Where we go from here

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On Tuesday I visited the European Parliament building for the first time.

I was awed by the beautiful modern glass buildings in the Place de Luxembourg, which merge together to form an impressive (and somewhat confusing) web of corridors and doorways.

The Parliament is the epicentre of the European Union and is where over 7,500 staff and 751 MEPs work. Sadly, from Friday, this will be reduced as our UK contingent leave Brussels – just 8 months into what should’ve been a 5-year term.

But my visit to the Parliament wasn’t just to marvel at the impressive architecture. I came to meet with our MEPs, and to represent Wales at an event entitled “Brexit: What next for the Nation States”. I was joined by the indominable Sheila Ritchie MEP, representing Scotland, and newly elected Alliance MP Stephen Farry, representing Northern Ireland.

I spoke of how there are so many people who feel behind in Wales, with little sense of being connected with the centres of power that made decisions.

Even though Wales received £680million per year from the EU, making it a nation that benefitted far more than it contributed, there is a huge disconnected between areas of high poverty and the actual financial advantages membership of the EU brought for their communities.

Farmers in Wales receive over £350million per year through the Common Agricultural Policy, and already we’ve seen the UK Government only pledge to protect £232million of this funding (and even that is only for the next 12 months!).

It is so vital that we must ensure our Welsh farmers continue to be supported and have access to these vital European markets without tariffs or quotas. With over 42% of Welsh lamb being exported, 92% of that going direct to the EU any barriers to trade will have a huge impact on Wales.

I want to see the Government honour its pledge that no Welsh farmer will lose out financially because of Brexit. If that commitment was genuine and made in good faith, they can demonstrate so by pledging not to leave without a deal if negotiations.

During the event we also talked across the nation states about the threats from independence and nationalism, but also about the huge positive benefits of federalism. We must have a fairer constitutional system in the UK – one that moves power, resource and decision making from Westminster to the National Parliaments in Wales and Scotland, and the Assembly in Northern Ireland.

Finally, I spoke about how Wales has benefited from friendship and support from Europe and from the EU. The Erasmus programme, for example has so far resulted in over 3,000 Welsh students taking up the opportunity to study around the world.

Internationalism in North Wales continues to be celebrated every year, with the annual Llangollen International Eisteddfod boasting around 4,000 performers from all over the world coming to join in a celebration of international culture and friendship.

We finished the event with reflections of where Wales, Scotland and a Northern Ireland would be in 10 years’ time. My vision is for our farmers to be looked after, for our communities to have the funding and services needed for them to grow and flourish, for the UK to become a fairer, more equal family of nations and for us to continue our close ties with our friends and neighbours across Europe and around the world.

This month is a sombre time, but we must not give in to despair and idleness.

We need to get out there with a positive message of hope. We must continue to fight for what we believe in, the country we want to live in and the world we want to see.

That is the only way we can change the future of our country for the better.

* Jane Dodds is Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

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30 Comments

  • One potential benefit from Brexit is the opportunity to move away from the CAP subsidies and re-orient support for agriculture to pursue environmental and community objectives, including supporting hill farmers in remote communities such as the author’s, whilst moving away from pouring large amounts of money into the pockets of wealthy large landowners, very often for doing nothing, or at least nothing worthwhile.

    Taking a “not one farmer should lose out” line isn’t sensible, IMO.

  • Gwyn Williams 30th Jan '20 - 12:53pm

    Sadly it is an urban myth to suggest that there is a benefit for the environment or community for a post Brexit reorientation of CAP subsidies. It is nearly 20 years ago that CAP subsidies were decoupled from agricultural production. If there is to be further support for rural businesses post Brexit it will have to be based on WTO rules. The immediate fear is the loss of the market of 450 million consumers due to high tariffs.

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '20 - 1:10pm

    Jane Dodds? Wasn’t she an MP once?

    I’m too old and crippled to ‘get out’. I just wish that the Lib Dems wouldn’t think that they have all the answers. Politics, or what goes for it, is changing. I know it won’t happen; but, as Attlee famously said to Harold Laski, a “period of silence” on the effects of Brexit might not be a bad idea until we see how things pan out. The party, or some of its members, still appear to be suffering from the twin diseases of coalition remorse and Brexit fear. There are other more potentially dangerous ‘viruses’ we need to combat at the moment.

