On the day of the launch of the Wales: Stronger in Europe, Campaign Chair Geraint Talfan Davies explains why Wales should stay.
Like it or not Wales, Scotland and London are going to have to conduct elections to their own democratic bodies on 5 May under the overshadowing umbrella of the referendum on Britain’s membership of European Union on 23 June. In Wales and Scotland the ability of their own governments to carry out their manifestos will be affected by a decision that the whole of Britain will take six weeks later.
For that reason, if for no other, we cannot wait until after those elections to begin to remind Welsh electors of just what is at stake. For there is a difference. Without in any way belittling elections to our National Assembly, the truth is that whatever the outcome there will be another election in 2021. The referendum on Europe, on the other hand, is going to determine the future of the whole of these islands for generations to come.
Whatever Michael Howard or Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage may tell you, there will be no second chance in the foreseeable future, not least because a British exit is very likely to diminish sharply any trust in Britain amongst the other members of the European Union. ‘Perfidious Albion’ will have lived up to the centuries-old jibe.
Less than four months is not a long time in which to counter decades of anti-EU myth-making and ‘little Englander’ prejudices that have been thrust down the throats of the British public by a predominantly hostile press. Those papers have echoed political parties and factions that, if truth be told, have always been hostile to British identification with Europe – sometimes from an innate xenophobia, sometimes from a romantic view of Britain’s past and an unrealistic view of its present and future, and sometimes from more tawdry personal political calculation.
In the short time ahead, the work of bringing home the realities of today’s dangerously uncertain world will be a key task for Wales: Stronger in Europe, part and parcel of the Britain: Stronger in Europe campaign.
We will also have to remind people of tangible importance of the EU in our lives. Europe is not them, it is us. To mention but a few headlines:
Wales benefits from our membership more than any other part of the UK;
Wales is due to receive more than £3billion of EU investment between 2014 and 2020;
Welsh farmers will receive £1.7bn between now and 2020 and enjoy branding protection for Welsh beef and lamb;
The European Investment Bank has invested £1.6bn in Welsh projects over the past 20 years;
Welsh exports to the EU are worth £5.4bn;
More than 190,000 jobs in Wales are linked to our European trade;
our tourism trade has benefited from investment in developments such as the coastal path, while European water directives have ensured cleaner waters and beaches around our coast.
It is an acknowledged danger of referendums that voters are affected by extraneous issues that are not directly related to the question on the ballot paper. It will be our task to remind the Welsh public of just what is at stake for the Welsh and British economy and employment, for working conditions, for our environment, our consumer and social protection, our national security, Britain’s place in the world and, let us not forget, the future of Europe.
Those who would have us disengage from the EU complain that supporters of the EU are indulging in Project Fear. But only the ineffably foolish or the blind can believe that there is nothing to fear in the world today. The clouds are many and some are very dark indeed:
the bloody turmoil in the Middle East and in north Africa ripping states apart and creating the greatest movement of people’s since 1945;
international terrorism that can hit the streets of any capital;
a weakening world economy and the possibility of another global financial collapse;
the economic challenges from China;
Russia’s resumed aggressiveness under Putin, much of it aimed at dividing the EU;
the revived authoritarianism of some east European countries, some of them EU member states;
an unpredictable nuclear-armed North Korea;
the challenge of climate change.
And let’s not forget the chilling prospect of Donald Trump’s raging ego eyeing the White House.
Are we to believe that all these threats are just an illusion, things to be casually waved away, with a Farage grin or a Johnsonian chortle? Are we to believe there are no obstacles at all to the smooth creation of a post-Brexit land of milk and honey? Of course not.
Well-run companies and charities constantly update a risk register in order to lessen the risk of being taken unawares by internal and external events. Those of us who wish to remain in the EU have no illusions about the difficulties and dangers that lie ahead, or about the need for the EU – the institution and some policies – to continue to change.
But the Brexit camp would seem to have no risk register. Despite arguing for a wholly unprecedented event – the very first withdrawal of a country from the EU – the ‘Leavites’ cleave to a view that all will remain for the best in the best of all possible worlds. They will pass by on other side of all Europe’s problems.
No economic or business disruption, no adverse reactions from any member of the European family, swift and trouble free negotiations not only with the EU but with other countries around the world, no impact on our currency or credit, no risks for our financial services, no impact on our security despite the end of European Arrest Warrants, watertight borders – despite the experience of other non-EU countries – and the complete replacement of EU funding for our farmers and poorer regions via a beneficent Treasury. In short, a path of action with not a single downside. Project Fantasy. It’s not a world I recognize or can imagine.
The EU has been a blessing for Europe, binding its wounds after three of the bloodiest decades in its history, reviving economies that were on their uppers, giving countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece a route-map from dictatorship to democracy, ensuring that countries once beyond the Iron Curtain were brought into the democratic fold, securing a powerful place for Europe in a globalised world. It might yet hold Britain together against Scottish pressures.
It is true that in recent years, under exceptional external pressures, the EU has not always been surefooted. Some dislike the imposition of an austerity agenda – imposed, it has to be said, at the behest of some key national governments. Many of its friends are currently critical, and can sketch a dozen ways in which it might change for the better. But even the most critical do not see the answer in desertion by the largest member of the family outside the Eurozone.
For one of the biggest risks arising from Brexit is to the EU itself. Those who would leave the EU still want it to remain intact and be there to be the single market with which we will negotiate a different future. But what if Brexit were to be an event that destablises Europe itself? After all, it has internal enemies aplenty in several member states.
My own generation has been blessed by an exceptionally long period of European peace and an unprecedented increase in economic prosperity. In the process a larger proportion of the British population has traveled to and known other parts of Europe than in any previous peacetime generation in history. We should all want that freedom and that sense of common purpose to be there for our children and grandchildren. We can, to borrow a recently used phrase, be better together. But we will have to work for it.