The Brexit vote in 2016 provided the wrong answer to the right question.
It was the right question because it addressed decades of neglect and underinvestment in our poorest communities across Wales. There is no question that many people living in the so-called ‘left-behind’ areas saw the 2016 referendum as an opportunity to give the Political Establishment, the source as they saw it of many of their ills – whether in Westminster, Cardiff Bay, or Brussels – a good kicking.
They were right to do so. Nevertheless, the debate over the past two years has revealed that leaving the EU will not provide an answer to those difficulties. Instead, it will only make them much worse.
The most immediate threat is to jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, and to our hill farmers. We’ve already seen 600 job losses announced at Ford in Bridgend and another 220 at the Schaeffler car components plant in Llanelli. There are multiple reasons for these losses but the uncertainty around Brexit is certainly one of them.
The closure of the Honda factory at Swindon, with the loss of 3,500 jobs, will also affect up to a dozen major suppliers in the Welsh automotive industry. They include Tet in Tredegar and Mitsui in my own Carmarthen East constituency in Ammanford.
And if we were to crash out with no deal at the end of this month then our 20,000 hill farmers in rural Wales will face crippling 40 per cent tariffs on selling their lamb in their main market which is the rest of the European Union.
Meanwhile, Wales has seen the sharpest reduction in foreign direct investment since the 2016b referendum of all the nations and regions of the UK.
Nobody who voted Leave in 2016 voted for these consequences. Nobody voted for gridlock in our ports. Nobody voted for supermarket chains paying £millions for extra warehousing for food supplies. Nobody voted for our health service to stockpile medicines. Nobody voted to put troops on the streets to prevent civil disturbance.
We are facing another critical week at Westminster where finally, perhaps, Mrs May’s proverbial can-kicking indecision will run out of road. It looks inevitable that her deal will be voted down, and we must hope for the last time. This means the majority that undoubtedly exists in the Westminster Parliament against a no-deal will finally find its voice.
And that means, too, there must be an extension of Article 50 to allow negotiations to go beyond the 29 March deadline. But the rest of the European Union will not agree to an extension unless there is a guarantee that there will be a real decision at the end of it.
There is no road left for the can to be kicked along.
And, in turn, that means we must go back to the people for a final say. The choice will have to be between whatever deal to leave the EU finally emerges and the flexible deal that Britain already has inside the EU.
It’s hard not to conclude that the last two-and-a-half years of painful on-off negotiations between Britain and the EU have been a complete waste of time. And much of the blame for that must be laid at the door of an equivocating Labour Party, as much as the divided Tories.
Jeremy Corbyn’s late conversion to a People’s Vote should be welcomed. But it would have been so much better if it hadn’t had to be dragged out of him, and if it had been made much earlier. As it is, we have to question Labour’s sincerity.
In the Senedd last week, in a joint debate with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Labour government approved a motion calling for no deal to be taken off the table, and for an extension to Article 50. But they rejected Plaid Cymru’s amendment for a People’s Vote as well. And that was despite having supported one a few weeks earlier.
Only one Labour AM, Torfaen’s Lynne Neagle, voted with us. This is what she said: “For me this is bigger than party politics. This is a big issue for our country that will affect our future for years, and I have to vote on my principles for that.”
Let’s hope that more of her colleagues at Westminster than in Cardiff Bay follow her argument. With only a few days left before the real and present danger of a no deal Brexit, the time for ambiguity is over.
Now is the time for us to come together, and assert, with all our moral force, that Parliament at Westminster should not only vote to extend Article 50, but declare that the reason for doing so is to allow time and space for a People’s Vote.
That would be the democratic route to give the people of Wales the chance to keep their European citizenship, not merely to remain in the EU but to reform it as well. That is the right answer to the question the European Union poses.
- Adam Price is Leader of Plaid Cymru.