European issues have dominated the agenda in Wales this week, as First Minister Carwyn Jones headed to Westminster to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, at Downing Street. Warm words were not expected from either of the First Ministers of the devolved nations, as their Governments continue to face what they believe to be a power grab by UK Ministers. The UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill as currently drafted, allows it to take control of devolved policy areas, such as farming and fishing, once the UK has left the EU. The Welsh Government has however published its own Continuity Bill, as a fall back option which seeks to transfer EU Law in areas already devolved to Wales into Welsh law on the day the UK leaves the EU.
Recent events in Salisbury, however, will have super-ceded any detailed negotiation, as a diplomatic clash with Moscow looks to escalate over the coming days. Significantly, Carwyn Jones’ response is in contrast to that of his UK Labour counterpart Jeremy Corbyn whose performance in the Commons this week left many in his party feeling dispirited. The First Minister has unequivocally supported the Prime Minister’s response as proportionate and robust. That said, as the Leader of the Opposition faced a backlash from his own Labour MPs, Carwyn Jones has leapt to Jeremy Corbyn’s defence stating that he is being "unfairly maligned" over his response to the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Welsh Government efforts to strengthen and build international trade links took another step forward this week, as Economy Secretary Ken Skates headed east to China. Accompanying a delegation of 25 Welsh companies to Hong Kong and Shanghai, this is the largest trade mission to travel to the country for more than 10 years. A hugely significant market, Welsh exports to China have grown significantly from nearly £194m in 2012, to nearly £313m in 2017.
Welsh Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford has responded to this week’s Spring Statement, calling on Chancellor Philip Hammond to set a new fiscal direction and additional money for Wales based on the Conservative – DUP deal. The Welsh Government has called again on the UK Government to allocate additional consequential funding of £1.67bn, for all parts of the UK by respecting the established Barnett funding rules.
Finally, the contest as to who will be the first Welsh Labour Deputy Leader has stepped up a gear, as contenders Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris and Cardiff North AM Julie Morgan go head to head in a series of hustings events. While it can be argued that there is little difference between the two politicians, with both already demonstrating their fierce commitment to equality, fairness and social justice in their careers, the question of internal democracy will be a sticking point. While the UK Labour party has moved to OMOV, the Welsh Party continues to use the electoral college system which involves the support of trade unionists, parliamentarians and members.
It is however important, of course, because the Deputy Leader will have a place on the Welsh Executive Committee, and if Julie wins, she will use her role to push for changes to the way a future Welsh Labour Leader is elected. Carolyn however continues to make an impassioned plea to not focus on procedures, but on people. The result will be announced in April, at the Welsh Labour conference in Llandudno.