Wales collectively cringed this week as Boris Johnson on more than one occasion said that he is going to put his Withdrawal Agreement in the popty ping. Notwithstanding the fact that no-one really calls it that (it’s meicrodon, Boris bach), most of us also see through Johnson’s deception in suggesting that Brexit is something that can simply be ‘done’.
It was that slogan – ‘Get Brexit Done’ – that won the Tories this election. They tapped into a wave of Brexit fatigue as many people understandably wanted to move on from the parliamentary logjam in order to talk about something – anything – else.
Of course, even those of us on the other side of the argument wanted to move on to talk about the important issues like the NHS crisis, a severe lack of transport investment, and the rapid deindustrialisation of vast swathes of our nation.
However, Johnson knew just as well as we did that rather than being ‘done’, Brexit will only start in 2020. The last four years were only the preface, which closes today when we will vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, opening the second phase of the Brexit saga, which will dominate our politics for years to come whether we like it or not.
Now that he has a comfortable majority, Johnson could take a step back and take time to negotiate the second phase. Instead, true to his reckless nature, he is now again threatening the EU with no-deal, by amending the Bill to make it illegal to request an extension to the transition.
This is as reckless as is it is completely unnecessary – the British Government is passing a law to stop itself doing something that it had already committed not to do while putting no-deal firmly back on the table. Its only purpose, it seems, is to boost Johnson’s image as a strongman going into phase two.
Apparently, Ministers will be banned from using the term ‘Brexit’ in phase two. I can only presume they will quickly resemble a group of people dancing around with their fingers in their ears as the chaos of Brexit phase two engulfs them.
Things will change now that the Tories have a comfortable majority. But a comfortable majority doesn’t change the basic fact that a lack of a trade deal will hurt the UK more than it will hurt the EU, making the threat of no-deal completely counter-intuitive.
Indeed, the British Government have set an elephant trap for themselves, as EU negotiators will be able to use time pressures to force the British State into a weakened position – if it decides to diverge on regulatory standards. Let’s not forget that the Withdrawal Agreement secured by the Prime Minister was only secured by his capitulation into accepting the original offer ensuring a soft Brexit for Northern Ireland while Wales is thrown to the wolves.
It rather feels like Groundhog Day warning against no-deal as we did in March and in October, but the reality is that we now face the exact same threat in December 2020 as that we’ve faced in 2019.
Equally reckless is the Tories’ plan to increase the power of lower courts to roll back EU legal safeguards on workers’ rights and environmental standards. It was clear from the very start that Brexit would be used to roll back our rights, when the men leading the project have made a career out of undermining them. Our task now is to scrutinise Johnson’s every step to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Plaid Cymru didn’t vote for the referendum – a binary choice without a discussion about the significance of EU membership was never a wise step to take. We voted against triggering Article 50 as it was clear that starting the two-year countdown without a sketch of a plan would lead to destruction. We voted against a winter Brexit election as we knew that an election as a proxy referendum would only end in tears.
As a party that has a longstanding commitment to securing an independent Wales in Europe, we will also vote against the Withdrawal Agreement Bill today. We are resolute in our belief that Johnson’s agreement will be harmful to Wales and want to be honest with our constituents.
The Bill’s inevitable passing will be a sad moment for the majority in Wales who in the election didn’t buy the Tory lie that removing rights and freedoms would improve their lives. But we cannot fight old battles – our job now is to fight for Wales during what will be the most important year yet.
The time for the lies and spin of the Brexit preface is over, and the Tories must now move from fiction to facts. ‘Get Brexit Done’ will not cut it for the next phase of the negotiations, and Plaid Cymru will hold the government’s feet to the fire on behalf of the people of Wales.