Herald Column May 15th 2020

The highlight of my week in parliament was the debate on the Agriculture Bill. Though primarily England only, it is an important Bill for Wales as it starts the arduous process of responding to the destructive complexities caused by Brexit, not least because to get a Withdrawal Agreement Boris Johnson had to split the British state into two different economic zones. Whilst Northern Ireland effectively remains within the European orbit - Wales, Scotland and England will have to create new internal market structures and form a new customs union.     I’m not quite sure how Welsh farmers and businesses are going to respond when they work out that their counterparts in Northern Ireland will have full unfettered action to the European market whilst we lose unfettered access to the destination of 90% of Welsh meat exports and three quarters of all food products.

During the debate I highlighted how the current pandemic exposed the absurdity of the current British State food model which has left the power over 70 of all food sales in the hands of only four companies. This oligopoly has enabled food producers to be squeezed to the point of unprofitability and led to a huge trade imbalance where the UK is far too reliant imports.  I called for food production to be ramped up, underpinned by local processing capability so supply chains are localise allowing people to buy local produce directly.

In leaving the EU single Market a new internal market will need to be created for Wales, Scotland and England.   The key issue as always when it comes to new structures is who is responsible for creating the rules and regulating them.   There is little doubt that Westminster, which views Brexit as a means of clipping Wales and Scotland, will consider these to be matters for them and them alone. However, during the debate I warned British Government Ministers that Wales and Scotland have moved a long way in recent decades and our people are highly unlikely to take kindly to the side-lining of our national government and parliament – especially as Brexiteers were promising Wales a bonanza of new powers during the referendum.

I concluded my speech by concentrating on international trade policy, where there was a complete absence of any commitment to safeguard food standards in the Bill. This gives an indication of the sort of trade deals the Tories are desperate to strike.   Welsh producers would not only lose access to their biggest export markets if we drop from European standards, but as I have repeatedly warned in the House of Commons would be completely undercut by lower standard food imports with considerable impacts for public health.

This is where power is important. As things currently stand, Wallonia a region of Belgium will have more influence over EU trade policy than Wales has over policy determined in Westminster. Let that sink in, because the current trade policy of the British Government is to give equal weight to trade negotiations with the US and the EU, despite requiring 60 US deals to make up for what would be lost if they botch the current Brexit negotiations. I would imagine that the power of veto for Wales and Scotland would secure a more considerate approach by Westminster.


I finished my speech by urging the British Government to stick to European standards and introduce formalised joint decision making structures for internal market and trade policy. I fear however that the ideological zealotry of the Westminster establishment will trump my advice.

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Agriculture Bill Speech 14.5.20

I want to speak on three key themes that intertwine with the amendments and new clauses that we are considering: first, the need to protect domestic food supplies; secondly, the need for joint decision making over the new British state internal food market; and thirdly, trade policy as it will apply to agriculture.

On our economy and food supplies, the current pandemic has exposed long-ignored issues, including our dependence on imports. Now is the time to rethink, reset and rebuild our food supply from the ground up. The regrettable long-term withdrawal of both the British and Welsh Governments from food policy has allowed our food retail industry to become ever more concentrated, so that just four companies now control 70% of the UK food retail market. The oligopoly of several large food retailers has given them unprecedented power to dictate ever lower prices to farmers, continually sapping the financial health of domestic agriculture and expanding an ever wider trade imbalance that undermines our food security. In short, a complete U-turn is needed in agricultural policy to promote food production. Central to that should be the development of local processing capabilities, so that we can help to build a stronger local economy where people can buy local produce more directly.

Following the debate since the EU referendum, it is plainly obvious that the proponents of leaving the EU have given little thought to its consequences for the British state. My preferred policy would have been to remain in the single market post Brexit—a luxury available to the six counties of the north of Ireland, but not Wales—and then there would have been no need for me to make this point. However, in leaving the single market, a new internal market will need to be created for Scotland, Wales and England in order to facilitate the free movement of goods, not least agricultural products. I am sure that, as time goes by, businesses in my constituency and across Wales will start asking why they cannot have the same access to the European single market as Northern Ireland. However, I digress.

