Shouting matches and talking shops

Image caption Carwyn Jones arriving in Downing Street for a Joint Ministerial Council meeting last October

One of the more colourful descriptions Carwyn Jones came out with in his speech setting out the Welsh Government's policy paper on Brexit, was that the joint ministerial councils sometimes deteriorated into shouting matches.

An image immediately conjured up in my mind of Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, Carwyn Jones and Arlene Foster all screaming at each other behind closed doors.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall if that was the case.

It is difficult to imagine such drama, but it is easier to imagine people agreeing with the way Carwyn Jones dismissed the JMCs as "talking shops".

No-one likes a talking shop, so you can see the logic to Carwyn Jones' plan to give the JMCs teeth by making decisions binding and to give them power to resolve post-Brexit power disputes between Westminster and the devolved governments. And there will undoubtedly be plenty of those.


But this would be far more than a simple tidying up exercise; behind the proposals lie some big changes.

The new beefed-up joint body (which he wants to call the UK Council of Ministers) would allow all of the governments to have a say on the creation of a new UK single market for agriculture, which is after all devolved.

This may be less controversial than the proposal to allow the council to stray into non-devolved areas like international trade agreements.

Carwyn Jones's argument is that a free-trade deal with New Zealand lamb, for example, could have potentially devastating consequences for the Welsh lamb industry so the Welsh Government should have a say.

The logical consequence would be governments in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast having a potential veto on future deals.


It is virtually impossible to imagine Theresa May agreeing to sharing major decisions in non-devolved areas in international trade at any point, never mind with just a few days to go before the Brexit talks get underway.

Will this have any traction? Carwyn Jones was going to publish this document regardless of the general election result.

A few weeks ago I suspect he was expecting to do it against the backdrop of a Theresa May thumping majority.

That, of course, never happened, which means the prime minister now cuts a weaker figure than many had predicted heading into the general election, and so in theory she should be more prepared to listen to voices from opposition parties.

But that only goes so far. The context here remains hugely difficult for Cardiff to have influence on Westminster.

Theresa May is preparing to begin talks with 27 EU nations, and while consultation, even shared decision-making, may be a priority for ministers in Cardiff, it is not going to be high up the agenda in Downing Street.

If this is going to be anything more than a wish-list in future, it is going to need the buy-in of the Scottish Government.

Prospects here may be more encouraging. SNP ministers could be more motivated to make the proposals work now that a second independence referendum is moving off the immediate agenda.

There are lots of ifs and buts, how could it be any different in such an unpredictable political era.