  • Jane Dodds? Wasn’t she an MP once
    What a graceless remark.

  • Simon Horner 30th Jan '20 - 1:53pm

    A lot of people have already lost out financially because of Brexit, with more losses to come. I am unsure why Welsh farmers shouldn’t pay their fair share. Polling evidence suggest that almost two-thirds of UK farmers voted leave, including more than 50% in Wales. You should respect their right to get what they voted for.

  • Interesting and as I live in Wales, the country’s hostility to the EU is puzzling to me too. However, large swathes of Wales did vote to leave and, remainers were told, being poorer was among the prices worth paying for taking back control (ie doing whatever Trump tweets). So no, I can’t agree – and won’t support – a LD party that tries to protect the likes of farmers, steel workers and fishermen from what is coming. They are the ones that voted for Brexit thinking it was in their own best interest and, lacking anything to persuade them that the status quo was as good as it could be, they took the whole country with them. They must live with the obvious consequences of their decisions –
    floods of delicious cheap lamb from New Zealand, steel industry shorn of EU protection competing against the US and China and … well very little to invest in the useful parts of the economy. Absolutely no to subsidising the moribund in this brave new world – we need to invest in ways forward. Sorry Jane, but I remember Peter Black (I think) querying why the Assembly had a minister for agriculture at all, and not one for cab drivers given that the latter made more of a contribution. Brexit means Brexit – above all for those who voted for it in droves.

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '20 - 2:01pm

    @RossMcL
    Another Lib Dem with a humour bypass, whoever you are? You need to get out more.

  • Paul Barker 30th Jan '20 - 2:24pm

    Certainly we should be arguing for Public support for those who have to change their whole way of life but we dont want to get a reputation for simply resisting change.
    We should be encouraging people to eat less meat & plant more Trees, among many other things. Farmers will have to move into Tourism, Forestry & Energy Generation & we should help them do that.

  • John,
    They voted for the harsh world outside the EU, it would be a crime against democracy for them not to reap the rewards. So when they squeal ” IT BURNS! IT BURNS US! It freezes! Nasty WTO twisted it. TAKE IT OFF US! ” I’m going to respectfully advise them to go speak to Depeffle and Farrage ( assuming they can find them). They voted for change, let them eat their fill of it.

  • Paul,
    They voted for change and they voted for the Tories (and will again and again if their are no consequences), save your sympathy for those that didn’t, let the Tories look after their own ( unlikely but that is what they voted for).

  • Sue Sutherland 30th Jan '20 - 2:55pm

    I agree with Ross.” Humour” is often a cover up for being malicious.

  • David Becket 30th Jan '20 - 3:47pm

    The welsh famers were one of the groups that got us into this mess. I do not understand why as they export so much lamb to the EU. However having got us out of the EU they had better put up with it and eat their own lamb.

  • Unfair to blame all Welsh farmers – there was a great amount of support for the EU and remain in the North west – Gwynedd etc. Which certainly could not be said for our farmers in Devon and Cornwall, the latter a particular beneficiary of EU largesse!

  • @ David Becket “The (W) welsh fa(r)mers were one of the groups that got us into this mess.”

    @ Johnmc “floods of delicious cheap lamb from New Zealand”,

    I normally agree with David Becket, but sorry, David, having had a Granddad who was a high Pennine sheep farmer, I just can’t. As for the foreshortened Johnmc….. no wonder we lost Brecon.

    1. Do you accept that marginal land sheep farmers work their guts out for a pittance in all weathers ? I remember helping to dig out ewes in lamb from snow drifts in a blizzard, and working through the night to help to deliver those lambs.

    2. Do you accept that marginal land would become a barren wilderness without sheep ? The Lake District, for example, would be devastated. Ask Tim Farron.

    3. Do you accept the carbon cost and climate change impact in transporting lamb from New Zealand ?

    Knee jerk stuff from both of you, I’m afraid, gentlemen. I despair at the ability of some Lib Dems to shoot themselves in the foot policy wise amongst their traditional support.

  • David Becket 30th Jan '20 - 5:39pm

    @David Raw
    I have a great friend who I visit every year whose family owns moorland farms in Galloway..
    I am well aware of the effect of Brexit on these moorland farms, and I am well aware of the concern this has on my friend.

