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A submissive Wales has let itself be steamrolled on Brexit

14 Nov 2018 4 minute read
A Wales and Europe flag at a People’s Vote march. Picture by Ilovetheeu (CC 4.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

As the Brexit deal is brought back from Brussels to the UK to be dissected by politicians and pundits, it is striking how often both Scotland and Northern Ireland are mentioned in the media.

All eyes are on the DUP of Northern Ireland and the SNP of Scotland to see what their response will be. Both are putting massive pressure on the UK Government to favour their own position.

Wales, however, has been mentioned almost not at all. And it’s very telling that there has been almost no coverage of what the Labour Welsh Government thinks of the deal.

That is because Wales has no leverage over the UK Government in any way, and that’s the way the Welsh Government seem to like it.

It has nothing to do with Wales’ size. Scotland has just over 5m people, but Northern Ireland has under 2m, far fewer than Wales.

Despite this, the SNP and the DUP have found a way to gain political leverage over the UK Government.

The Westminster Government listens to what Scotland has to say because they fear independence, and listen to Northern Ireland because they need the DUP’s votes, and fear Irish reunification.

Wales meanwhile seems entirely unable to stand up for its own interests. It can ask politely, but with nothing to offer the UK Government, and perhaps, more importantly, nothing to threaten, the pleas fall on deaf ears.

As the Cabinet met today, the Welsh Government had not even seen the text of the deal. We were dependent on Alun Cairns, Welsh secretary of ‘Prince of Wales Bridge’ fame, to represent our interests. God help us.

And I’m quite sure a quick ‘search’ of the text would find hardy a mention of Wales in there anyway. Northern Ireland would be mentioned, and London’s financial centre, but not Wales.

This is an awful situation for Wales because it would be hit harder by Brexit than almost any other parts of the United Kingdom.

Welsh exports to EU markets outstrip the rest of the UK by 11%. And a massive amount of goods go between ports in Wales and the Republic of Ireland every year.

West Wales and the Valleys is already one of the poorest regions in western Europe and could take decades to recover from any further knock.

But without any influence over Brexit, we’re just a rudderless boat in a storm, hoping we’ll get through it without being dashed on the rocks.

We need to wake up and realise that the UK is a realpolitik union, not one where resources and attention are shared equally. If you don’t have political leverage, you won’t be heard in London.

There was a telling passage in Mark Drakeford’s recent interview when he said that the Welsh Government were the only ones at the Joint Ministerial Committee on Brexit worried about how the UK will operate in future.

Scotland and Northern Ireland were too busy arguing their own case.

In their dedication to the UK’s cause above all else, the Welsh Government don’t seem to have realised that they were in a battle where it was every country for itself.

Labour have long decried the ‘nationalists’ in Plaid Cymru, but in doing so have made a virtue out of not standing up for Wales and taking a submissive approach in their interactions with London.

But the reality is that the fight to protect Wales against the worst of Brexit isn’t Welsh nationalism at all.

It is rather a reaction to what is effectively a resurgent, populist English nationalism that is driving Brexit. It is that, rather than fighting for Wales’ interests, that threatens to fracture the union.

The most influential countries on both sides of the Brexit negotiations – the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – are some of Europe’s smallest.

They show Wales that small countries that stand up for themselves often get what they want. Meanwhile compliant old Wales, one of the countries with most to lose, isn’t even on the radar.

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