Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon
After four long years of talks with the EU the Brexit negotiations are finally coming to the end. As a member of Parliament’s Brexit Committee, I had a seat at the game, if usually somewhere at the back. It was a complicated grind. Always two steps forward, one step back, and with a couple of twirls sideways thrown in.
The Committee met the chief negotiators on both sides. The EU side would say, ‘You’re leaving, so you lose the perks of membership. But we want a deal that will benefit both sides.’ The UK side would variably say that they would be happy with no deal at all, thank you very much. Or that they wanted the all benefits of membership, but with none of the rules and no membership fees.
One Brexit Minister seemed to spend most of his time not negotiating. He wasn’t showing his cards, oh no! ‘These things are always settled at one minute to midnight on the last day,’ he’d say cheerily. ‘And if it’s bang-on midnight we’ll just stop the clock.’ So, each time our Committee met the EU Chief Negotiator, at some point he would say wearily, ‘Please, can you just tell us what they want!’
With fewer and fewer working days to go, and having stopped the clock several times, what the Tories want is still a mystery for most of us. What we are getting though is definitely not what we were promised by Prime Minister Johnson and his friends.
Of course, this abrupt exit in the middle of the worst pandemic in modern history was totally avoidable. The EU Withdrawal Agreement gave us the option of extending the transition period for another year or two, something which Plaid Cymru called upon the Conservative Government to do back in March, as we could foresee the impact Covid-19 was going to have. Unfortunately, they knew better.
Now, as we’re still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, we’re also staggering backwards, forwards (and with a few of the aforementioned twirls) towards the cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit. All because of the jingoistic arrogance of this Tory Government.
It’s worth saying again – this isn’t what was promised. It was going to be the easiest deal in the world. The UK held all the cards. They would come crawling with their prosecco and their BMWs. But the UK still has no deal with the EU. And no trade deal with our saviour, the USA (which will soon have a new President).
Exporters and road hauliers are facing mountains of very expensive red tape, to be run on computer systems that have never been tried before. The A55 is likely to be a traffic jam for weeks on end. Trucks coming off the ferry at Holyhead will have to be driven all the way to Warrington or Birmingham for more red tape checks.
Farmers, trying to sell their lamb and beef to the EU have to plan for huge tariff barriers – something I raised twice this week in the UK Parliament. Both times I got complete non-answers from ministers who either weren’t telling, or like as not didn’t know.
It might just be that this government really isn’t concerned that high tariffs will damage and destroy many Welsh businesses, increase the costs of food by over 10%, and hit hitting the poorest hardest.
Northern Ireland it seems is finally having to face up to the reality of being part of the UK, whilst being both in and out of the EU. The result is a border of sorts down the Irish Sea. But there we are. Mr Gove has informed the grateful Irish masses that they will now have ‘the best of both worlds’, access to the EU and the UK markets, something we all had before all this kicked off, what seems like centuries ago.
But for us, powers over our Welsh matters, returned from Brussels, are stopping in London, not coming home to our Senedd.
We got a special investment deal from the EU, ‘Convergence Funding’ or ‘Objective One Funding’. Now that money is to be in the general pot for the entire UK. And, what a surprise, the Tories will have the say as to how it is spent.
The reality is that the UK has left the EU. I’m not for re-running the debate of the 2016 referendum. It is our misfortune though that the Tories and their little friends in the other unionist UK parties are only now waking up to what they have achieved. This is of their own doing, and they must take ownership.
Crowing ‘I told you so’ is not much help. For this chaotic, destructive exit should worry us all.
We were told in 2016 that the UK would take back control. The UK would hold all the cards. By now it’s clear that most of those cards were jokers.