We have to force the UK Government to sit up and listen to Wales on Brexit

Adam Price: Picture by Plaid Cymru (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Adam Price AM

Making Wales’ voice heard in the post-Brexit referendum clamour has been something of a challenge for the Welsh Government.

Northern Ireland has the border, Scotland independence and London the City – but Wales has had little in the way of leverage over what kind of Brexit Britain should have.

We’ve been not so much naked in the negotiating chambers – to quote Bevan – but shivering in the cold outside.

We in Plaid have focused constantly on creative ways that we can insert Wales into the post-referendum political landscape.

At first we challenged the Welsh Government’s refusal to give unequivocal support for staying in the Single Market.

People will remember that at first, the Labour Government voted with the Tories and UKIP in the Assembly to oppose Single Market membership – presumably to spare Mr Corbyn’s blushes.

We then negotiated with the government behind the scenes to co-author the joint White Paper Securing Wales’ Future, which set out the Welsh national interest (as defined by the support of a clear majority of AMs) and clarified that Wales needed to continue to participate in the Single Market and the Customs Union.

In the foreword to that document, Leanne Wood pointed out one of our main objectives which was that the Labour Government needed to work with the SNP Government if Wales was to have any say at all.

Now Mark Drakeford and his opposite number in Holyrood, Mike Russell, are virtually joined at the hip.

Fast forward until last month and we have another example of Plaid Cymru taking action, with unanimous support for a Continuity Bill – another idea from the brilliant Steffan Lewis – that is now Government policy, not just in Wales but in Scotland too.

It has now been passed by the Government in draft form for the Llywydd’s consideration.

Despite these important initiatives Wales and her needs are still seemingly invisible.  We will need several more weapons in the armoury in order to get a good Brexit deal for Wales.


So are there fresh options to consider?  They have to be options which make the UK Government sit up and listen, and have the power to shift the terms of trade in the Brexit debate.

One is an advisory referendum that could be held in Wales using the power to do so under the Government of Wales Act.

The mandate for Wales staying in the Single Market is currently indirect, through Assembly Members and votes in the chamber.

We could strengthen the hand of Wales by seeking a popular endorsement for staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union.

We cannot guarantee anything when it comes to this Tory Westminster Government listening to the nations, but we can at least ensure that there is no doubt about the will of the people of Wales.

This could put Wales clearly on the Brexit map, and not just at home but abroad.  Armed with a popular mandate that the UK Government was seeking to ignore we could use a strategy of para-diplomacy, appealing to those sub-state parliaments in the EU which have a power of veto over the final Brexit deal that we currently lack.

The Walloon Parliament was able to have a say on the CETA trade deal, for example, using this regional veto – and our friends in Flanders, where Plaid’s sister-party N-VA leads the Government, would understand our plea for decisions on Brexit to be made on the basis of equal respect for the constituent nations of the UK.

The challenge for Plaid Cymru on Brexit is to provide leadership from outside of government, as Brexit could be completed by the time the next Welsh elections happen.

So far we have endeavoured to meet that challenge, but there is further to go in order to keep Wales in the Single Market and Customs Union.

We’ll continue to provide the type of imaginative leadership that Wales needs, and, often, with the current Government so badly lacks.

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  1. Jonathan Edwards Sir Benfro (+North Carolina)

    Once again, no, the Plaid Leadership has not met the challenge , you have not articulated a Welsh Mandate. Putting down motions in Westminster which are bound to fail does not cut it. As you say, Adam, you need provide leadership outside Government. But how? Why cannot even the brighter sparks in Plaid spell this out?
    I can spell it out.
    I want to go for an elected Welsh Constitutional Convention. I (and Plaid) would have to get out of our chairs and go round Wales and campaign for it. Tough, eh? But I will if they will. Actually I probably will anyway, because someone needs to wake Wales up and Plaid ain’t doing it.
    You have to make a groundswell. I was going to say out of nothing but really the groundswell is stirring and just needs articulating. Which is what political parties (especially Plaid) are supposed to do.
    Having got your groundswell you then try to get votes. And a majority in the Welsh Assembly to pass the enabling Bill.
    The beauty of going for a Convention is that you could use the head of steam built up to put the fear of God into Westminster and use it over Brexit also. BTW we are supposed to have a Sewell Convention to guarantee a Wales veto. Useless (see Supreme Court) so Wales needs to exert raw political power. Groundswell + votes, there is no short cut.
    OK, Adam, and namesake, I know your hearts are in the right place but what about a plan of action?
    Mine – or have you got a better one?

    • Red Dragon Jim

      They did publish a Welsh mandate, and have an Assembly majority for a Continuity bill. It inevitably doesn’t get across, but no party has actually done more in the Welsh context.