The key issue that faces us now is how the new Welsh, Scottish and English internal market will be governed and regulated. I have little doubt that, due to the centralising tendencies of Westminster, British Government Ministers believe that that will be a matter for them and them alone. I remind the British Government, however, that Wales and Scotland have moved a considerable way in recent decades, and the people of our respective countries will not take kindly to the sidelining of our national Governments and national Parliaments. After all, during the EU referendum, Brexiteers were promising Wales a “bonanza” of new powers. To avoid the destructive contradictions caused by Brexit, it is clear that the British state needs to be restructured. Joint decision making between those constituent parts of the British state within the new internal market would be an obvious way of creating some stability.

I turn to trade policy. There is a complete absence in the original Bill of any commitment or means of upholding Welsh and British farming production standards in international trade negotiations. As UK negotiators are reportedly finding out in their deliberations with the US, every one of the 50 states has the right to impose conditions in their trade deals, so as to protect their respective core economic interests.

Welsh agriculture is the bedrock of our food and drink industry, worth nearly £7.5 billion in 2018. A core component of that is overseas trade, particularly with our European friends and allies, where nearly three quarters of all Welsh food and drink exports were destined in 2018. This trade underpins the employment of over a quarter of a million people in Wales. Trade in foodstuffs is therefore a national strategic imperative for my country.

Unrestricted, cheap, poor-quality imports threaten to not only damage the immediate vitality and strength of our domestic food sector, but also pose wider challenges to our environment and our rural economy. As things stands when it comes to trade policy, Wallonia, a region of Belgium, will have more influence over European Union trade policy than Wales will have over UK trade policy. The checks and balances in the EU, the US and other trade blocs are not intended to create problems. They are there to ensure coherence to trade policy.

We are fully justified in our concern in Wales. The absurdity of current British Government trade policy means that trade negotiations with the US are given equal billing to those with the EU, despite their own figures indicating that it would take 60 deals with Trump to make up for what will be lost as a result of a botched Brexit transition phase. Again, Northern Ireland’s farmers will be protected as they will effectively remain in the EU customs union. The British Government seem to think they can leverage concessions from Europe by holding parallel talks, but President Macron, as usual, has completely outmanoeuvred the British Government by saying plainly that if the UK pursues a US deal and agrees to the importation of cheaper, lower-standard food, they can forget the trade deal with the EU.

In closing, my message to the British Government is this: stick as close to the EU as possible and create joint decision-making structures between Wales, Scotland and England over internal market and trade policy. I fear, though, that ideological zealotry will trump my advice. Diolch yn fawr.

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Herald Column May 8th 2020

How to Ease Lockdown Restrictions – Herald May 8, 2020


By the end of this week we are expecting further announcements by the Labour Government in Wales and the British Government on the next stage of the lockdown policy. My party strongly advocated the current suppression strategy and was critical of the initial herd immunity strategy pursued.   The high levels of mortality in Wales and the UK indicates that we were right in our position. 

In many ways initiating a lockdown policy was the easy part, however we must remember that the lockdown is not a cure for the virus.  Its primary purpose is to create the breathing space required to build up capacity in our health systems to deal with the pandemic whilst we wait for a vaccine that could be a long time coming.  

We are faced with a virus that is very dangerous for the health of so-called “high-risk”  groups, which tend to be the elderly and those with respiratory problems or other health complications.  The mortality rate is as high as 10% in those groups if infected.   Evidence suggests that as much as 20% of the population are in high risk groups – and we obviously hope that as our scientists learn more about the virus that we can narrow that group down further to identify a core high risk group. However, this will take time, and time is not known as a normal political commodity – especially in times of crisis.

The challenges posed by lifting restrictions will dwarf those of imposing the lockdown in the first place.  For my part, I support extending the restrictions simply because we don’t know enough about the virus as of yet. We also certainly don’t have the required testing capacity in Wales (and across the UK), and critically also lack the contact tracing infrastructure to pursue an eradication strategy .   However, as I pointed out in a debate on lockdown regulations in the House of Commons this week, the Labour Government in Wales  needs to start explaining its policy better, especially the rationale behind lifting any restrictions, if they are to maintain public confidence.

