This is an abbreviated version of a speech delivered by Liz Saville Roberts to a meeting convened by Wales for Europe.
There is no better metaphor for the state of our current politics than the crumbling Palace of Westminster, where I spend half my week. Precariously held together with little more than scaffolding and blu tack, I imagine the structure of the Tory Government is not too dissimilar.
Both Westminster unionist parties remain divided, distracted and determined to deliver a Brexit that will see Welsh wages slashed and jobs lost.
Exacerbated by Brexit, the partnership of nations that make up this “United” Kingdom looks ever increasingly unequal, unsustainable and, fundamentally, unjustifiable.
Until recently the direction of devolution was downwards sloping – from Westminster to Wales. With primary law-making powers and – albeit limited – tax tools, the National Assembly was gaining the means to create unique Welsh solutions to our unique Welsh problems. Post-referendum, the inversion of that direction of travel has come crashing through our constitutional compromise.
The Intergovernmental Agreement signed by the Labour Government in Cardiff with the Tories in London is one of the greatest tragedies to befall Welsh democracy. The promise that Wales would get more powers as a result of Brexit is a lie worthy of being plastered on the side of Boris’s big, red bus.
Our poverty and weak economy makes Wales a net beneficiary of EU funding.
Wales’ net benefit from the EU budget sits at around £79 per head: we receive £245 million more from the European Union than we pay in. There was never any question as to whether Wales’ needs were sufficient to be deserving of this money: pennies and pounds given to Wales by Europe to invest in universities, industry and infrastructure to help redress economic imbalance.
While Westminster still funds London at a greater rate per head than Wales, European aspirations of equality ensure Wales gets its fair share from our continental Union.
According to their own figures, £5bn is likely to be wiped off of the Welsh economy if we continue on the UK Government’s tattered trajectory.
In a no deal scenario, the damage would be immeasurably worse. Deal or no deal, our economy will be decimated, jobs will be lost, and wages will continue to decline.
As Leanne Wood warned, it will not be the Telegraph columnists or their banker friends who will lose their jobs. Jacob Rees-Mogg isn’t going to sully the ancestral Limoges porcelain eating chlorinated chicken nuggets. Like the past decade of austerity, it will not be those whose greed, mendacity and short-sightedness created this chaos who will be forced to shoulder the burden.
Working with colleagues in the National Assembly this summer, I commissioned a poll looking at Wales’ changing attitudes towards Brexit.
The figures indisputably show that people in Wales now believe leaving the European Union will have a negative effect on our country – and they are right. In fact, 44% believe that the effect of Brexit on the UK will be negative compared with only 35% who believe it will be positive.
The people of Wales can see through the pack of lies they were fed two years ago. Now that they know the truth, the people must have the opportunity to reject it – a vote on the final deal, with the option to remain in the EU. Is it not time the fanatical Brexiteers swallowed a spoonful of their own medicine and – to coin a phrase – listened to the will of the people?
I believe a People’s Vote is on the horizon. The parliamentary arithmetic means that, under current proposals, no deal proposed by the Westminster Government can win over a majority of MPs.
Four key events will take place over the next few weeks which will decide whether or not a People’s Vote materialises. Parliament has now convened, though the Prime Minister managed to escape the cross-examination by MPs of Brexit developments which the House has become accustomed to post-recess. Instead, she put up the latest iteration of Brexit Secretary to front up to the criticism, like a deer caught in the headlights. We are waiting with bated breath for a supposedly final attempt at a solution for the British border in Ireland – what is seen to be the final sticking point for some kind of deal. Then, in a few weeks’ time, the European Union will hold an emergency Brexit meeting to try to broker a last-ditch deal. Finally, this will need to be put to Parliament. Unless a very large and fluffy rabbit is pulled out of a very small and scruffy hat, Parliament will not approve that deal, if any deal is presented at all.
Deal or no deal, the only majority that could exist in Parliament is for an amendment to that motion which includes a People’s Vote.
Opposition parties, including the Labour Party who have so far failed to oppose the Tories on Brexit, must join Plaid Cymru in standing up for what’s right and put country before party. Brexit had, and still has, very little to do with Europe: but everything to do with divisions in the Tory Party. It has everything to do with people who have little left to lose kicking at an establishment which has failed them. It has everything to do with narcissists like Boris and Farage perpetuating their own version of events in search of self-promotion . Westminster will seek to airbrush out the unique identities of Wales, and of Scotland too for that matter. Worse still, the ruling Labour Government in Wales is ill-equipped both in ideology and leadership to fight back on behalf of our young democracy and protect devolution and Welsh interests.
In 1979, a referendum to establish a Welsh national parliament was lost. It took almost twenty years for that mistake to be overturned, using the mechanism of another referendum. Let’s not allow an entire generation to suffer before we realise that this, too, is a mistake.
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