Lib Dem Lords vs the Article 50 Bill: Jenny Randerson: Wales will lose from Brexit

The Lib Dem Lords have made some cracking contributions to the debate on the Article 50 Bill. Ahead of its next Lords stages, we’re bringing you all the Lib Dem contributions over the course of this weekend. That’s no mean feat. There were 32 of them and cover more than 30,000 words. You are not expected to read every single one of them as they appear. Nobody’s going to be testing you or anything. However, they will be there to refer to in the future. 

Our Lords excelled themselves. Their contributions were thoughtful, individual, well-researched and wide-ranging and it’s right that we present them in full on this site to help the historian of the future. 

Christine Humphreys talked about the impact of Brexit on Wales, on the loss of EU funding unlikely to be replaced by our low tax economy. She also challenged the government on their idea that we should all just line up behind them and meekly tug our forelocks as they choose our destiny for us, saying: “The first steps to unity can come from the Government accepting that voters have the right to be part of the decision-making process.”

My Lords, although our country has voted, albeit by a comparatively small majority, to sever our links with the EU, many voters continue to voice genuine concerns and questions about the future—concerns which have been echoed eloquently by noble Lords—about the impact on our economy and on voters’ living standards; the position of EU nationals working in our communities and paying their taxes to support our services; the position of UK nationals living and working in the EU; and how our departure will impact on Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Gibraltar.

Many are deeply concerned that our departure will precipitate the break-up of the EU itself and about the potential for new turmoil in a continent which has been ravaged by wars for hundreds of years but which has lived in comparative peace for the past 70. And, yes, they want to know exactly what a hard Brexit will mean, and they need clear answers to their questions and responses to their concerns.

There is certainly now a deeper understanding of the benefits that access to the single market has brought to the UK, and a more acute awareness of the loss that could await us when we depart the EU. The single market is, and has been, of great value to Wales—so much so that the majority of parties in the Welsh Assembly, while respecting the Welsh vote to leave the EU, have called for “full and unfettered” access to it. It is a market vital to our economy: 68% of Welsh exports go to the EU, as compared to just over 40% of the exports of the UK as a whole. Securing replacement markets is likely to be a slow and cumbersome process which could damage our economy—certainly in the short term. Those parties and the Welsh Assembly have also called for a “balanced approach” to immigration which would link migration to jobs and, crucially, they advocate the introduction of properly enforced employment practices that protect all workers.

I live in Conwy county in north Wales. Sitting at the edge of the Snowdonia National Park, it is a county blessed with the most beautiful scenery but, with a GDP per capita of 75% of the EU average, putting it on a par with Estonia and Lithuania, it has qualified for EU structural funds allocated to west Wales and the valleys since 2000. The present tranche of funding, running from 2014 to 2020, sees us benefiting from £1.9 billion of EU investment to support people into work and training, youth employment, research and innovation, renewable energy schemes and energy efficiency projects. In an area suffering rural and urban deprivation, these are essential building blocks in our attempt to grow our local economies. After my country’s decision to leave the EU, however, there are no guarantees of funding from the UK Government to continue these projects. If we are to become a low-tax economy, how will any regional policy be funded?

Agriculture plays an absolutely crucial role in the economy, employing 58,000 people directly and outputting around £1.5 billion of produce. Agricultural funding under Pillar 1 of CAP will be upheld until 2020 but the future after that is unclear. Farmers need clarity on future funding and projects, and I would be grateful if that could be given today.

The potential impact of withdrawal from the EU on the Airbus factory in north-east Wales is also concerning. This site is run by a European consortium and assembles wings for civil aircraft—wings which are transported by road and sea to Toulouse for final assembly. It directly employs more than 6,000 people, and many others contribute to the supply chain and, of course, it relies heavily on the ability to move goods and people freely between its sites.

The analogy of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU to buying a house has already been made elsewhere, and I make no apologies for using it here. Our country has taken the decision to move home. We have no idea of the cost of our new home; we are to be given no survey and no input into the final decision. We are moving, and we are all expected to accept the choice of home that will be made for us—not by us. In reality though, house buying has checks and balances throughout the process, opportunities to reflect, seek information and evaluate it, and to learn more about where we are going. We engage in decision-making throughout the process and make choices before signing an agreement.

We have to accept that we are a divided country, but a hard Brexit, delivered by a seemingly paternalistic Government, will do little to heal the divisions we all feel. We are told to accept the will of the people and unite behind the Government, but unity cannot be forced upon us. Like respect, it has to be nurtured and earned. The first steps to unity can come from the Government accepting that voters have the right to be part of the decision-making process. They have the right to reflect, learn more about their destination, re-evaluate their initial decision and either confirm or change it. On these Benches we believe that the British people must have the right to the final say on the deal negotiated by the Government. That right is fundamental to our beliefs, and it is one of the issues we will be pursuing at the later stages of this Bill.

 

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3 Comments

  • Gwyn Williams 26th Feb '17 - 1:52pm

    Why in a speech by Christine Humphreys is Jenny Randerson quoted in the headline?

  • Gwyn Williams 26th Feb '17 - 1:54pm

    Why is Jenny Randerson quoted in the headline when Christine Humphreys is the author?

  • After Nick Clegg forgot to think about how Brexit would impact on Wales it’s great to hear a liberal and Welsh perspective. It’s great to hear it pushing for the more control and more of a say that those initially supporting Brexit supposedly wanted.

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