Traffic through Welsh ports down by 30% since Brexit, first minister says

Mark Drakeford says during Dublin visit that his country has not found itself to be better off after leaving the EU

Wales is getting only a “fraction” of the regional development money it would have before the UK left the European Union, the country’s first minister Mark Drakeford has said.

He said traffic through Holyhead and Fishguard ports is now just 70 per cent of what it was pre-Brexit.

“It has a very significant impact and we are looking at ways in which the new barriers to trade can be eroded so that the land bridge can be made as effective as it was previously,” he told The Irish Times.

Mr Drakeford said Wales was given an “absolute guarantee” that it would be no worse off after leaving the EU. Instead, he said, the country will be £1.1 billion (€1.3 billion) worse off this year due to the loss of money it could have expected through the EU’s rural development funds.


Replacement funding from the Westminster government has not been approved and will only be a “fraction” of what could have been expected, he added.

Mr Drakeford told the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce during a visit to Dublin that he “deeply regrets” that Wales is no longer part of a series of EU operated programmes including the Erasmus+, which allows for student exchanges across Europe, and the Horizon science collaboration programme.

“Try as we might, we failed to persuade the UK government to sign up to the Interreg programme,” he said on a visit to Dublin. The Interreg programme funds developments across regions in the EU.

Snatched away

He said the withdrawal of EU funding has had a major impact on the universities of Aberystwyth and Bangor. “We found such a strength in people’s emotional commitment to the work they had done through 20 years of investment through the European Union,” he said.

“Now they could see it just being snatched away in a way that makes no sense to them at all. There were choices that could have been made that the post-EU relationship could have been designed in such a way that we didn’t lose out on so many things. Our great sorrow is that so many of those opportunities were squandered.”

When asked why Welsh people had voted for Brexit despite the country having received billions in EU support, he said many did not do so because they disliked Europe. They did it because the EU constituted the status quo, he said, “and the status quo wasn’t working for them”.

“Many of the reasons had nothing to do directly with what was on the ballot paper. We had six years of austerity,” he said.

Supporter of the UK

Mr Drakeford, the Welsh Labour leader and first minister since 2018, described himself as a supporter of the UK.

“My own case is not a sentimental one. I’m Welsh first and British next,” he said. “I have never stated that Wales could not be independent if the people in Wales wanted it. I never signed up to the idea that we would be so poor. I want to be able to articulate that positive case for the current arrangements we have of strengthened devolution.

“The case is that it is a great insurance policy that we pool our resources and share the rewards where it is necessary at the UK level.”

Mr Drakeford said Wales has “powerful and entrenched devolution” and the government has control over education, health, local government and transport, but he is not in favour of Welsh independence.

“We don’t need a Welsh army or navy or air force. We don’t believe that Wales needs a seat at the United Nations,” he said.

He also said he had not been contacted by the new UK prime minister Liz Truss, saying this was perhaps “because they are doing so well. Maybe she doesn’t need to”.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times