Debate on the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee’s Report on the Implications of Brexit for Welsh Ports

Oct 11, 2017 | Articles, Assembly Business, Assembly Issues | 0 comments

Plenary Wednesday 11 October 2017

16:08:59
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Spoken Contribution – 16:08:59
Watch this contribution on Senedd TV | View this contribution in the Record of Proceeding document

Thanks to the additional legislation committee for bringing today’s debate. It is on an important issue. There are economic complications that will inevitably arise from Brexit, and I don’t seek to minimise them. I don’t want to see these problems exaggerated for political effect because my view is that the people of the UK have had their say, and they want Brexit; that is what they voted for, and that is also what Wales voted for. So, perhaps our old friend Eluned Morgan needs to just occasionally remember that outcome. [Interruption.] Okay, that’s your view, if you think that the electorate of the entire UK is so credulous as to swallow a lot of lies, then that is certainly a reflection on your view of the electorate, and it’s not a very good reflection. [Interruption.]

Suzy Davies AM

Suzy Davies AM

Title: Commissioner Party: Welsh Conservative Party

If you want to make an intervention, please ask the speaker.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Diolch.

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Party: Plaid Cymru

Will you take an intervention?

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

No, I’m just starting, Rhun, and I’m not going to get through it with all this nonsense. So, we shouldn’t exaggerate difficulties for political effect, but we certainly shouldn’t minimise them either. What we have to do is rationally consider all of the economic implications. In the case of the position of trade passing through Welsh ports, if there are any ways in which we can meaningfully move towards trying to resolve these issues, or at least meaningfully address them, then that is what we should be doing now, as far as we can, in the time remaining before we leave the EU. That is what the committee appeared to be doing with this report. So, I think this report may be helpful.

The report is fairly clear in what it recommends, and to be fair, it hasn’t shied away from criticism of the Welsh Government’s actions to date, or the lack of them. I quote from the Chair’s foreword:

We were disappointed to hear that Welsh Government engagement with our friends and colleagues in Ireland has been so limited to date and urge the Cabinet Secretary to address this urgently.’

The First Minister has spent a lot of time since the Brexit referendum talking about Brexit and all of the problems he thinks it is causing. One issue he tends to mention every single time, without fail, is the issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. So, it’s rather odd to note that a foreword written by his own Labour colleague David Rees notes that he has done so little to address this issue himself. The First Minister seems to want to talk about his issue till the cows come home so that he can raise people’s fears, but he doesn’t seem to actually want to do anything about it. So, I’m hopeful that the economy Minister, who is here today, will tell us what actions he is proposing to take, and I hope for all our sakes that he is planning to be more proactive in this regard than the First Minister has been.

A further point from the Chair’s foreword, which summarises the report. Again, I quote:

Furthermore, we are clear that the WelshGovernment will need to clarify the timescales for work on technological solutions to future customs arrangements with HM Revenue and Customs and the UK Government.’

This is quite a specific request, so I think it could be responded to fairly specifically. We know that the economy Minister usually has a good grasp of his subject, he can give us detailed answers, as we found out yesterday and on many previous occasions, so perhaps he could enlighten us today in his response on this specific point, which the committee identified. After all, David Rees, in his contribution, which I thought was pretty good, pointed to the need to start doing things now. If we are going to do something, let’s get the ball rolling now, and I agree with him.

I will return to the foreword to draw out a final point from it:

Above all, we want to see the Welsh Government work with the sector to prepare for the various Brexit scenarios and therefore call for detailed contingency plans to be drawn-up.’

I realise that there are limits as to what the Welsh Government can do. [Interruption.] Of course I do. The complaint of the First Minister, which we had from him again yesterday, is that he can’t do much as long as we are unclear what the UK Government wants to do. That is a reasonable point as far as it goes. However, in this area of the position of the Welsh ports, I think there are specific actions that the Welsh Government can take. These actions could be useful actions rather than merely pointless whingeing.

We’ve heard from several people about the actual issue of the displacement of traffic through Northern Ireland, which would mean it would be bypassing the Welsh ports. There is this risk. I do acknowledge that the risk exists and we have to look at it, but I’m also grateful to Mark Isherwood, who’s a member of this committee—of which I’m not a member—for clarifying several of the points relating to the evidence that they heard, because his outlook is far more optimistic. He realises that there is a challenge, there is a potential economic risk, but he also recognises that the technology is there that will help us to overcome this risk. He pointed also to the border between the USA and Canada, where there is a massive volume of traffic moving through, but due to the technology being in place, it passes through freely without much delay.

Mike Hedges AM

Mike Hedges AM

Party: Welsh Labour

Free trade zone

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Okay. There may be differences in the trading relationship between the USA and Canada and ours with Ireland, but the reality is we don’t know what our future relationship with Ireland is going to be because of this issue of the common travel area that we enjoyed with Ireland before either of us even joined the EU. That may be in place once we leave the EU, so we don’t know.

Suzy Davies AM

Suzy Davies AM

Title: Commissioner Party: Welsh Conservative Party

Can I ask you to bring your remarks to a close?

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Thanks, Cadeirydd, I will bring them to a conclusion. The last point is the free ports—I think that’s a very interesting concept. I’m very pleased the committee wants to investigate this and I’m interested to hear what the economy Minister has to say about the free ports because that is an opportunity that Brexit could bring. Thank you.