Jonathan Edwards - Herald Column

I write this column after the debate the 2nd Reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill where MPs voted to support moving the legislation to the next stage of scrutiny, however defeated the British Government on their preferred timetable for scrutiny. In act of gross petulance, the Prime Minister has decided to pull the Bill as opposed to having a simple conversation with his opponents on the amount of time they believe will be required for scrutiny. Let’s hope commons sense prevails over the coming days.

I welcome this as finally we have an idea what Brexit actually means. This Bill is the work of the true believers of Vote Leave who now form the British Government. They own the Bill and they own the outcomes of it. I’m sure readers would find it of great interest that despite this fact, what has been agreed is basically the initial proposals of the European Union presented two years ago. This is no great diplomatic coup by Boris Johnson but rather the tamest of capitulations.

It has been obvious to me for some considerable time that Brexiteer politicians have never fully understood the consequences of their own policies. This is why during the referendum they were able to claim they wanted to end free movement whilst remaining in the single market; why they said that leaving both the Customs Union was compatible with the Good Friday Agreement; why they claimed the new Free Trade Agreement with the EU would be the easiest in history and how the British State would be able to sign trade deals around the world based on divergence from EU tariffs and regulations whilst maintaining frictionless access to the European Economic Area.

This bill clearly shows that all these claims are completely false because of the obsession of the British Government and the Labour opposition on ending free movement, the British State will have to leave the Single Market.

A Free Trade Agreement with the EU won’t be negotiated until after the British State has left the European Union, meaning that this continues to be a blind Brexit. The British Government will be negotiating one of the most complex trade deals in history from a position of extreme weakness – and it hopes to do this in just over a year. At the end of the transition we will be facing the exact same situation as we are now – further delays and extensions or a no-deal cliff-edge. For those hoping for an end to the Brexit chaos – exit offers only a temporary reprieve before the really serious negotiations begin where whole sections of the economy will be up for grabs.

We know now that it would be impossible to sign trade deals with the likes of the United States without drastically reducing our access to the European market. Writing last week in the Evening Standard the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that assessments indicate that for every £1 that would be gained from international trade agreements, £33 would be lost from loss of access to European Markets due to the need to diverge on standards and the extra costs of tariffs. These figures indicate there is no economic case for Brexit. My priority has always been to protect the jobs and living standards of my constituents, and the safe harbour of the European economic frameworks are far preferable to putting our faith in a intoxicated highly ideological swashbuckling Britannia – especially in the age of global trade wars.

Compatibility with the Good Friday Agreement has only been achieved by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the Customs Union and the Single Market. While Northern Ireland will be provided with a ‘soft Brexit’ cushion, no such provisions have been made for Wales. Instead, Wales will face a ‘hard Brexit’, with an empowered Tory government that is committed to deregulation and privatisation of our economy. Here in Wales, people are asking if its good enough for Northern Ireland why can’t Wales have the same offer.

My party will be basing our approach to the next stages of this Bill, if the Prime Minister stops throwing his toys out of his pram, on five key areas.

Firstly, we will be demanding impact assessments on the Withdrawal Agreement in time for consideration and scrutiny before this Bill can move to the next stages. In a democracy, it is imperative that an impartial view on the economic impact of this deal will be made clear to both the House and the public.

Secondly, we will be seeking membership of the Customs Union – not a Customs Union with the EU. A customs union involves charging the same tariffs on goods from outside the union and removing tariffs on goods moving within it. The EU customs union is a more comprehensive set of arrangements. As well as trading goods tariff free, it includes exchanging information and collecting data. To avoid a hard border in the Irish Sea between Ireland and Wales, membership of the Customs Union is essential.

Thirdly, we will be calling for the UK to remain in the Single Market. Thousands of Welsh businesses and 200,000 jobs rely on our membership of the Single Market.

Fourthly, the Bill as it currently stands denies the voice of our democratically elected parliament in Wales – y Senedd. If this Government respected the principle and legitimacy of devolution, it would require any future free trade deal struck by the UK Government with the European Union to have the consent not only of this House, but also of the Senedd, the Scottish Parliament and the Stormont Assembly. As things stand Wallonia, a constituent part of the Belgian State (due to its veto on EU Free Trade Agreements) will have more influence and power over the fate of the Welsh economy than our own national democratic institutions.

Finally, this Bill is unacceptable as it currently stands as it denies the people a final say. I cannot support a deal that will make people poorer, when they have no say whatsoever on whether they support it or not.

Future generations will not forgive this Government if they deny people the final say. Over a million people marched outside Parliament on Saturday demanding a final say. If the Government had any faith in their own deal, they would put it to the people, and accept this as the only legitimate way of getting this agreement implemented.

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