I understand why people voted for Brexit – but it will decimate Wales

An Airbus engineer inspects the new A350XWB composite wing cover after its arrival at the purpose built North Factory facility at Airbus in Broughton, North Wales. Picture: UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

Tim Richards

Just over a year ago Wales was in Europe, well the European Football Championship anyway.

As an old football fan who remembers the bad times, the Bobby Gould years, let me assure you that the true sign of a Welsh patriot is not how you vote in British referendums.

It is whether you support the Welsh football team, because it takes a lot of loyalty to accept so much failure while fervently believing in your nation!

I was there for the first game in Bordeaux and watched it with Ieuan, my younger son, and was in Toulouse for the game against Russia.

And it was then that I realised how close Wales is tied to Europe.

Because one of the tourist attractions there was a visit to the factory which assembles Airbus, the wings of which are made at Broughton in North Wales.

Leaving the European Single Market would put an end to the factory there, which would lead to the loss of 6,000 jobs.

That’s a small drop in the ocean compared to the jobs that will be lost across the rest of Wales, and the UK. And yet the Tories appear to be determined to go ahead with what would be a big mistake.

Unemployment

Will it really be that bad, you might ask? Well yes, because at present 68% of the goods made by Welsh workers are exported to EU member countries outside the UK , according to figures recently released by HM Revenue and Customs.

If we leave the Single Market many factories will close and Welsh unemployment will soar to heights last reached during the 1930s.

The same goes for Welsh agriculture as Dai Davies, chairman of Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales, has pointed out.

Tariff-free access to the European market is vital for Welsh agriculture as 90% of Welsh red meat exports go to Europe.

As he said recently “Exports are absolutely essential to this industry’s future sustainability. Profitability and, most importantly, prices depend on exports.

“In 2014, £225m worth of Welsh red meat exports went to our mature markets in the EU. That’s nine in every 10 export sales.

“With exports accounting for around 35% of all Welsh lamb production, it means that nearly a third of the Welsh flock is sold to the EU nations.”

In fact meat exports from Wales have grown from around £50m in 2003 to a record peak of £250m two years ago.

No surprise

Brexit was a very English Tory mistake. There was no demand at all, before the referendum was called, from the rest of Britain to leave the European Union.

But because David Cameron was afraid that the Tories were losing the support of anti-European little Englanders within his own party and UKIP he promised a referendum on the issue.

He was convinced that he would win it, but I have to say that I was not surprised when, by a very small majority, the electorate of the United Kingdom actually decided to Brexit.

Why was I not surprised? Well I had been discussing it with various people on Facebook and I realised which way the wind was blowing and why the majority might be for Leave.

It was because the level of ignorance about the European Union was so great and so many of the arguments had little to do with the realities of what people were actually voting for, or against, that I felt that it was a bit like Virtual Reality politics.

Much as they would like to pretend that it was decision by Britain, in reality Brexit was a problem created by an English Conservative Prime Minister, and is being continued by another English Tory PM.

And, as a result, Wales today faces the reality that our economy will be decimated if we have to leave the European Union Single Market.

The ultimate test

It really does not matter which way you voted last year and indeed it does not matter which way people in the rest of the UK voted either because it will the English party leaders who will make the final decision.

There are many Labour voters in Wales who supported Jeremy Corbyn, in the vain hope that he might be the man to defend our jobs, but alas, he did not get into power last month.

And even if he had, it is time people woke up to the fact that he is perfectly happy to leave the European Union.

His decision to sack three Labour frontbenchers who voted against the party in favour of a Queen’s speech amendment calling for Britain to remain within the customs union and single market is proof of that.

In fact, the Labour party is divided on the issue and, to their credit, eight Welsh Labour MPs defied the party whip to vote against the government’s Brexit Bill earlier this year.

So, Brexit will be the ultimate test of where MPs in Wales stand when it comes to representing us.

Will Tory MPs representing rural constituencies remain loyal to a UK government that will destroy their traditional support of the farming communities?

Will Labour MPs be happy to see all those factories close purely because Jeremy Corbyn is anti-European?

There are interesting times ahead when it comes to Brexit – watch this space.

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