Brexit: Mark Drakeford’s Brussels car row change of heart

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Reuters

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Welsh ministers and their officials can usually use spare cars in the UK government fleet

UK and Welsh ministers have been involved in a diplomatic spat over the use of UK government cars in Brussels.

Initially diplomatic support for the first minister’s Brussels visit was made conditional on Mark Drakeford not undermining UK government policy.

The Foreign Office said it had to be certain its resources overseas were focused on UK government’s objectives.

It emerged later car use was eventually offered, but Mr Drakeford used public transport for Wednesday’s trip.

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething had called the withdrawal of the support “utterly pathetic”.

Mr Drakeford met the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and the European Parliament’s Secretary General Klaus Welle as part of his first visit to Brussels as first minister.

  • Assembly backs another EU referendum
  • Drakeford backs Remain if new poll held

Speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Drakeford said he would use the meetings “to press the point that there are parts of the UK who remain willing to work constructively with EU leaders in recognition of the mutual economic and social benefits this brings.”

He added: “The EU elections showed a country as divided as ever and now we have the added chaos of a Conservative leadership contest and the damaging push for a no-deal Brexit this has brought.

“We are likely to face a straight choice between a no-deal Brexit or remaining in the EU – and we are unequivocal in backing remain.

“To make this happen, we are calling on [the UK] Parliament to legislate for a referendum, with remain on the ballot paper.”

In the 2016 referendum, 52.5% of people in Wales voted to leave the EU, with 47.5% voting to remain.

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Getty Images

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A Welsh Government spokesperson said Mark Drakeford will use public transport on the trip

The Welsh Government has a different Brexit stance to the current UK government led by Theresa May and the Conservative contenders to succeed her as Tory leader and prime minister.

The Foreign Office usually takes a relaxed view on providing diplomatic support for such visits, with Welsh Government ministers and officials having unconditional use of any spare cars in the UK government’s fleet.

But a Welsh Government spokesperson said the Foreign Office had said it would only provide support in Brussels for this trip “if we give assurances that the first minister will not undermine UK government policy”.

“We have made it clear that the first minister and Welsh ministers take seriously their duties to the United Kingdom when abroad on official business and not out of deference to the UK government – and still less in return for access to car hire services.

“We refused to give any assurance that would fetter or inhibit the right of the first minister to speak up for Wales’ national interests.

“The first minister will be very content to conduct his business in Brussels via public transport.”

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Jeremy Miles said a car was offered in the end

A former Welsh Government minister said: “Whilst it’s always been the case that Welsh ministers have never gone to Brussels to undermine the position of the UK government, it’s been accepted by everybody that the Welsh Government is entitled to put its view, even if that’s different.

“I’ve never heard of a situation where any minister from the Welsh Government has been told beforehand that they cannot use UKREP [UK Permanent Representation to the EU] facilities unless they promise not to say certain things,” they added.

Commenting on Twitter, Mr Gething said the decision was “utterly pathetic political censorship that can only have been authorised by a UK minister”.

But Brexit Party assembly group leader Mark Reckless asked: “Why on earth should UK government pay for [Mark Drakeford] to go round Brussels lobbying against UK government and vote of UK and Welsh people to Leave [the EU]?”

‘Balance struck’

Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards raised the issue with Commons speaker John Bercow, saying he was outraged “at the complete lack of respect shown to the government of my country by the British government”.

Mr Bercow replied: “I can recall no occasion in my occupancy of the chair in which such a concern has had to be aired, so it is indeed a most significant matter and I am taken aback by what the honourable gentleman has in advance reported to me and now raised orally on the floor of the house.”

Earlier, a Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The UK government’s extensive network of diplomatic staff regularly provide support to the UK’s devolved administrations for visits relating to areas for which they have a devolved responsibility.

“However a balance must be struck to avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to Her Majesty’s Government’s position.

“As a responsible government, we must be certain that our effort and resources overseas are focused on furthering the objectives of Her Majesty’s Government.”

Being quizzed on the row in the assembly on Wednesday afternoon, Welsh Government Brexit minister Jeremy Miles clarified that the Foreign Office did “ultimately” offer car facilities after the Welsh Government “refused to give any assurance that would fetter or inhibit the entitlement of the first minister to speak up for Wales’ national interests”.

Jeremy Miles AM added: “But the first minister is travelling using public transport throughout his visit to Brussels today.”

‘Grow-up ‘

Conservative AM Darren Millar said: “I do find it astonishing that Welsh Labour ministers seem to be more interested in chauffeur-driven cars than they do in the real issue of the day.

“I’m sure that the Welsh Government would not want to allow its resources to be used to support activities which undermine its policy objectives either.

“Ministers, frankly, should grow-up and listen up to the people of Wales who voted to leave the EU in 2016,” he added.

(Excerpt) Read more Here | 2019-06-12 14:37:30
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