  2. You’re writing this as the Suffragettes get remembered for their activism. Create badges, banners, pamphlets, the archivists of the future will thank you.

  3. Liberals Cymru

    Adam Price,

    Does dim byd sy’n taro’r Ceidwadwyr â mwy o ofn na gweld chwalfa’r hen drefn, Glas yn erbyn Coch, a gorfod ystyried lluosogrwydd mewn gwleidyddiaeth, a chyfaddawd a chreu pontydd rhwng pleidiau sy’n anghytuno â’i gilydd.

    Os ydych chi eisiau codi’r bwganod ar San Steffan, paid ag ystyried fod Coch yn well na Glas a byddwch fodlon gweithio ag un a’r llall os ydy’n i ennill grym a sylw. Yn ystod Clymblaid Ceid-Rhydd 2010-15, pasiwyd neu cynhalwyd pleidlais ar tua %55 o bethau ar faniffesto’r Dem Rhydd. Dyna gamp.

    If Plaid were in power via a coalition with Conservatives and Liberals at this moment in history, Wales would be in a much better position to handle Brexit. It is Labour holding Wales back, and power is catnip for Conservatives, so let them have a little if it’s at Labour’s expense, and then make them do what you want. Nick Clegg did this, and he used it to pass a gay equality bill, a higher tax threshold for poor people, remove kids from detention centres, get rid of increasing government surveillance, extend the use of juries in complex cases, toss out the hainous idea of ID Cards, and get 7000 more post offices. That’s what you can accomplish when you put aside ideological tribalism.

    If any have interest in centrist Liberal Welsh nationalism within Plaid Cymru: libcymru@gmail.com

    • Sorry Liberals Cymru but given that Welsh tory leader Andrew RT Davies supports a hard brexit ie leaving the single market and the customs union your claim Wales would be in a much better position to handle brexit simply doesnt stand up to scrutiny. Opposing a hard brexit – as adam and plaid rightly do – isn’t ‘ideological tribalism’ it’s doing what’s best for the welsh economy.

      • Benjiman L. Angwin

        We’re leaving Europe, a historical mistake in my opinion.

        We might as well be in a position to say, okay, if you we cannot get any concessions for Wales we will allow socialist Labour to come back to power another 100 years.

    • A non-labour coalition will not work in this Welsh parliament.
      Unfortunately, there is only 1 Lib Dem AM – Kirsty Williams. Most of the Welsh Conservatives want a hard-brexit and their are the UKIP AMs. Both the Cons and UKIP are strict unionists.

      Kirsty had only 2 choices stand with Plaid Cymru in opposition or put her skills to the Welsh government as Education secretary in Carwyn’s administration. In that position I would have joined with Plaid in opposition, however she choose the later option and I respect her decision.

      As Adam said, there is no short cuts, we have got to enlighten more of our peoples through the Yes Cymru movement to build voter support across Wales for Plaid Cymru to take power in the next election in Cardiff Bay.

    • Red Dragon Jim

      The one Lib Dem AM, put Labour into power because she did not want to vote with UKIP and the Conservatives.

      If Plaid had a First Minister it would undoubtedly give Wales a distinct voice during Brexit. But the problem is with the other parties that would be required. Plaid held their nose and challenged for the First Minister post, but Williams has consistently preferred Labour.

  4. Eos Pengwern

    It gets tedious to point this out every time a Plaid person writes yet another article denouncing Brexit, but here we go:

    A clear majority of people in Wales voted for it. The whole might of the British State was mobilised to prevent them from doing so, including regular warnings (at the taxpayers’ expense) about the risk of not getting any sort of deal. We still voted for it.

    If Plaid can’t seize the opportunity and present a positive vision of an independent Wales flourishing outside the EU, unencumbered by its restrictive market rules and customs union, then they really need to give up and go home. As it is they’re simply making themselves sound more and more irrelevant.

    • It gets tedious to point this out every time a hard brexit supporter waxes lyrical about the benefits of a hard brexit ie leaving the single market and the customs union that with over two thirds of welsh exports going to the single market a hard brexit (meaning tariffs on welsh goods) is going to have a serious impact on the welsh economy. And just how damaging brexit will be to the welsh economy was highlighted in the UK government’s own figures yesterday which showed the welsh economy slowing by 10 percent if there’s a hard brexit.

      Yes a majority of people in wales did vote to leave (though 52 – 48 is hardly a ‘clear majority’) but there’s little evidence to suggest they voted for a hard brexit. Indeed as someone who campaigned in wales during the referendum i can honestly say not a single leave voter mentioned leaving the single market or the customs union as a reason to vote leave. We all want to see the welsh economy flourish Eos Pengwern – but that wont happen if wales is crippled by a hard brexit.

