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A trip to the US was a reminder of how Brexit is viewed abroad

“Do you think there will be another referendum?” The question was asked again and again.

On trips abroad, you can quickly measure the political mood by the question you get asked the most. On last year’s St David’s Day mission to the US, the question on everyone’s lips was “What do you think of the new President?” Closely followed by a nervous “What do people think of America now?” 

It was a febrile time in Washington, and in many ways those tensions are still bubbling away - most especially after the tragedy of the Florida shooting. Even the most traditional Republicans will quietly, and for now only privately, concede that things must change when it comes to America’s relationship with guns.

When I met with Hillary Clinton in New York, she recounted the tough time she had at the hands of the gun lobby and offered a hope that as young people were now mounting their own grassroots campaign, things might actually improve. We can only hope.

But, it wasn’t their own domestic turmoils that got people talking this year, but a rather more unexpected poser on Brexit - “Do you think there will be another referendum?” It was asked again and again. And more than once the question was posed with a hopeful intonation.

As it happens, I’ve been consistent in my view that we shouldn’t have a second referendum - that the priority needs to be securing the best deal possible for the people of Wales and the UK, and respecting the result of the original vote.

It should be a chilling warning to the UK government however, that the process so far has been viewed with such horror and confusion by politicians and businesses abroad, that they are questioning our country’s ability or will to go through with it. 

So, it was that when I addressed the British American Business Association in Washington, people didn’t ask about the UK government’s position on Brexit, they asked would it be following Labour’s lead. And when it came to Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement on the customs union, I was able to give a strong statement of support. After all, this is a move from the party at a UK level decisively towards the position the Welsh Labour Government established through our white paper 18 months ago. 

American and Canadian companies with large footprints already established in Wales are holding out for sense to prevail and offer their support to our position. Any moves away from regulatory alignment with the European Union will cause them problems, and already some bets are being hedged with new operations being opened in Ireland.

Although we hear nothing but good reports about the support these companies have been given and the skilled workforce available to them in Wales, the growing uncertainty is a concern. It’s increasingly clear that’s what is being billed in the UK media as a parliamentary showdown on Brexit is actually something much bigger: it’s about waving some economic smelling salts under some nationalist nostrils. It’s time to wake the country up from a defeatist and miserablist torpor and put people’s livelihoods back at the top of the agenda. 

That was the message I relayed to the Prime Minister when I spoke with her from Montreal after her "Road to Brexit" speech. I, like many others who choose realism over nationalism, welcome that the Prime Minister has finally accepted her government must face up to some hard facts and realise compromise will be needed to reach a good Brexit deal. But, there is still a long way to go and I will keep pushing to retain full and unfettered access to the single market and customs union membership. The Welsh and UK economy depend on it.

Certainly, fighting for jobs and investment was top of my agenda in North America, and I was delighted that following on from a meeting with Valero in Washington, the company was able to announce a £127m investment in their Pembrokeshire operation citing Welsh government support. In a totally different but vitally important sector, the fintech company Backbase announced 50 new jobs in Cardiff, just as I was hosting a New York roundtable with tech leaders talking about how we can help each other in the future. A lot of it comes down to the continuing and changing "war for talent"- which is what we heard once again at the Montreal HQ of CGI - a world leading technology company with a major presence in Wales. 

Although the focus of these visits is always economic, no St David’s Day mission would be complete without discussion about ideas and values - St David is our patron saint and not a sales rep after all.

It was therefore a great honour to speak at the United Nations in New York about the gender equality work being taken forward by the Welsh government, most particularly our ground-breaking legislation on Violence Against Women & Domestic Abuse. Alongside our newly announced collaboration with Hillary Clinton and Swansea University to establish new scholarships for the study of children’s rights, this showed that my Welsh Labour government is passionate about selling Wales as a country of compassion as well as commerce. As the Welsh Labour leader, as well as First Minister, that’s a combination I’m fiercely proud to advocate as a model of good government in these uncertain times. 

Carwyn Jones is the First Minister of Wales. 

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.