Skip to main content

Leaving the EU: Discussions with First Minister of Wales

Volume 657: debated on Wednesday 3 April 2019

1. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. (910110)

2. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. (910111)

I have regular discussions with the First Minister on the implications and opportunities for Wales arising from EU exit, including the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration.

Given the new easy listening approach of the Prime Minister, will the Government give a commitment that they will discuss any new proposals that they make on withdrawal from the European Union with the First Minister of Wales and the Welsh Government prior to the meeting of the European Council?

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is keen to work with colleagues across the House to secure a deal to leave the European Union in a smooth and orderly way. My relationship with the Welsh Government, and specifically with the First Minister in Wales, is warm, positive and constructive. As the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, the First Minister or someone that he nominates attends the European Union exit committee, which focuses on preparedness in the event of a no deal.

If it is good enough for this House to be asked repeatedly to approve the Prime Minister’s deal, why is it not good enough to put it back to the people of Wales? If the Secretary of State is so confident in the merits of the Prime Minister’s deal, why is he so afraid to put a deal that has been rejected by the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly back to the people of Wales to decide?

The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that Wales voted to leave the European Union. Also, I underline that Wales voted to leave the European Union in higher numbers than the average across the rest of the United Kingdom. Of course we are keen to work with all political parties to secure a smooth and efficient exit from the European Union. Let us be frank: the Welsh public and the UK public want to draw a line under this chapter.

Is not the key problem that we are facing with the withdrawal agreement at the moment that there are just too many MPs from Wales and elsewhere—on the Opposition Benches and some on our side—who go to their constituencies at the weekend and tell their leave voters that they want to get on with Brexit, but who then come back here on a Monday and find every trick in the book and every excuse to vote against implementing Brexit?

My right hon. Friend has absolutely hit the nail on the head and I am grateful for his support. He is well aware that, last Friday, the Opposition voted against the withdrawal agreement, having previously said that they had no differences with the withdrawal agreement. That seems to demonstrate that they are seeking to create as much chaos as they can, rather than acting in the national interest.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, in discussing the withdrawal agreement with the Welsh First Minister, he has made clear the Government’s position, which is to rule out participation in the customs union?

My right hon. Friend is well aware that this House has not yet come to a conclusion as to whether it wishes to call on the Government to be part of the customs union or not. So far everything has been rejected and the Prime Minister is seeking to work across the House, and with colleagues in all parties, to come to an agreement on what the House actually wants.

12. Does the Secretary of State believe that the Welsh economy will be stronger under the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration or weaker, and will he support a strong Welsh economy or a weaker Welsh economy? (910122)

With the actions that the Government are planning, I am optimistic about our prospects outside the European Union. Having travelled internationally—I was in Japan some weeks ago and in China at the end of last year—I am encouraged by the interest that has been shown in the UK economy, and I believe that Wales and the UK economy will be prosperous outside the European Union.

The Secretary of State told my colleague, the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), on the record in the Welsh Affairs Committee two days ago that he did not want to be “in a situation where there is no deal.” Could the Secretary of State explain to Welsh food producers and manufacturers why there are press reports after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that he was for a short delay? That is, of course, shorthand for supporting no deal.

The right hon. Lady is seeking to draw me on private discussions within Cabinet meetings, but of course she knows that I would not be drawn on those. What I said on the record on Monday I will happily say on the record now: I do not want to be in a no-deal position and that is the reason that I voted for a deal. I hope that the Welsh food producers that she referred to also supported the Prime Minister’s deal, and I hope that she will explain to them why she refused to support it.

To lose one Wales Office Minister may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose four in little over a year looks like carelessness. Something must make their positions untenable, intolerable, dispensable, toxic. When will the Secretary of State admit that his office has also become dispensable and too toxic to serve the interests of Wales? When will he do the right thing and resign?

I do not think that a month passes without the right hon. Lady calling for me to take such action. However, it gives me an opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) for his efforts, including his work on the north Wales growth deal, for which the right hon. Lady has shown appreciation in the past. I wish that she would not be so churlish now.

As you know, Mr Speaker, the Newport West by-election will take place tomorrow, having been called after the sad passing of our wonderful colleague Paul Flynn. I wish Ruth Jones, our wonderful candidate, all the best for tomorrow. Let me also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), to his place. Is he staying long, or is he just passing through?

On several occasions the House has refused to back leaving without a deal. So have the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly. The Prime Minister does not want that either, and she has at last reached out to our party, seeking a cross-party approach to resolve the Brexit impasse. Does the Secretary of State agree with his Prime Minister, or with his former junior Minister, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who has just resigned?

Let me first wish Matthew Evans well in the by-election to which the hon. Lady has referred.

As I said a moment ago, I do not want to leave the European Union without a deal. That is exactly why I voted for the Prime Minister’s deal. Perhaps the hon. Lady will explain to her constituents why she voted to block Brexit.

I think it would be really helpful if the Secretary of State reiterated to the House today that he would rule out a no deal, which he knows would be disastrous for Wales. If he will not do so, he should follow his junior Minister and resign.

In the spirit in which the Prime Minister made her statement yesterday, when she said that she was keen to engage on an open and transparent basis, the Leader of the Opposition has said that there are no red lines, so I do not know why the hon. Lady is calling on me to draw some now.