      PS i disagreed with attempts by remain advocates to scare people into voting remain but lest not forget that much of the leave message was based on lies (an extra 350 million a week for the nhs wasnt it) and all funded by right wing millionaires like aaron banks and tax exiles.

    • Red Dragon Jim

      So unless they agree with your claim thay the customs union is “restrictive”, they should go home?

      It’s more likely that they simply disagree with you. I wouldn’t vote for a party that backed exiting the customs union at this stage of the negotiations.

      British state policy is to exit the customs union. The biggest party in the British state was largely divided over Brexit, with top Leave figures like Boris and Gove now in the cabinet.

  5. Tame Frontiersman

    Adam Price reasons correctly that London is unlikely to listen to what Wales has to say, so what is Adam Price’s/ Plaid Cymru’s end game with the proposed Welsh referendum?

    If a referendum were to get support from the Assembly, then would nationalism gain political momentum if Wales were refused the right to hold the referendum (for its not clear that the Welsh Government has the powers to hold one on EU matters) or if an “illegal” vote went ahead but suffered interference or the referendum results are rejected by the UK government?

    But time is running out for any of this. Assuming that the Brexit process hasn’t been brought to a halt by MPs, or a failure of the EU and UK sides to reach any agreement then whatever has been agreed will be doing the rounds around Europe for ratification from this autumn- only 7 or 8 months’ away!

  6. Richard Perkins

    Trying to thwart Brexit altogether is the only sensible policy for any group with the interests of Wales at heart. If you see a man about to walk over a cliff you have a duty to stop him. A slim majority to leave where the 1.8 million Britons living in Europe had no vote, where young people between 16 and 18 had no vote but thousands of Commonwealth member living here did is no proper mandate in my opinion in a referendum based on misinformation. Why don’t MPs and AMs do what they are supposed to do and act as representatives and not delegates bound by a crazy referendum? Putting their own jobs before their duty to do what they know they should.

  7. Anarchist and Welsh Nash

    The problem with Plaid’s approach is they seem to be still fighting the battles of 2016, rather than focusing how Wales can adapt post Brexit. Acting as sore losers is not a good look….

    If the EU really want to cut off their nose to spite it’s face in terms of stopping effective trade between the UK and the rest of the continent, so be it. They will soon come to their senses.

    In the meantime, Plaid should be trumpeting initiatives how to build up an internal Welsh economy, and how to target wider markets in England and Scotland.

  8. amazing that Adam’s only thought on Ireland is “Northern Ireland has the border”. Refers to Flanders for a ‘sister’ party.
    Where’s the understanding that Ireland is our sister country; and that “regulatory alignment” plus border permeable to trade ties the UK to the Customs Union.

    This is the week when Plaid could have challenged PM May’s pretence to freely negotiate third party trade deals to placate her hard brexiteers. Taunt her with “regulatory alignment” and being in hock to DUP bigots.

    Steffan Lewis did have some grasp of the Irish dimension; with him unfortunately out of action, it falls to Adam to lead a Plaid delegation to Dublin, seek some mutual understanding as well as symbolise Plaid’s alignment in the EU-UK tussle.

  9. Graham John Hathaway

    A constructive article from Adam Price, with some illumination in a mostly sea of darkness from other Assembly interested parties. The joint consultation paper with Labour entitled ‘Securing Wales’ Future’ set the playing field but sadly without the ball. It’s held somewhere else and flat. That’s not a failure of Wales. It’s a failure of a large centralised autocracy. Of which we, (not me) at the ‘nod’ roll out in Wales in great numbers to vote in Labour.
    You can’t have the cake and eat it. Wales is a back seat driver at best and in the boot at worst.

    Messages from opposition parties, to the electorate, are heard ( not often) and forgotten (often) . It’s like they have never been considered, and if so its only token speak. Matters not. This can only be a shadow boxing with no gloves. It must be demoralising.

    Yet out of the mist is a perfectly, some might say (me) a jolly good idea to hold an advisory referendum under the Govt of Wales Act. I was excited about the powers to do so, first, and then of course Plaid isn’t the final arbiter. I do wish it was, like some child writing to Father Christmas asking for peace and justice in the world, or to save the planet. How frustrating.

    Politics can do immeasurable good. Or be not so minded. Ideas are like children, your own are the best.

    Can we please consider this advisory referendum. It’s ground breaking. What a flag to wave (not fingers) at the establishment. The messages would show what Wales believes in a democracy of the people. The right to change our minds, the true strength of a people’s democracy, once sufficient key data or a revelation that made a difference has been proved fake.

    And could we, for once, recognise the vision so laid out in Adam’s so well written blog,

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