We are at a critical point in the Brexit negotiations. Yet, this week in Wales we have witnessed both the reality of the UK government’s continued woeful approach to the negotiations, and more worrying signs that they are still failing to understand what Brexit means for the future of the UK itself. German automotive components manufacturer, Schaeffler, has announced plans to close two of their UK plants, including one in Llanelli, citing continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
This move puts 550 skilled UK jobs at risk, 220 of which are based in Wales. That’s 220 Welsh families worried about their immediate future. It’s also a whole town concerned about the knock-on effect of such a large employer leaving the area.
This is uncertainty, worry and concern that could be avoided if we had clarity and confidence from the UK government that a deal will be struck that does not adversely affect businesses and their workforce.
Today I am at the British Irish Council – the last before we leave the EU next March. The BIC was established as part of the Good Friday agreement to foster improved relationships between the people of these islands. Continually, sadly, we have had to use these occasions to hold the UK government to account for failing to work in a manner that respects the reality of how devolution works.
Only this week in a hastily arranged seminar at the Wales Office, a further attempt was made to establish the idea of a centrally managed Shared Prosperity Fund – the UK’s preferred model to replace EU structural funds – in Wales and Scotland. This plan has been rejected several times by the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland, and is completely contrary to the UK government’s claim that its approach to Brexit will increase the freedom of action in areas of devolved competence. That an invitation was received to this seminar with just hours to spare tells you all you need to know. This is simply not good enough, and makes me increasingly concerned about the kind of Brexit deal the UK government is capable of delivering.
Today, I will again be calling on the UK government to strike a Brexit deal that protects jobs and the economy and stop peddling the myth that a “no deal” exit from the EU is a viable option.
How many more jobs must we lose for the true cost of this approach to be realised?
How many more families must suffer because of the UK government’s shambolic handling of the Brexit negotiations?
If the Prime Minister fails to reach an agreement with the EU – despite the promises that it would be a straightforward process, or if parliament votes down whatever deal she manages to negotiate, the country faces an unprecedented political crisis.
I’ve been clear that in those circumstances there should be a general election, so a new government, with a clear mandate, can take the negotiations forward. This will almost certainly need an extension of the Article 50 period.
But, I’m realistic that there can be no guarantee there will be an election. So, when considering the events of the past week, I feel I must be very clear that if there isn’t an election, I and the Welsh government will want to throw our weight unequivocally behind the campaign for a People’s Vote, a vote which in my view would have to include the option of continued membership of the EU.
But let’s not be under any illusion that this would be easy to achieve, either. It too would require unanimous agreement from the EU27 to extend the Article 50 period. And it would need a majority in the House of Commons to pass the legislation to enable such a vote to take place. That would require the silent majority of Conservative MPs who know no deal would be an unmitigated disaster to finally step up to the plate and put the national interest first.
Even at this late stage, it’s in the Prime Minister’s power to get a deal that would command a majority in the House of Commons and which the EU27 would accept – one that commits to a long-term Customs Union as a matter of principle and to continued participation in the single market; a Brexit that puts jobs and the livelihoods of families like those in Llanelli first.