In an exclusive interview with New Europe, the Welsh finance minister, Mark Drakeford, explains his view about Brexit’s future implications.
What is your prospective about the impact of Brexit on Wales?
It’s important to start off by saying that in the lead up to the referendum of June last year, the advice from the Welsh government to our citizens was very clear. We said consistently that we believed that the future for the Welsh is better inside the EU than out of it.
After the result, we are now focused on the form of Brexit, because the form Brexit takes will have a strong impact on our economy. As finance minister, the top priority in the negotiations that the UK government will lead should be to secure full and unfretted access to the single market. Two-thirds of all export from Welsh comes from the EU, we have a very large sector of fresh products coming to the EU therefore barriers to trade whether they are tariff or not, all these things are very bad news from our prospective.
How do you see the future of EU funds, which are important for the economy of Wales?
We are a net beneficiary of EU funding and structural funds have been a very important part of effort secure prosperity throughout our nation. It would be a very strange message to give to people in Welsh that they are worse off as the result of their membership to the UK, the message has to be “you were entitled to this funding when you were member of the EU and you go on benefitting from that money once Brexit is taking place”.
A few days ago, the House of Lords voted an amendment protecting EU residents living in the UK. What is your opinion on this matter?
Our position is that the future of EU residents working in Wales today needs to be confirmed now, and that was what the House of Lords just voted. We are immensely lucky in Wales that we have people from all over the world that are willing to come and make their future part of our future. We have very senior people at universities who come to Wales to work while they could command jobs in any part of the world. Then, on the other side, 27% of people working in our meat processing industries are EU nationals and our agriculture wouldn’t be able to continue in the way it has without workers coming from elsewhere. The Brexit cloud hangs over these people and makes them feel that their future is not secured, we don’t want that.
Do you think it will be a “hard Brexit?
I do think there is more to play for a UK government position and simply thinking that it is bound to be a “hard Brexit”. I think there are a range of voices still at the government and there was something the UK PM said in her Lancaster House in the UK white paper which we feel positively. I see then the willingness to go paying in the EU to secure access to important programs like Horizon 2020.
We want a Brexit that is carefully negotiated in a constructive spirit recognizing there are key interest in the EU and UK. Talking about the sectors that could be involved, our food and drinks sector is very important as well as the manufacturing with names like Airbus and Ford.
If there are barriers in trade and things coming back and forth across a border, this is inevitably damaging. There will be a vote in the House of Lords this week on an amendment to give parliament a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal.
Recently, the UK Labour party was criticised in Brussels. Why do you think they supported the PM’s bill?
In the vote on the Article 50 battle in the UK parliament, the Labour party leadership, I believe, found itself between a rock and a hard place. Jeremy Corbyn’s position was that the party could not ignore the message coming from the electorate, and don’t forget the role of the right-wing press
What will be your role and contribution to the Brexit debate?
Our first Minister will chair a cabinet sub-committee devoted to the whole topic while I chair a European advisory group which helps to make sure that the approach of our government is as well informed that it possibly can be. We are very lucky because in the committee we have important experts like our 4 MEPs, the former EU Commissioner Neil Kinnock and others.