Coronavirus: FM ‘struggling’ to engage UK ministers on lockdown exit

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Mark Drakeford said his government is preparing its own thinking in case restrictions cannot be eased on a UK-wide basis

It is a “bit of a struggle” getting UK ministers to engage with their Welsh counterparts on how to leave lockdown, the first minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said “we are preparing our own thinking” in case restrictions cannot be eased on a UK-wide basis.

“It’s a bit of a struggle, I have to say, to get the UK government to engage with us on that agenda,” he said.

On Tuesday, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said the relationship between the two governments was “regular and thorough”.

Mr Drakeford made the comments during an interview with Sky News.

His words contrast with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement, in Downing Street on Monday, pledging to “build the biggest possible consensus across business, across industry, across all parts of our United Kingdom, across party lines” on how to ease the restrictions.

In Wednesday’s interview, Mr Drakeford said he had always been in favour of a “four nation approach”.

“The four nations of the United Kingdom took a decision to go into lockdown on the same day, and with the same measures in place, and my preference is to come out of lockdown in the same way – common measures to a common timetable across the United Kingdom,” the first minister said.

“But if we can’t agree on that and it’s a bit of a struggle, I have to say, to get the UK government to engage with us on that agenda, we are preparing our own thinking, our own possible measures.”

Mr Drakeford added: “My preference is to do it together.

“If we can’t reach that point then, of course, my responsibility will be to make the decisions that are right for Wales.”

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Simon Hart says communications need to be a “two-way arrangement”

However, in evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Mr Hart said communications between the administrations needed to work in both directions.

The first minister had not told him of his plans to publish a framework for ending the lockdown, the previous week, the Welsh secretary told MPs.

“We didn’t see that, and it did come out of left field.” he said.

Mr Hart said he had then written to Mr Drakeford “re-emphasising our commitment on behalf of UK government to work with his government in Cardiff at every possible opportunity, but for the effective execution of that work, communications needed to be a two-way arrangement”.

Mr Hart said he was “surprised” to read previous comments by the first minister suggesting a lack of communication by UK government ministers.

“I really do believe that the relationship at every level is regular and thorough,” he said.

‘Happy to invite him’

He told the committee a list of all the letters, telephone calls and meetings between the two governments would be a very “substantial document.”

“I am more than happy to make sure that everybody’s fully aware of the level of cooperation and collaboration between the two governments.”

Mr Drakeford had suggested that it had been ten days since he spoke to senior UK cabinet minister Michael Gove.

In response Mr Hart’s deputy, Wales Office Minister David TC Davies, told the committee he attends a daily meeting with Mr Gove and “there is always a representative from Welsh Government there, it’s not normally Mark Drakeford but I’m sure we’d be happy to invite him to attend.”

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