Brexit is going to have a monumental impact on the lives of the people and businesses of Wales and the rest of the UK. The attempts to ensure this change is more transition than cliff-edge have been dealt a blow in recent weeks by the increasing likelihood of a “No Deal” Brexit, an idea that seemed impossible in the months after the election, but is now consistently being called for by Conservative MPs and Brexit campaigners like James Dyson.
One example of the tangible impacts of such a deal was pointed out by Alex Andreou, the London-based writer. “The UK has no structures or agency of its own for approving and licensing medicines. It relies almost exclusively on the European Medicines Agency. The MHRA is an ancillary organisation. In precisely 15 months UK access to the EMA ends; abruptly if the “no deal” voices prevail.”
The process of replacing the EMA, which has already began its process of relocating and announced last week that it was heading to Amsterdam, is yet to begin. Jeremy Hunt, the UK Health Minister, has said that they plan to continue to work closely with the EMA, but are ready to establish their own system if necessary. The setting up of a new institution to manage such a fundamentally important task of approving the medicines used in the NHS is just one of the huge challenges facing the UK in the context of a No Deal Brexit, and it represents the huge changes coming to the governance of the United Kingdom.
Wales of course is still fighting for its right to be given a place at the top table of the Brexit negotiations. The Welsh Government is not negotiating directly with Michel Barnier or the rest of the European Union, but should use the time left before leaving to develop its vision for Wales in the post-Brexit landscape and assess how it can use the tools available to it to ensure a successful transition. In the weeks after the referendum, a workshop with leading figures from Welsh industry and commerce held by Gorwel called for the creation of a dedicated Brexit minister within the Welsh Government. This recommendation was not pursued, and we believe that despite the Government’s clear understanding of the seismic impact Brexit will have, there is still a need for political leadership to give the people of Wales confidence in its post-Brexit identity and strategy.
Gorwel will soon be leading a project in the southern valleys on the potential of indigenous resources to provide the growth that will transform a region that has consistently been behind the EU average for GDP per capita. Since devolution, the Welsh Government has used a Foreign Direct Investment strategy to provide jobs across the country – a plan that may well be significantly more difficult after Brexit, especially in light of warnings from key players like Aston Martin (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41983342) and Airbus (https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-airbus/airbus-may-look-beyond-uk-unless-brexit-demands-met-sunday-times-idUKKBN19200C) of the risks associated with a No Deal Brexit. The lack of a specific economic strategy document published by the Welsh Government means that there is a distinct lack of scrutiny and debate around Wales’ plans to handle the economic challenges associated with Brexit, but also our potential to exploit possible advantages.
The vision that leading pro-Brexit politicians have for the UK economy is clear. They see a country leading in global free trade, maintaining a positive relationship with the EU based on mutual economic benefits, and that has the opportunity to forge more open trade deals with other global key players. If this is the United Kingdom that will exist post-Brexit, what can the Welsh Government be doing to ensure that Wales is ready and able to lead the way in this global trade agenda?
Wales’ exports are currently hugely reliant on the European Union. In 2016, more than two thirds of the value of all of Wales’ exports went to the 27 other member states of the EU. In the last 5 years, exports to Germany have doubled, and exports to France have tripled. (http://www.walesonline.co.uk/business/business-news/wales-exported-more-12bn-goods-12862539). A No Deal Brexit, just like any form of Brexit, will change the terms and conditions of this trade, and Wales must be able to ensure that its businesses have confidence in their ability to maintain their international links.
One aspect of this that Gorwel is currently analysing is Wales’ linguistic capabilities. The recent decline in MFL subjects taken at GCSE and A Level in Wales is well documented (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-40457984) – but this would be a hammer blow to our identity and potential as a global nation. The Welsh Government must ensure that Wales, a proudly bilingual nation, is not held back. French and Spanish are the traditional MFL subjects in Wales, but could Brexit mean ensuring our students, business community and citizens have access to language courses in Mandarin, Arabic and Portuguese (Brazil) be even more important?
This is just one of the issues where with a clear strategy, Wales could use its powers to position itself to its advantage. During the referendum campaign, an issue consistently discussed by Leave campaigners was around the “red tape” of the European Union – what current restrictions do we have that once leaving the EU will help dynamize Welsh business? And what could the Welsh Government do now to ensure that the inter-EU links already held by Welsh businesses are maintained and even strengthened – could Wales become the part of the UK most attractive to EU entrepreneurs?
It is clear that Wales must be dynamic in its response to Brexit. There are significant challenges, but responding to them with a clear strategy based on distinct Welsh values and strengths is the only way of ensuring that Wales will become an economic success story in the years and decades following Brexit, in whatever form it takes. Gorwel hopes to play a key part in providing a platform for the necessary debate to achieve this aim.