Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones has Brexit fears for Welsh ports

Jones says May’s government is so divided it cannot articulate what UK wants from Brexit talks

Carwyn Jones: “We find that we can’t get a common view from the UK government because no such view exists. I don’t know what the UK’s endgame is.”  Photograph:  Getty Images

Carwyn Jones: “We find that we can’t get a common view from the UK government because no such view exists. I don’t know what the UK’s endgame is.” Photograph: Getty Images

 

Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones fears for the future of Welsh ports if the border remains open after Brexit but customs checks are applied at ports.

When he visits Dublin on Monday his agenda will not only include meetings with politicians and the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce, but a visit to Dublin Port to talk to Irish Ferries.

The Labour politician, who has led the Welsh government since 2009, welcomes the avoidance of a hard border after Brexit, but insists it must not come at the expense of Welsh ports.

Of the goods that move between Britain and Ireland, 70 per cent pass through the Welsh ports of Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock, which are entirely dependent on traffic across the Irish Sea. Mr Jones fears for the ports’ future.

“Nobody wants to see the imposition of a hard border between the North and South of Ireland. But if the arrangements were different on that land border compared to the sea border – let’s say, extra customs checks, more paperwork – that creates an inbuilt disincentive for people to use the Welsh ports and Dublin and Rosslare as well,” he told The Irish Times.

“Some freight operators might then decide to go through Cairnryan or through Liverpool into Belfast and down, because it’s easier to do it in terms of queuing in the ports and the paperwork. It’s got to be the same for everybody. If there’s going to be a frictionless border between North and South, the same has to apply between Wales and Ireland.”

Buyer’s remorse

Like England, Wales voted to leave the European Union in 2016, while majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. Mr Jones sees little sign of buyer’s remorse among Welsh voters, and he opposes a second referendum. However he insists that the referendum result did not oblige Britain to leave the customs union and to shut itself off from access to the single market.

“What I will never accept is that people voting in 2016 voted for the hardest Brexit possible. That is not the way I see it, and not the way I interpret it,” he said.

The first minister is sceptical about Britain’s prospect of negotiating advantageous trade deals with countries outside Europe, pointing out that a deal with New Zealand, a big lamb producer, could wipe out much of Welsh agriculture, and other trade deals could destroy the country’s steel industry.

He complains that Theresa May’s government is so divided that it cannot articulate what Britain wants from the negotiations over Brexit.

“We find that we can’t get a common view from the UK government because no such view exists. I don’t know what the UK’s endgame is, I don’t know what they’re thinking of, I don’t know what sort of relationship they want with the EU.”

Wales and Scotland have threatened to withhold their consent for the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament at Westminster. Cardiff and Edinburgh complain that the bill would repatriate from Brussels to Westminster powers over policy areas that have been devolved.

Consent

Even if the Welsh and Scottish parliaments vote to withhold their consent, they cannot stop the EU Withdrawal Bill becoming law if Westminster approves it. However, Mr Jones warns that if the Conservative government refuses to compromise with Cardiff and Edinburgh, it will trigger a constitutional crisis.

“They’ve asked for our consent as a legislature. Now, it would create a very severe constitutional issue to my mind if that consent was withheld and they overrode it. That calls into question the entire structure of the UK, and I think would take us down a very difficult path.

“It would be an attack on the democratic mandate expressed by the people of Scotland and Wales. It would be that difficult.”