    However it would appear that the Welsh farmers do not see it like their Scottish counterparts. I have every sympathy for my Scottish friends, but little for any hill farmer who voted for Brexit.

  • I see the EU flag is to be kept flying at Holyrood after a vote. The SNP and the Scottish Greens MSPs voted to retain it.

    Not surprisingly, the Conservatives and Labour voted to bring it down – more surprisingly so did the Lib Dems. !!

  • David Evans 30th Jan '20 - 6:59pm

    David Beckett, but do you know if any, many or just a few Welsh Hill Farmers voted for Brexit? Were they in agreement with “The welsh farmers” who as per your comment “were one of the groups that got us into this mess”?

    I know it has been said that farmers were in favour of Brexit, but I haven’t seen anything specific – e.g. NFU website still says “The NFU has not taken an ‘in’ or ‘out’ position ahead of the Government-led referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. At this stage we simply can’t. It’s impossible to measure …”

  • David you really ought to give the full context. Yes our MSPs voted to bring down the EU flag, with enormous reluctance, in acceptance of the fact that Brexit is happening. But it was also a show of support for the parliament’s Corporate Body, which is supposed to have full responsibility to decide these things and which voted weeks ago to bring down the flag.
    The CB is responsible for managing the parliament, from flags to the order of business. It contains members of each party and has functioned as an independent committee of the Parliament for 21 years. It’s impartiality and freedom from party political decisions is important. The government’s flag motion ‘directed’ the CB to reverse their decision. We don’t believe the government of the day has any business ‘directing’ the CB to do anything. It may seem an obscure procedural point, but it is not: we believe parliament needs a corporate body that is genuinely free from that kind of bullying. So our MSPs’ vote was a) a very reluctant recognition of the legal reality of Brexit, and b) a statement of support for the independence of the CB.
    Anyone who wants to read the debate will see that this was really a rather unpleasant power grab by the SNP govt, which I fear has set an unfortunate precedent.
    http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=12488&i=112872

  • EU Referendum

    A recent poll undertaken by Farmers Weekly asked 577 farmers how they were going to vote on 23 June. This was self-selected to represent the profile of farming in the UK. 58% said they would vote to leave, 31% would vote to remain and 11% were undecided.

    Within this poll, farmers in Scotland, the North West and Wales were less likely to want to leave and nowhere in these areas did those wanting to leave exceed 50%. These are the locations with more marginal farms where subsidies are so important to their business. This is evidenced by just 12% of English land qualifying for EU’s less favoured area subsidies compared to 78% in Wales and 84% in Scotland. No wonder those areas want to remain.

    https://www.bidwells.co.uk/insights-and-research/rural-spectator-farmers-weekly-eu-referendum-poll/

    Perhaps we are being a little hard on the Welsh farmers. Note to self check your assumptions, they can be wrong.

  • @Martin – if you don’t mind another Scottish LibDem member answering the question you put to David Raw. 🙂
    I don’t think we are significantly different from the LibDems in England and Wales. We are certainly not ‘less pro-EU’ – I don’t know what on earth makes you suggest that (?) We are strongly pro-EU and members here have been campaigning as hard as anywhere over the last 4 years.
    If we seem more pro-unionist that’s because the independence question is (sadly) the biggest political issue here by far, and we need to proclaim our position loud and clear. That position is that Scotland is better off in the UK – a policy that has been approved at conference many times. But are we in fact ‘more’ pro-unionist than the rest of the party? I don’t see any evidence of that at all. Is there a groundswell of opinion in the English and Welsh party for the break-up of the UK??
    We have good policies on all the other issues and we do try to get these across but, like the federal party, we find it hard to cut through.
    That’s the Scottish LibDems. If you – or anyone – wants to understand us more I’d recommend you have a read through the debates in the Scottish Parliament.
    https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/ReportSelectPage.aspx?type=plenary&year=2020&page=0&meeting=-1
    Our 5 MSPs do a fine of there of speaking in all the debates. I think you’ll find they are just as Liberal Democrat-ish as you would find in your local party.

  • Jenny Barnes 31st Jan '20 - 7:02am

    If there weren’t all those sheep on the marginal land, the trees would come back.. co2 capture, flood mitigation. Sounds good to me.

