This weekend, we mark just six months until the UK leaves the EU – it probably feels more like six minutes to midnight for those businesses and communities hoping for some semblance of certainty on which to build a secure future.
The two years since the Brexit referendum have been difficult and divisive, and the looming prospect of a “no deal” heaps stress and uncertainty on an already pressurised situation.
As the clock continues to tick, a ‘“no deal” outcome becomes more and more likely.
To add still more to the chaos, Boris Johnson has finally reappeared from under his rock with 5,000 words of unworkable gibberish. His Brexit mantra is better, and more honestly, summed up by his two-word June message to British businesses, the second word of which was “business”.
However, the hardliners do not have a monopoly on folly. The Prime Minister’s claim that only two choices remain in this current impasse – the Chequers deal or no deal – is completely false. Peddling this myth is damaging to democracy.
Forcing people to choose between a disastrous hard Brexit and a catastrophic “no deal” is hugely irresponsible. Insisting the country is stuck between a rock and a hard place heightens tension and causes confusion at a time we need cool heads and conversations.
We cannot ignore the very real and practical implications of a “no deal” – indeed, the dire implications have been made clear by the UK government’s very own technical notices.
As First Minister, I am of course thinking about protecting Wales’s interest first and foremost, but crashing out of the deal would not just be a disaster for Wales, it would be a disaster for the whole of the UK.
It will leave the country poorer, isolated internationally and more divided at home. It will cause huge disruption and long-lasting damage to all parts of the UK.
We cannot afford to let this happen. It isn’t an option and to claim otherwise is a deception.
The Welsh government has shown there is another way that would protect jobs and our economy and which is compatible both with the result of the referendum and the EU’s negotiating position.
Our white paper, Securing Wales’ Future, which we published in January 2017, has stood the test of time and remains the closest thing the UK has to a realistic negotiating position. Month after month, the UK government has rubbed out red line after red line, and moved painfully but surely towards our position.
Our pragmatic approach has always balanced concerns over immigration with the economic reality that makes participation in the single market central to the UK’s future prosperity.
It is hugely frustrating, because if the UK government had adopted our blueprint to negotiations set out over 18 months ago, it could have made substantial progress on the future partnership with the EU. It also could have avoided the situation we face today.
Our biggest employers are considering leaving the UK, with the loss of thousands of jobs causing disruption to our economy, our universities are at risk of losing out on vital research and our hospitals are warning of staff shortages putting patients at risk.
This is not what anyone was promised during the referendum. This is not what anyone voted for.
A “no deal” would be a catastrophic political failure from the UK government, which would only satisfy a small cabal of fanatical Brexiteers who are hellbent on undermining the social and environmental protections we enjoy and careless of destroying our links with our most important trading partner.
With just six months to go, the Prime Minister needs to drop the poker face and finally put the interests of the country ahead of her party. It is time to work with the EU to reach an agreement that protects the prosperity and wellbeing of people across the UK.