During a “frank and robust” extraordinary summit of the British-Irish Council, leaders and ministers from the UK’s celtic nations vowed they would not be “done over” by Westminster as part of Brexit.
Each made it clear they wanted direct involvement with the negotiations over the UK’s exit from the European Union.
There were also discussions about the danger of those negotiations leading to a new “hard” border being set up between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The meeting was called by the first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, who said it was crucial that the devolved administrations worked together to make sure they got the best Brexit deals.
Jones set the tone in a press briefing after the summit held at the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff. Asked if he was in a more difficult position because the majority of people of Wales voted in favour of leaving the EU – while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain – he replied bluntly: “The people of Wales voted to leave, they didn’t vote to be done over in any subsequent negotiations.”
Jones said that since the referendum last month, David Cameron and Theresa May had promised that the whole of the UK would be involved in the negotiations. “That [promise] has to be made real,” he said. “We can’t be consultees. We have to be very much part of that negotiation. My view is that any future deal should be ratified by all four parliaments within the UK.”
He said he believed article 50 should be triggered before next summer.
Echoing Jones’s strong language, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “As long as I’ve got anything to do with it the people of Scotland will not be done over.” Sturgeon described the summit as “frank and robust”.
On Jones’s stance that the deal should be ratified by all four parliaments, she said: “I think it’s a very legitimate suggestion.”
Sturgeon added: “The question we will need an answer to is how the decision to trigger article 50 is taken and what is the role of all of us represented here in that decision. The prime minister in Edinburgh last week said she didn’t want to trigger article 50 until the position had been reached that all parts of the UK were comfortable with.”
Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster, said the UK government, which was represented at the summit by the Northern Ireland secretary, James Brokenshire, could not be in any doubt about the demands of the devolved administrations to be at the centre of negotiations.
“Everyone wants direct engagement with the government,” she said. “We want to be directly involved in negotiations.”
Also at the summit was the Irish taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who insisted there would be no hard border between the north and south.
But the deputy Northern Ireland first minister, Martin McGuinness, said it was “very difficult” to see how the common travel area could survive. He said: “The reality is that EU nationals will have the right to travel to Dublin … and get on the bus to travel to Belfast or Derry.”
Brokenshire said he did not want to see a “return to the borders of the past”. On Brexit in general, he said the UK government was in “listening mode”.
He said: “The prime minister has been very clear in saying that each of the administrations needs to be properly engaged. Today’s meeting has provided a very helpful forum.
“What we as the UK government are seeking to achieve which is to get the best possible outcome for all parts of the UK, a sense of listening very carefully, very clearly to proposals that are being made and also as we move forward as much as we can ensuring that there is that UK-wide approach to negotiations.”
The British-Irish Council was established as part of the multiparty agreement reached in Belfast on 10 April 1998. Its membership also includes the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey governments.
This article was written by Steven Morris, for theguardian.com on Friday 22nd July 2016 16.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010