Read Jonathan's column for this week's edition of the Carmarthenshire Herald.
In one of the most important Conference speeches in a generation, Prime Minister Theresa May this week started to outline her Brexit vision. To date the UK Government had been relying on the vacuous slogan ‘Brexit means Brexit’. What the Prime Minster said confirmed my worst fears about the likely future direction of UK Government policy.
Despite reaching the 100 day mark since the Referendum the Prime Minister was extremely light on detail about her core aims, but there were three key points.
Article 50 – the formal process by which the UK Government will serve notice to the European Commission of its intention to leave the European Union – will be triggered by March next year. This is a full ten months after the Referendum and gives a clear indication of the crisis at the heart of Westminster. The Prime Minister called for initial discussions to begin before the triggering of the two year formal process which was quickly rebuked by other EU Member States. Divorce proceedings will not be amicable. The Welsh Government will have no formal role in UK-EU negotiations which goes to show the façade of the Unionist ‘partnership of equals’ rhetoric. It appears our democratic government and national interests will be side-lined by the Tories in Westminster.
Secondly, the Prime Minister announced that the next Legislative programme will include a so called Great Repeal Act aimed at removing EU law in the UK. The devolution settlements of course include a myriad of EU legislation and surely a Westminster Bill of this sort will ride roughshod over the Welsh constitution potentially centralising powers in Westminster. Whilst the Scottish Government was quite rightly in uproar at this arrogance, the Welsh Government’s approach of passive acceptance gives me little faith that Labour has any intention of protecting Welsh interests in the months and years ahead.
Lastly, and most worryingly, the Prime Minister indicated her preference for a ‘hard Brexit’ with potentially disastrous consequences for the Welsh economy and for the jobs and wages of our people.
Let’s be clear: the referendum result was a mandate to leave the political union not the economic union.
It’s deeply unnerving to see how quickly British nationalists have used the referendum result as a justification to leave the single market. Leaving the EU and creating a new trading relationship are two different processes, and whilst the former might be completed within two years the latter could take a decade or even more. This would mean Welsh businesses no longer enjoying tariff-free access to the world’s largest trading block. Wales has a significant export surplus and we have far more to lose than the other nations of British State by a hard Brexit scenario.
The political position we find ourselves in can be summarised as follows: The Tory UK Government is acting with delusional arrogance with little consideration for the interests of Welsh communities. The Labour Government in Wales is sadly clueless about how to respond to events and seems content to do what it’s told from Westminster. As ever, as we face the biggest political challenge of our lifetime, it will be up to Plaid Cymru to fight for Wales.