Ben Lake, Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion
I often have to remind myself that my election to Westminster was less than two years ago, for although still a parliamentary newcomer, the constant drama and incessant tumult since 2017 has featured an array of momentous decisions.
At 7pm on Tuesday, however, my Plaid Cymru Parliamentary colleagues and I will walk through the wood panelled lobbies of Westminster to cast what will almost certainly be the defining decision of our lifetimes: to vote against the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement.
The vote will come as the cumulation of the UK Government’s attempts to cajole, lure, and intimidate MPs to support its deal. It asks each and every one of us to reject the benefits and certainty that deliver for the country and our constituents, and instead choose a path which, by its own reckoning, will not deliver the same level of opportunity.
Indeed, the benefits and opportunities offered by the deal are far from guaranteed; conditional on securing a strong deal from a position of weakness, and succeeding to achieve in 20 months an agreement that few nations have managed in less than a decade.
The Westminster Government’s own Brexit analysis forecasts that UK will be poorer over the next 15 years under all possible Brexit scenarios, which is hardly surprising given that they entail moving away from membership of a trading bloc of 500 million people, of the freedom to live, work and study in 27 other countries.
The only exit from the European Union that mitigated the economic damage of Brexit was continued membership of the Single Market and Customs Union – the arrangement Plaid Cymru has long argued for.
This will be the first time in parliamentary history that a UK Government asks Members of Parliament to knowingly vote to make their constituents poorer.
What’s more, it asks elected representatives to commit blindly to an unknown future relationship with the EU, and to relinquish any influence over the destination. Perhaps nothing illustrates the degradation of politics since the divisive referendum better.
Unencumbered by the constraints of reality, the Government have attempted to persist with the argument that the options are, its deal or no deal. As the fallacy of the argument becomes clearer, they have since added to soundbites that ‘no Brexit’ is also a possibility.
The truth is, there are options aplenty, it is just that the UK Government has chosen to ignore them.
As I said to a belligerent House of Commons in a speech on Monday, ignorance or insolence are the only two possible excuses for those who say alternatives to the deal have not been brought forward.
The day after the referendum, Plaid Cymru convened a conference to decide our policy. If a second referendum was not possible, protection of our economy through membership of the European Single Market and Customs Union was the answer, our membership decided.
A matter of months later, Plaid Cymru’s brilliant Steffan Lewis AM authored a paper, alongside the Welsh Government, setting out in great detail an economy-first future relationship in unarguable terms.
The document – known as Securing Wales’s Future – still acts as the best outline of a future relationship with Europe, if Wales is to be taken out of the EU.
It is a shame, and indeed to our detriment, that voices such as Steffan’s were not listened to, for I am in no doubt that we would not be in the mess in which we currently find ourselves if they had been.
Plaid Cymru has passed motions in parliaments in Westminster and Cardiff Bay calling for protections for our European citizenship and membership of EU institutions.
We were among the first parties to endorse a People’s Vote, and in search of compromise, Plaid Cymru has met all Heads of Government in the UK to offer alternative Brexit proposals.
We have met other opposition leaders too, for that matter, from Corbyn to Cable. Plaid Cymru has sought sensible consensus for the sake of our country, leaving partisan politicking to others.
Voting down the deal next week is the only way to force the Government to change course, and to avert the damaging consequences that lie ahead for my constituency and my country if the present path is followed.
Tuesday’s Brexit battle may be a big one, but the fight for a better future is far from over. We will continue to offer solutions out of this Brexit mess and deliver for Wales.