Today I questioned David Jones – the Minister of State for Europe on Brexit Negotiations, Market Economy Status for China and the Ports Sector – a transcript is below along with a video where you can watch the session again.
Stephen Kinnock: Thank you very much chair, if I may go back to the questions around the mood music in Brussels and getting as sense as to whether the United Kingdom still really has a seat at the table in these discussions and negotiations. Manfred Weber, he leads the Europeans People’s party in the EU Parliament, very close to Angela Merkel, a very senior member of the CDU. He issued a statement recently where he said ‘Boris Johnson is an unscrupulous careerist and opportunist without conviction. If he has any decency he will step down.’ Do you think that with our senior German counterparts issuing those kind of statements that the British are still being listened to in Brussels?
David Jones: Well, I assume that the Foreign Secretary is not on his Christmas card list anymore sir, but what I could say, you ask about the mood music and I will give you my assessment of the mood music. Immediately after the vote there was a sense of shock which prevailed not only in the EU but also I would suggest in parts of the UK and that was something that I certainly detected when I was first appointed to this position. I have now attended three general affairs councils, one informal, two formal and I am not detecting anything of that sort in my dealings with colleagues from the European Union. I don’t know the gentleman in question but it may now be that he regrets the tenor of his remarks because they do seem colourful to say the least.
Stephen Kinnock: I have not yet seen a statement expressing regret for those remarks but if I do I will certainly keep an eye out for that.
Stephen Kinnock: Just one other, I understand the minister, it’s a difficult position to read the tea leaves and say which way the negotiations are going to go but there is a decision coming up very soon in the EU commission about mandating the EUs representative on the WTO with regard to market economy status for China. You will know that this is vitally important to the British Steel industry, if China is granted market economy status in the WTO it will become almost impossible for us to impose measures against illegally dumped Chinese steel, so the commission will next month be deciding on how to mandate the EU representative on the WTO. That is happening very soon indeed as it’s not a long term thing. How will the UK commissioner be voting in that vote and perhaps you could say a bit about your views on whether or not China should have market economy status?
David Jones: I think actually this is going beyond the bounds of what I feel competent to discuss in the context of this committee, I don’t think it’s the role for me. The UK commissioner will undoubtedly make his decision based on what he thinks is in the best interests of the European Union.
Stephen Kinnock: But he won’t be mandated by the British government?
David Jones: I reserve my position on that because I am unsighted on the position but I am prepared to write to the committee chairman if it’s helpful.
Stephen Kinnock: Thank you that would be very helpful indeed
Stephen Kinnock: Thank you Chairman, so some time ago we, this committee recommended the proposals for a directive on the ports sector, in fact back in July 2016. That’s now likely to go to the European parliament for agreement in December and to return to council for a decision shortly after, which it seems to us would be a serious scrutiny override. What is your department doing to ensure that those sort of overrides don’t happen in the future?
David Jones: We are trying to reduce the number of overrides, as you will be aware in fact we have driven down the number of overrides by about 40% since 2010. I think it right to say that between January and June of 2016 there were 37 overrides on the EU documents. 74% of overrides related to restrictive measures, so clearly we are trying to drive down the number of overrides and I think we have done so reasonably successfully.