure that—obviously, I'd like everyone to vote Conservative, but my own preference is that our parties keep that civilised dialogue so that we ensure that Welsh identity is respected, Welsh language is supported and invested in, but within the overall structure of the UK.
I want to move on now to some questions on trade, free trade agreements and common frameworks. So, Mandy.
Mr Gove, how do you respond to farmers' concerns that the UK Government's tariff regime in the event of a 'no deal' would leave farmers exposed to the full effect of competition from countries whose standards of production are considerably lower than our own? And would farmers be funded through things like pillar 1 and pillar 2, the same or similar to EU farm payments, by the UK Government when we leave the EU?
That's a very good point. The first thing is that we've designed the tariff regime in the event of no deal to do two things. One is to try to keep prices as stable as possible for UK consumers, but also there are specific protections for the agriculture sector, and in particular the strongest possible protection for sheep farmers, hill farmers, and it was with Wales's interests particularly in mind that we placed that tariff in our schedule.
It's also the case that, in the event of a 'no deal' exit, we can make additional money available using the powers that we have in order to support agriculture. I'm assuming that we do get a good deal, but I know it's the case that Lesley Griffiths has outlined plans to change the way in which farmers are supported in Wales so that public money can be spent on public goods, and I think it's a good thing that a very talented and conscientious Minister such as Lesley has developed an approach that would mean that, outside the common agriculture policy, we can better support rural Wales and Welsh farmers.
Before I move on to questions on a free trade agreement, I just want to ask, since we're talking about 'no deal' preparations—. The Welsh Government has established a European transition fund to help support businesses to prepare. I know the UK Government has put into place Operation Kingfisher. Can you confirm that Operation Kingfisher is not solely an England operation but it actually does cover all businesses, including those in Wales? And, if that's the case, how have you managed to ensure that businesses in Wales are also aware of Operation Kingfisher, as well as the European transition fund?
Well, it is the case, of course, that there are businesses specific to Wales and businesses that straddle the border. Yes, it is the case that Operation Kingfisher exists to help every part of the United Kingdom, and we would want to work with the Welsh Government if it was the case that there are businesses that are fundamentally viable, but, in the event of no deal, face particular challenges, and we would want to work with the Welsh Government in order to ensure that we targeted support at those who need it.
But have you worked with the Welsh Government to ensure that the recognition of Operation Kingfisher has been widespread across Wales, as well?
I hope that it has been but, certainly, I'd be more than happy to talk to Jeremy or the First Minister or others in order to ensure that we can communicate, if necessary, more clearly how the UK Government stands ready to work with the Welsh Government to help.
Mr Gove, obviously, we're about to exit, I think, and then negotiating a free trade agreement, first with the EU, and then, potentially, with other large partners around the world, is really important. I just want to start, however, by asking for your assessment on the health of the World Trade Organization at the moment. I do note that, on Monday, the European Union and Norway agreed an interim measure should the appellate body of the WTO fall into disuse, which seems a very real prospect. What sort of underpinning would our FTAs have, both with Europe and other countries, if we are unsure that what we agree will be applied fairly?
Well, you're absolutely right to raise concerns about the appellate court of the WTO, but one of the things that I know from talking, for example, to high commissioners from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is that they would welcome our presence at the WTO. They think that we would be a strong champion for free trade and for the rules-based international order. And it's also the case, without wanting to exaggerate it, that I think that the UK Prime Minister is one of the world leaders best placed to ensure that the American administration recognises the benefits of free trade, and engages positively at the WTO and elsewhere.
So, it's British policy that judges are nominated to the appellate body, because, at the minute, that's not happening because China and the USA are blocking it. It's a serious issue, because we're talking that, in a couple of months, it may cease to exist, really.
It is a very serious issue, you are quite right, and one of the things that we are anxious to do is to advance the cause of free trade globally and to work with our American friends and, indeed, to work with China, in order to try to reduce trade tensions and the escalation that we have seen over recent months.
And then my second question is really about how we can influence the talks on the free trade agreement. Next year is going to be a crucial year. I think many people regard an agreement by December 2020 as very ambitious. We obviously are building on a very close relationship at the moment, and that will, no doubt, make those negotiations easier and might expedite them, but what sort of access would we have? And is 2020 another cliff edge, as some have criticised the British Government for, or is there more flexibility, where we can extend the negotiations beyond that, or, indeed, there may be some holdover agreement to ensure that we don't face, in effect, another prospect of a 'no deal' because we've not got the free trade agreement in time?
