A ‘Nation of Sanctuary’ does not have bomb making factories on its soil
Earlier this month, Nation.Cymru published a news item about the building of a bomb-making facility at a controversial Welsh arms factory which started more than six months ago without planning permission.
The oversight came to light after weapons manufacturer BAE Global Combat Systems Munitions Limited belatedly put in an application for planning permission for the building, which is says ‘could lead to 50 new jobs’.
King Arthur Approved
The site at Glascoed, near Pontypool in Torfaen was originally developed in 1938 as a bomb-filling factory for the Royal Navy in the run-up to World War Two, and has continued to supply ammunition to UK troops since it was privatised by the Thatcher government in the 1980s.
The site is said to employ over 500 people, and their little write up on their website conjures images of Welsh history and poetry. A romantic bomb making facility.
In their own words: “The BAE Systems Glascoed facility sits amidst rolling hills of Monmouthshire, between Pontypool and the market town of Usk. This is an area where King Arthur ruled, Romans bathed, Normans set up home and pilgrims came to worship.”
Planning applications for new developments at the factory – which has been picketed by peace protesters opposed to arms sales to Israel following the start of the conflict in Gaza – aren’t published in the usual way on Monmouthshire County Council’s dedicated planning website.
Instead, members of the public have to book an appointment, through the council planning department, to see the plans, and aren’t allowed to make any copies or publish any of the plans “due to the sensitive nature of the site”.
The application for a “building to house munitions assembly” and to create “surrounding blast mounds” was submitted in December 2023 without any documents accompanying it on the council’s website.
Council planners, unlike Joe public, have been aware of the development since at least 15 June 2023 when the arms firm sought “pre-application advice”.
The application was spotted by local resident Charlotte Fleming who said she was concerned at the lack of information available – and that a deadline for members of the public to comment was due to close on Wednesday, 10 January.
Ms Fleming told Local Democracy Reporter, Twm Owen: “My concern is it isn’t democratic and the planning system is supposed to be. This doesn’t seem to be transparent.”
While this local war rages on between a few members of the public vs the powers that be, the rest of Wales has been left out of the loop.
And not only out of the loop, but possibly, or possibly not if we look at recent events in Llanelli, remained content with the widely held belief that Wales is a nation of peace – a Nation of Sanctuary.
At the time, a spokesperson said: “Our vision is of a Wales in which wherever people seeking sanctuary go, they are met with welcome, understanding and celebration of their unique contribution to the rich tapestry of Welsh life.”
The UK has international legal responsibilities to protect refugees. The Welsh Government is required by the devolution settlement to comply with these obligations.
Alongside 148 other countries, the UK is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a global treaty overseen by the United Nations.
Like the Welsh Government, we are quick to wash our hands of conflict abroad, and our go-to position as a nation that has suffered from the effects of colonisation and subjugation is that we aren’t like that. We are the good guys!
But while we are part of the UK, and while we send our youngsters to fight in foreign conflicts, and while we build bomb factories and reap the financial rewards here in Wales, I’m very sorry to say that we are complicit.
Responding to the controversial Illegal Migration Bill in Spring of last year, a spokesperson from the Welsh Government said: “Wales is a Nation of Sanctuary with a long history of welcoming refugees, and we continue to value and benefit from their skills, entrepreneurial spirit and the sharing of their cultures.
“It’s vitally important for the future of Wales that we harness the ability of all that come to make a new life here.”
And why might they be seeking a new life here? One might ask.
I personally think Wales’ aim to be a Nation of Sanctuary is quite admirable. I have also been heartened to see that the Senedd has called for a ceasefire in Palestine.
However, I cannot quite grasp how we can make such bold claims and demands that have no merit while we have arms factories here on our soil.
For my sins, I come from a background in public relations and I know how spin and marketing work.
And however we spin it, we are complicit in wars abroad, whether hidden from sight or under the red white and blue of the Union Jack through the sinister and immoral creation of bombs and ammunition on Welsh soil.
Whether it’s ‘Janet’ from a few doors down punching buttons or checking for quality control in a factory a few times a week, or ‘Dai’ dropping a couple of deliveries off on his rounds, we cannot claim to be the good guys. Ych a fi!
Just as people from Wales benefitted from the slave trade, however and wherever and on a macro or micro scale, we are benefitting from wars abroad today.
‘Blood on our hands’
I don’t want those 50 extra jobs on my doorstep, I’m sorry. For me or for anyone else. It’s not either this or the dole queue, either – if our economy were to be reliant on the making of and selling of arms then it would be a sick nation indeed, and one I would want no part of.
While we are forced to witness the scenes of devastation in Palestine and growing tensions across the Middle East – in Yemen and Lebanon – from the sidelines, I want to know that the people of my communities, and the people who have branded Wales a Nation of Sanctuary are able to look these people in the eye and tell them that we did all we could. That it wasn’t all just spin.
That we not only offer them asylum and shelter and love, but that we aren’t a reason for them seeking asylum in the first place. That we don’t have blood on our hands.
To call Wales a ‘Nation of Sanctuary’ while we make bombs that kill men, women and children and drive others to our shores to seek that very sanctuary is both absurd and revolting.
We can’t have it both ways, so which is it to be?
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