Brexit: PM ‘closer to Welsh voters on immigration’

Media captionTheresa May arrives for Brexit talks in Cardiff on Monday

Theresa May is “closer” on immigration to voters in Wales than Carwyn Jones, Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns has said.

His comments came as the prime minister chaired the joint ministerial committee (JMC) meeting on Brexit in Cardiff.

Mr Cairns said Welsh calls for access to the single market were “not inconsistent” with Mrs May’s preference for free trade deals.

But Wales’ first minister said he wanted devolved nations to be part of the Brexit process.

Mrs May did not speak to reporters after the JMC meeting on Monday, but beforehand she said while the various UK governments would not agree on all matters, she hoped the discussions would be “constructive”.

Following the meeting, Mr Jones said it had been a “useful discussion”, adding: “The right things were being said in there, but there are issues we need to see detail on.

“The UK Government needs to incorporate the views of devolved administrations – we need to be part of the process, not just listened to,” he said.

Media captionPeople want control of immigration, says Alun Cairns

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said there had been “positive engagement, particularly around international trade”.

He said the Welsh Government’s call for “full and unfettered” access to the single market was “not inconsistent” with the UK government’s desire for a free trade deal without membership.

“We’re determined to take every part of the United Kingdom with us as we negotiate to exit the European Union,” he said.

But Mr Cairns claimed the prime minister was “closer in line with the thinking of people in Wales who want control of immigration” than Mr Jones.

“The UK government’s position of managing and controlling immigration is much more closer in line with the will of the whole of the United Kingdom, but particularly in Wales in those parts where people voted in strong numbers to leave the European Union.” he said.

Media captionCarwyn Jones says Brexit is happening, and the issue now is how it happens

Earlier, a spokesman for the first minister said he had a one-to-one meeting with the prime minister before the JMC talks.

He said Mr Jones welcomed a “firm commitment” from Mrs May that Brexit “would not be used as cover for a ‘land grab’ on devolved powers”.

On the issue of the single market, the spokesman said: “The positions are not identical, but not irreconcilable at this stage.”

He added that Mr Jones also raised “serious concerns” about the UK Government response to new US immigration restrictions and his belief that a state visit by President Donald Trump would be “difficult” in the current circumstances.

A small group of anti-Trump protestors unfurled a banner outside the meeting reading “Deals with the Devil”.

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Image caption

The JMC meeting at Cardiff City Hall was the first to take place outside London

Downing Street said the JMC meeting showed Mrs May’s “commitment to engage with the devolved administrations and to seek a Brexit that works for the whole of the UK“.

Ahead of the visit, Mrs May said: “We will not agree on everything, but that doesn’t mean we will shy away from the necessary conversations and I hope we will have further constructive discussions today.

“We have also had the Supreme Court judgement which made clear beyond doubt that relations with the EU are a matter for the UK Government and UK Parliament.

“We should not forget that means MPs representing every community in the UK will be fully involved in the passage of Article 50 through Parliament.”

The JMC last met in London in October, when the leaders of the devolved governments were told they must not “undermine” Brexit negotiations and Mr Jones said there was “a great deal of uncertainty” about the UK’s position.

Mr Jones has published a plan for Brexit, calling for freedom of movement rules to be linked to whether migrants have a job.

The white paper, launched by Mr Jones and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood in London, also demanded full single market access.

Ms Wood said there had been “a healthy exchange of views” at a separate meeting on Monday that she and Wales’ Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford had with the UK government’s Brexit Secretary David Davis.

She said Mr Davis was “left in no doubt over the importance of single market participation”. The Plaid Cymru leader also raised the issue of agricultural exports and subsidies and “the need for freedom of movement to avoid skills shortages”.

“While Wales may have voted to leave, no one voted to give the Tories a blank cheque to wreck the Welsh economy by dragging us out of the single market and jeopardising 200,000 jobs,” Ms Wood added.

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