Jonathan's Herald Column - What next for the rural Welsh economy?

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With the UK heading for a Hard Brexit and a future outside the Single Market and the Customs Union, it’s vital that policy makers start considering the impact upon different economic sectors.

I was glad to see the UK Government publish a league table of economic sectors in priority order.

I was somewhat distressed to see that steel, a vital industry for the Welsh economy was listed as “low priority”. Once yet another case of Welsh economic interests being jettisoned by Westminster.

During the first of our weekly Brexit Select Committee meetings this week, we received expert evidence on future trade policy from Roderick Abbott (former Deputy Director General at the World Trade Organisation); Dr Frederick Ortino (Kings College London) and Professor Jim Rollo (UK Trade Policy Observatory). Bearing in mind that Trade policy for the UK has been conducted on our behalf by the EU for the last forty years, and that the UK Government pre-referendum had no capacity or expertise, I was amazed to learn during the evidence session that Brexiteer politicians had not been involved in detailed discussions with these experts on what would need to be done to protect jobs and wages if they won the referendum.

This of course explains the complete chaos within Whitehall at the moment. Ignore the bluster of Ministers and the right wing tabloids – I think we can all now safely assume that there is no ‘have your cake and eat it’ Brexit paradise awaiting. At this late stage the Prime Minister should row back on her position in relation to the Single Market and the Customs Union before triggering Article 50.

What has created some anxiety to me over recent weeks is how those advocating a Hard Brexit have begun a process of picking economic winners and losers – perhaps realising that trade negotiations are in fact a process of give and take. Our agricultural community within the protectionist framework of the EU have been shielded from global food competition. It seems clear now that farming will be a sacrificial lamb in future UK Trade policy in order to open up markets for the Banks of London.

This will have considerable consequences for our farming community which would not only lose protections from a flood of cheap food, but also generous support payments (valued at £3bn per annum for UK) and of course would face a significant tariff to access our current main European markets. Our national interest will be undermined in terms of food security due to an inevitable fall in domestic production. Other sectors of the rural economy will be hit, specifically tourism. The beautiful landscape we are lucky to enjoy in Carmarthenshire is a result of the toil of farmers and their livestock.

The Welsh economy faces unprecedented dangers, and the Welsh Government will need to be empowered with the fullest range of job creation and economic levers possible post Brexit to mitigate impact. As we approach the first Budget of the new Chancellor of the Exchequer we need to see the emergence of a post Brexit economic plan for Wales.


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  • commented 2017-04-27 10:18:58 +0100
    I wish I could agree. However talking of brexit as if it was inevitable is defeatist and premature. If it does go ahead then there will be chaos and Westminster will loose control so I see little point in discussing a hypothetical situation within which pretty well any strategy for agriculture would be impossible.

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