Carwyn Jones had a word for the Tories who want to leave the EU's Single Market… 'daft'

First Minister Carwyn Jones has launched a fierce attack on the Conservative Party for its splits over Brexit , saying it’s vital that Wales and the UK retain access to the European Single Market.

Theresa May ’s Cabinet is due to meet on Wednesday, with some ministers – led by Chancellor Philip Hammond – wanting access to the Single Market to remain on the table during Brexit negotiations, while others, including David Davis and Liam Fox, are less committed to doing so.

A number of European leaders have made it clear that access to the Single Market for a post-Brexit UK will only be possible if EU nationals retain the right to seek work here.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies has accused Carwyn Jones of being slow off the mark in responding to the Brexit vote.

Leaving single market would be ‘daft’

But speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Mr Jones said the problem lay with the Conservatives and not with him. He said: “I made my views known about what needed to happen hours after the result of the referendum.

“The UK Government needs to understand where it stands. It’s split – there are some in the UK Government who think it’s not important and that somehow we would want to move away from being part of one of the world’s biggest markets. That would seem to me to be daft from an economic perspective.

Philip Toscano/PA Wire

Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street

“There are some who see the importance of access to the Single Market. There needs to be a resolution of these issues in the Conservative Party , and in the UK Government, so the British people know what view the UK Government takes.”

Mr Jones said: “For me, the absolute bottom line is there has to be free movement of goods and services. I don’t see how we can prosper without it.

Warning over tariffs

“For example, if you take the Ford Engine Plant at Bridgend, where everything is exported, if there were to be World Trade Organisation rules applied [as they would be in the absence of access to the Single Market] there would be a 5% tariff straight away on all the engines leaving that plant. They would be assembled on the Continent and we’d have to pay a 10% tariff to get them back in again, potentially.

“Given that Ford already has engine plants on the Continent, I don’t think that would be in the interests of [the Bridgend] plant.

“We need to make sure that our farmers don’t face a 15% tariff when they try to sell Welsh lamb to the European Market. So for me, access to the Single Market is the bottom line. Any deal that doesn’t involve the free movement of goods and services is economically hugely difficult for us.

“In the discussions I’ve had with businesses, they can live with Brexit, but their biggest concern is what happens with the free movement of goods and services.

“Everything is on hold at the moment, including investment decisions, until they are handed the clarity. Everything else is possible – but the free movement of goods and services has to be non-negotiable.”

Andrew James

First Minister Carwyn Jones campaigning during the referendum

Asked how this impinged on the concerns of voters who wanted to end the rights of EU citizens to live and work in the UK, Mr Jones said: “I understand that people voted Leave for any number of reasons, and that was a reason. But we cannot be in a position where what we produce becomes more expensive when we try to sell it to the world.

“At the moment we are benefiting because the pound declined substantially after the Brexit vote. That is an advantage to us in terms of the export market, but that’s not a long-term scenario.

Legislation planned

“If the pound were to strengthen, and then we had tariffs as well, it would be very difficult for us.”

Next week Mr Jones will travel to three American cities – Atlanta, Cincinnati and Chicago – on a trade mission. Asked what the point of the trip was in the absence of clarity about the terms of Brexit, he said: “Our investors need to know where we stand. It’s important that when there are new economic circumstances we don’t sit back and do nothing.

“It’s hugely important that we tell companies considering investing in Wales what we are wanting the UK Government to do.”

Mr Jones also outlined the legislation his Government intends to introduce in the coming year, including a Land Transaction Tax Bill; a new Public Health Bill, which will not include a vaping ban; a Landfill Disposal Tax Bill; an Additional Learning Needs Bill; a Trade Union Bill; and legislation to abolish the right to buy social housing. There will also be an amendment to the Welsh Language Measure.

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