I completely understand those concerns, and my friend and colleague Robert Buckland—a good son of Swansea—reassured the House of Commons on Tuesday at the close of the Second Reading debate that, were it to be necessary, then Parliament would have the opportunity to decide whether or not we needed to go beyond 2020. But, earlier in your question, you made the very good point that we are aligned, obviously, at the moment in all sorts of areas with the EU. I think we can very quickly agree those areas where we're not going to diverge, where we accept non-regression and so on, and then we can concentrate, focus laser-like, on those areas where we do need to diverge and have legislative freedom. That means that I think it is possible—of course, it's stretching, but it is eminently possible to conclude an agreement well within the 14 months of the transition period.
And then, as far as the Welsh and Scottish Governments are concerned, the sort of arrangements for their involvement in the main aspects of free trade agreements, because obviously we could face this constant difficulty, when the legislation comes back and devolved competences have to be adapted and altered, we could repeatedly damage the union by the fact that the Welsh and Scottish Governments are unhappy with the implications for their devolved functions because of what's been agreed in these free trade agreements, which they may claim they were not able to shape in any fundamental way. So, are you going to guard against that?
We will do everything that we can. Again, trade negotiations are international negotiations, and we touched earlier on the reserved competences of the UK Parliament, and, of course, trade negotiations in countries like Canada and Australia and New Zealand are carried out by the Government. But it is important to make sure that we take account of the unique concerns and interests of all of the nations of the United Kingdom, and the best way to do that, I think, is by forging the closest possible relationship with the devolved administrations at every turn.
Yes, I obviously fully grasp that point, but when we were in the European Union and the Joint Ministerial Committee (Europe) was meeting to agree the speaking note for the British Government at the negotiations at European Council, the Welsh and Scottish Governments were involved, both at ministerial level and at official level. Is something analogous foreseen for the forming of free trade agreements?
Again, I'll make the representation to the Secretary of State for International Trade, but in my own experience as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for example when we were negotiating in Europe in the December council, the fisheries council, we concerted very, very closely with the devolved administrations, particularly of course, given the size of its fishing sector, the Scottish Government, and my colleague George Eustice and Fergus Ewing had a very good, productive, pragmatic relationship. I wouldn't want here to pre-empt the decisions that will be taken by Ministers, but I do think it's important that we try to, as strongly as possible, involve all the devolved administrations.
Could I highlight a concern? This committee has often raised its concern, and I know it's been repeated in the Assembly, that it is important that the Welsh Government is involved at the setting the mandate stage of negotiations, because you're prioritising New Zealand and Australia as well as the US for trade agreements; clearly, that's a concern for our agricultural industry, with two of those nations, and possibly three of those nations. So, the setting of the mandate is important, and we were reminded of that by the Finnish ambassador this week. How you set the mandate will really be important. If you don't therefore involve the devolved Governments in those discussions, then we'll end up facing an agreement that is a fait accompli, basically. So, I hope that you will take on board our deep concerns that it's at that stage where the Governments need to be involved heavily, so when you go and negotiate, which may be a reserved matter, please remember the implementation of some of those aspects will be done in devolved competencies. So, it is important that we get that side of it.
I understand. It's a very fair point and I will reflect on it with my Cabinet colleagues.
I'm grateful to you, Mr Gove, for that previous session. We do have a memorandum of understanding in place between the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish administrations and the United Kingdom Government on representation at European Council, and I do believe that that provides a very good template, actually, for taking forward a new situation with trade deals, where I feel that the UK Government and the devolved administrations have had a very successful relationship. But I would say to you very gently that that needs to be a Government-to-Government agreement rather than be dependent on the whim of individual Secretaries of State.
In terms of taking this forward, I'm very supportive of common frameworks and the creation of common frameworks, but there are two issues that I'd like to discuss with you, if I could. First of all it's the way in which they operate at a UK level, and secondly it's the accountability of those frameworks. It appears to me that it is right and proper for the Welsh Parliament and the Welsh Government to have its own debate, if you like, about the participation of the Welsh Government in some of these matters. But, for matters of accountability, I'm concerned that these common frameworks do not have accountability hard-wired into them, and, for me, accountability has to happen on a cross-UK, inter-institutional basis so that we're able to look at the whole of the work of the common framework under consideration, rather than any particular aspect of it. Has the United Kingdom Government given any consideration to the way in which accountability operates on a UK basis, an inter-institutional basis?
Yes, and this is very much the work of the inter-governmental relations review, which my Cabinet colleague Oliver Dowden is leading on, because we do want to make sure that people can have confidence that the frameworks work and that governance is appropriate.
