Wales has ‘direct interest’ in solution to protocol impasse, says first minister

Mark Drakeford was speaking following an inaugural meeting of the Wales-Ireland Forum, a body designed to boost relations between the two countries.
Wales has ‘direct interest’ in solution to protocol impasse, says first minister

By Dominic McGrath, PA

A positive resolution to the Northern Ireland Protocol is of vital interest to Wales, the Welsh first minister has said.

Mark Drakeford was speaking following an inaugural meeting of the Wales-Ireland Forum, a body designed to boost relations between the two countries.

The first minister met with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Friday as both committed to strengthening ties between Wales and Ireland.

Mr Drakeford told PA news agency: “We do have a very direct interest in the resolution of the protocol or there being a trading regime between Wales, Ireland and the rest of the European Union, in which checks on trade are proportionate but nevertheless, are sufficient to defend the essential interests of the different parties to that agreement.”

Trade volumes

The volume of lorry freight moving between Dublin and Holyhead has dropped in recent months, which some fear may be a permanent result of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Instead, there is an increased movement of freight travelling straight from Ireland to Europe – avoiding the so-called “land bridge” of Britain.

Mr Drakeford said: “The longer this goes on, the more anxious we become the ground that has been lost in the last 12 months will be increasingly difficult to recover.”

He said that Wales had a major interest in seeing a stable trading relationship between Ireland, the UK and the EU.

“When we reached that point, to have a stable set of arrangements that everybody can sign up to, then our hope must be that the land bridge which flows through Wales will become, as Minister Coveney was reaffirming today, when it works well it is the quickest, cheapest, and most convenient way of making sure that trade flows.”

“We need to try to return to those conditions and there is a very direct Welsh interest in doing so.”

Mr Drakeford said that the meeting with Mr Coveney was about “consolidating” relationships post-Brexit.

“There’s certainly an element of consolidation, but there is probably more a sense of forward momentum and wanting to build on what is one of the longest standing relationships between two nations anywhere in Europe.”

“We are a government here in Wales, with responsibilities which we exercise. Many of those responsibilities chime with responsibilities in the Irish Government and those are the things that we have been focusing on,” he told PA news agency.

Maintaining relationships

On Friday, Mr Coveney said that the meeting in Wales, as well as the recent opening of a consulate general in Manchester, was a way of “maintaining relationships”.

“We have a very strong relationship with Wales. We have very strong relationship with Scotland. We have a very strong relationship with Northern England, and I’d like to think we’re very strong relationship with London too.”

“But our relationship with the United Kingdom as a whole is not solely defined by the Irish Government’s relationship with British government.”

He said that both Ireland and the Welsh administration wanted to ensure that the challenges of Brexit did not impinge on a historic relationship, dating back hundreds of years.

“It was primarily focused on looking to the future and not allowing the frustrations of Brexit, or the barriers that Brexit create, to undermine the core relationship across the Irish Sea between Wales and Ireland,” he told PA news agency.

He said that the recent diversion of trade was an inevitable consequence of Brexit.

“This is unfortunately part of the disruption of Brexit. I don’t think that there’s anyone in Wales that is blaming Ireland for that. But I think many are certainly questioning the consequences of Brexit.”

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