Westminster needs to give Wales’ businesses time to prepare for life after Brexit

Liz Saville-Roberts Picture by Plaid Cymru (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Liz Saville Roberts MP, Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader

The announcement that a transition period had been agreed this week between Westminster and Brussels is to be welcomed.

The alternative would be to crash out overnight – reverting to World Trade Organistion (WTO) rules, with no trade deals, instant tariffs, and undoubtedly a steep fall in living standards.

While the ideology-driven Brexiteers in Westminster have interpreted it as a softening in the Government’s position, the reality is that the transition period will simply delay the implementation of the UK Government’s plans – it’ll delay the pain, not alleviate it.

Despite warnings from economists, industry, business and academics, and even from the government’s own advisors in the civil service, every country in the UK will still be taken out of the Single Market and out of the Customs Union.

And Wales, along with the other UK countries will lose the free trade arrangements we have with more than 80 other countries around the world as a result.

The transition was once imagined as a period during which businesses and the government would have two years to prepare for a new regime whose rules and regulations had been set out by the time the grace period started.

Now it’s clear it will be used to hash out the details of the trade deal. That doesn’t leave any time for businesses or for the Westminster government to prepare for life in January 2021.

The riskiest aspect is that it could all unravel, because, as Jacob Rees-Mogg emphasised only this week, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and of course, the Irish border issue remains the biggest hurdle.

What’s more is that the transition deal, as it stands, will mean abiding by all EU rules and regulations, without having a voice in setting those rules: the exact opposite of ‘taking back control’.

We cannot risk tumbling out of the EU without a deal and subjecting Welsh businesses to catastrophic WTO rules just because we ran out of time.

Equally, a bad deal is no better than no deal.

Extreme

That is why, in my conference speech today, I am calling on the Westminster Government to seek an extension to the Article 50 period to ensure that an agreement on the Future EU-UK Partnership is sufficiently detailed and comprehensive.

Equally, the proposed transition period should be capable of being extended if this proves necessary too.

Had Theresa May and her cabinet had a plan, a proposed model for Brexit, I might (just) have forgiven them for triggering Article 50 when they did. I would have understood it, at least.

But I will never even begin to understand why the Labour Party trotted into line and voted with the Tories to fire the Brexit gun, when they knew full well what was at stake.

The unionist parties are fighting out their in-house battles, but why should Wales be condemned to be the littlest, most expendable pawn on the chessboard that is Brexit?

Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon states that the Member State triggering the Article will leave the European Union two years after notification of withdrawal “unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”

The House of Commons’ own Brexit Select Committee, which is balanced in terms of political parties, included extending Article 50 as one of its recommendations in its report last week.

It is the sensible solution, and Westminster needs to retreat from the extremes and do what is right for the economy, for people’s jobs, their wages and their standard of living.

Liz Saville Roberts is Plaid Cymru’s Westmisnter leader and MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd. Her speech to the Plaid Cymru conference will be delivered at 14:30 on Friday 23rd March 2018

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