I think it is the case that Oliver was speaking to representatives just the other week of the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and I'll update the committee when I have the chance to talk to Oliver just a little bit later this afternoon on what the next stage of that process is. Obviously, I take a close interest because I do want to ensure that they work effectively, and I know that he and officials have been seeking to advance that process.
You will have seen that the Welsh Government has published its own thinking on the future of the union and the future of the United Kingdom. Now, I wouldn't anticipate that you would want to respond formally to that today; I'm sure you'd want to give that further consideration. But is it not the case—? I don't wish to replicate the structures of the European Union in the United Kingdom. I don't think we need to do that, and I don't think we would want to do that, but I would want to see greater transparency and greater openness in the relationship between the Governments of the United Kingdom. And it is important, I believe, to have a stronger relationship, if you like, between the Governments of the United Kingdom and one where we can see that relationship operating in public, rather than behind closed doors, so that we know we can have confidence in the way that the UK is changing and evolving. Does the United Kingdom Government take a view—? I understand the point you've made in a previous response, but do you take a view on the evolving common frameworks, Council of Ministers approach to a governance of these islands that is more collaborative and co-operative rather than command and control, which is sometimes how it's been characterised in the past?
Yes, I think that's a very fair point. When I was environment Secretary, I inherited a set of arrangements that I think worked well, but not without the odd hiccup, whereby on a monthly basis we would have environment and agriculture Ministers from across the United Kingdom meeting in order to thrash out areas of common interest and to advance work on common frameworks and to make sure that officials are involved. And we undertook to rotate those meetings between London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Since taking on this new responsibility, as the chair of JMC(EN), it's also been the case the JMC(EN) has since met in Edinburgh with Mike Russell in the chair, and it was at that meeting that Jeremy Miles passed on to me the paper that you referred to. And I do think that there is a case—again, I don't want to pre-empt the conclusions—for trying to make sure that we have regular Minister-to-Minister fora that enable all of these issues to be, in the way that you suggest, agreed and transparently committed to.
As we're coming to the end of our additional session, I'm going to take the Chair's prerogative and ask the final couple of questions. You mentioned the IGR and you've just been answering, in a sense, to Alun Davies some questions relating to the IGR. The IGR was due to actually report back in March of this year, and we're still awaiting the outcome of the IGR. When can we expect the final version or a version of the IGR we can actually scrutinise?
Shortly, but I will—. Again, given your interest and mine, I don't want to make an absolute commitment without talking again to the Minister for the Cabinet office, Oliver Dowden. I will talk to Oliver today and undertake to write to the committee in the next day or two with the firmest possible timetable that we can share with you.
And on a transition period and the possibility of completing a free trade agreement by the end of the transition period, which is the end of next year, obviously the situation we are in may see a deal agreed and exit by the end of November, say, because of the process and technicalities going through. That will leave us 13 months. You have to apply for an extension by July. Don't take this the wrong way, please, but, if you're still in Government—because we don't know what will happen—are you prepared to commit to a situation where if, come July, you see that there are still going to be a fair few months more to go through this transition, you will commit to an extension, because the deal so far was up to the wire? We're talking about 17 and 18 October—14 days before the scheduled date. We can't do that with the extension for the transition period. So, are you committing, then, to understanding that you're going to be prepared well in advance to seek an extension if you require one, because everybody has told us that 13 months is tight. The EU with Canada was seven years, the EU with Japan was nine years. We might be starting off at a good point, but there are still a lot of issues to be agreed.
I absolutely take the point, and an assessment will be made. I hope that, for the reasons we discussed earlier, very, very good progress is made and that we can conclude it—I'm sure we can—within 14 months. But Parliament will have a chance to review whatever the Government says in July, and that was the point that I think I mentioned earlier, which was made by the Lord Chancellor in the House of Commons earlier this week.
We've come to the end of the session because we've reached the time. Can I thank you very much for your time this afternoon? As I said—and you'll be used to this process—you will receive a copy of the transcript to check for any factual inaccuracies, and if you do see any, please let the clerking team know as soon as possible and we can have them corrected for the record. Thank you again, and I think we would welcome opportunities in the future to discuss this because these are issues that are very clearly important to us.
Of course. Thank you very much, and I hope that the next time—if I'm still in this job—we have the chance to talk that I can come to Cardiff, and thank you again.
We look forward to that.
If Members are content, we will move on with business.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I propose a motion to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting under Standing Order 17.42(vi). Are Members content to do so? Then we will go into private session for the remainder of this meeting.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:17.
The public part of the meeting ended at 14:17.