  • Regards flying the EU flag….Why? If it was spiteful and childish (which it was) for Farage, et al, to wave the union flag in the European Parliament, now the UK has left the EU, the EU flag should not be flown.
    Hopefully, when the UK sees that ‘Control and Sovreignty’ doesn’t equal ‘Jobs and Food’, we can rejoin and the right kind of ‘Star Spangled Banner’ will be flown once more…

  • John Probert 31st Jan '20 - 11:10am

    The “EU flag” is also the flag of the Council of Europe, of which the UK remains a member, therefore it is quite right for the Scottish Parliament to continue to fly it.

    Moreover, as the Council of Europe will celebrate Europe Day on 9th May this year it would be good to see all local authorities throughout the UK flying the flag throughout the Merry Month of May.

  • richard underhill 31st Jan '20 - 11:36am

    John Probert 31st Jan ’20 – 11:10am
    Mathematicians will recognize the concept of a “perfect number”, 12 is an example.
    Unlike the number of stars on the flag of the USA, it is not about how many member states there are.

  • I think being disparaging about an MP losing their seat just brings down the tone of the board. I wouldn’t go on other political parties’ sites gloating about their MPs losing a seat.

  • David Evans 31st Jan '20 - 1:15pm

    Jane, We all agree what we want to happen and why things are really bad right now. That is easy.

    The hard bit is accepting that the key question is not ‘Where do we go from here?’ but ‘Why have we let things go so badly wrong?’

    The party has been collapsing now for 10 years, but not one MP has forcefully said “This is a catastrophe and *we have got to change*.”

    Being hopeful and right and failing repeatedly isn’t good enough, except for those only interested in failure and blaming the other parties for being nasty, wrong and successful.

    You don’t build and safeguard a fair, free and open society by losing again and again and again.

    Wales has now lost all its Lib Dem MPs and nowhere are we within 7,000 votes. Montgomeryshire, Liberal for nearly 100 years, has now been won by the Tories four times in a row and we are 12,000 votes behind. Mark Williams, MP in Ceredigion until 2017, was only 600 votes ahead of Labour or he would have been fourth! And you do not need telling about B&R, but Kirsty, our last AM must be in great danger in May.

    Pretending hope is somehow key has been part of the problem. If we do not accept the fact that *we* have to change our the party will die.

  • John Marriott 31st Jan '20 - 1:49pm

    To those people who found my attempt at humour (30.1.20 at 1.10pm) less than constructive I apologise. The point I was making was that Ms Dodds won a by-election to great fanfares from believers only to lose her seat at the General Election not long afterwards, when the spotlight was off her and she had to rely on local resources. Which means to me that you should never assume that success in by-elections can be automatically translated into success on the bigger stage. Ever since Eric Lubbock’s famous victory in Orpington in the early 1960s a series of ‘Moses’ characters has sought to lead liberals to the promised land and all have failed. Engineers’ leader Eric Hammond had a phrase for it: “Lions led by donkeys”. I would not go that far, certainly as far as Paddy Ashdown or even Charles Kennedy were concerned; but even they failed to break the stranglehold in which Tory and Labour held large swathes of the electorate thanks to FPTP.

    Mr Stevens (I assume that’s his name) is entirely wrong in assuming that I am in any way an agent provocateur from the far left or right, who delights in rubbing Lib Dem noses into what is largely a mess of their own making. It is only two years ago that I did not renew my subscription to a party of which, in various incarnations, I have been an ACTIVE member for most of my adult life. (I prefer not to use the verb ‘resign’ because some may think that this confers on me some importance that my meagre efforts clearly do not deserve.

    I think I am entitled to ‘criticise’ in a form which I hoped might lighten the otherwise deadly serious debate, having spent over thirty years fighting and winning local elections for myself and others in the Lincoln area. That took quite a toll on my family and my professional career, I can tell you, for which I feel extremely guilty and angry. To see those who have come after people like me seemingly incapable of learning from the mistakes we sometimes made or from the successes we had makes me want to weep.

    As the song goes; “When will they ever learn?” There, is that serious enough?

  • Sue Sutherland 31st Jan '20 - 2:25pm

    John Marriott. Apology accepted. I also agree with most of your first paragraph.

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