Opposition politicians suffer from a severe disadvantage as we do not receive the expert advice provided to Ministers. This is a serious and unhelpful  disadvantage during a pandemic crisis. Scrutiny of decisions is vital in any democracy as it supports transparency and accountability. I would therefore strongly urge the Labour Government in Wales to publish the scientific advice it is using to base its decisions. I also suspect It would before its own good in the long term, and would provide a glowing contrast to the secrecy behind British Government policy.

I have no idea what our national government will announce, however in this week’s debate I emphasised that if the so called “four nation” approach in the UK was to mean anything, then all four government needed to agree policy. Joint decision making between the Welsh, Scottish, Northern Ireland and the Westminster Governments must be the way forward in this pandemic and the future post Brexit British State.

If looking for a good example of policy, look no further than our cousins across the Celtic sea.   The Republic of Ireland were way ahead of the British State  when it came to banning mass gatherings and introducing the lockdown. Whilst the British Government maintains no restriction on open borders, anyone travelling to the Republic has to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival. It’s amazing what these small independent countries can achieve.

Over the weekend, the Republic of Ireland announced their detailed plans for lifting their lockdown in some detail, and many other Governments across the world are communicating with the same level of transparency and clarity. The Irish Government have set out five phases. Phase 1 commencing on 18 May, will allow outdoor meetings between people from different households. The fifth phase, commencing in August, will allow larger social gatherings and a return to work across all sectors. Schools are not expected to return until the new academic year, and only then in a phased manner.

Regrettably, I will not be holding my breath for anything as comprehensive from the Tories in London and Labour in Wales.




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Jonathan Edwards Herald Column May 1st

We Must Grasp a New Way of Working Out of Coronavirus – Herald May 1, 2020


We are undoubtedly living in very serious times, but one of the silver linings to this very dark cloud is that it could create the creative space needed for a complete reboot of how our economy and society is structured.  Modern life for most working people is all consuming due to its rapid speed.  Trying to juggle work pressure and family expectations is a huge challenge in itself. It is very difficult to imagine let alone create a different way of doing things.  

This week in the new virtual Westminster world I tabled a parliamentary motion which I hope could stimulate a wider debate. At the recent Budget the British Government announced a £28bn road building programme. This investment is being driven by modelling on likely road traffic forecasts. The last major piece of work undertaken by the British Government was Road Traffic Forecast (RTF) 2018.   It indicated that Road Traffic could grow by up to 51% by 2050.  Furthermore, most of the growth is expected in already largely congested areas meaning that the investment is directed towards already high performing economic areas of the British State.  The same is the case in Wales where our Labour Government priorities the vast allocation of investment to the Cardiff-Newport corridor.

This concentration of investment has hugely negative consequences in several areas.  Firstly, it polarises geographic economic wealth. In many ways, the history of transport investment in the UK has been one of pouring money into a black hole.  Each investment increasing demand leading to the need for more investment.

At a Welsh level the Cardiff first policy means that community planning development even as far west here in Carmarthenshire is based on large housing development operating as commuter communities to deal with the overspill from large urban centres – and critically offering relatively cheaper homes.   Workers today are travelling longer and longer distances to their workplace.  The average commute in the UK now is set at 10 hours a week.  To put in context a whole working day per week is lost in travelling.

Such wasted time obviously has severe consequences for work-life balances.  Tired and stressed out workers obviously undermines family life with all the negative consequences that ranging from mental and physical health issues, domestic violence and adult support for child development.

Lastly of course is the enormous contribution of transport emissions to the environment.  Transport in the UK accounts for 20% of the emissions – and therefore reducing traffic pollution is inevitably going to be a vital part of the strategy to reach climate change targets.

The pandemic has opened up the possibility of a new way of working.  Many of us will have become completely accustomed, and seamlessly changed, our way of working to being homebased.  Whole Office structures are essentially working from home and are communicating via instant messaging services and skype and zoom virtual meetings.   With the appropriate equipment and critically the infrastructure to enable the technology, colleagues hundreds of miles away are effectively in the same room.

There will always be a need for some new roads.  The Llandeilo by-pass comes to mind due to the pollution levels in the town.  We will also need to maintain the existing network.

However, the British Governments investment in broadband is only a sixth of its commitment to road building.  A brave new world is possible that will help geographically level up wealth; improve work life balance; aid community development especially for small imagination and the re-allocation of resources.


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