Labour’s ambiguity on Brexit will push Wales’ economy off a cliff edge

Picture: Chatham House (CC BY 2.0)

Hywel Williams, MP for Arfon

In February last year the Labour Party leader instructed his Labour MPs to march with the Tories through the voting lobbies and trigger Article 50.

He backed Theresa May’s hard Brexit, then tweeted, the “real fight starts now”.

Jeremy Corbyn was ridiculed for that tweet and rightly so. Twitter was quick to offer its take:

Today – almost a year later – the House of Commons is debating the EU (Withdrawal) Bill for the final time before it moves to the House of Lords.

The Labour leader has said he will oppose it. This shows a bit of progress on last year’s position. But by the time we vote on the Bill as a whole, the battle on much of the important details will have been lost.

Take the vote on Plaid Cymru’s amendment to give Wales an equal say with England on the Bill.

The 1972 European Communities Act impacts on Wales just as much as it does on England, Scotland and northern Ireland.

Our amendment would have given each of the UK’s countries an equal say on whether or not it should be repealed.

So our own national Parliament, which Labour effectively control, would have to endorse the Bill.

Despite it clearly being in the national interest, the Labour Party didn’t bother voting, allowing the Westminster Government to do as they please, regardless of the views of three out of the four members of the UK.

Another amendment would have kept our membership of the Customs Union on the table. It wouldn’t have forced us to stay, but would allow the option to do so.

That is, the option to maintain our ability to import from, and export to, more than 80 countries around the world without charge; and to safeguard the 200,000 jobs that depend on our place in the Customs Union.

The Government blocked us, thanks to Jeremy Corbyn instructing his MPs to vote with the Tories.

Empty chair

It’s easy to forget that it’s a minority Conservative government in Westminster, and one that is split on Brexit.

They should be on their knees under the pressure of opposition parties. But they’ve been defeated only once since the election.

And they get away with it because when push comes to shove they can always depend on their little helpers in the Labour Party.

So even with a substantial majority in the House of Commons for keeping our economic links with the EU through the Single Market and Customs Union, the Tories have had an easy time pulling us out of both.

Plaid Cymru in Wales along with the SNP in Scotland, and the Green Party and Liberal Democrats in England came together last week to co-ordinate our work to stop Westminster’s hard Brexit.

Labour’s leader was invited, but didn’t turn up.

Taking a stand

The Single Market and Customs Union are the arteries of trade and economic growth for our country.

In the end it’s families and workers, businesses and farmers who’ll pay the price if we cut ourselves off.

After voting to trigger Article 50 and so for the Tories’ hard Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would “use every opportunity to ensure Brexit protects jobs, living standards & the economy.”

But what he and the Labour Party have actually done is to make sure their position is as unclear as possible – being all things to all people.

They are in favour of Single Market and Customs Union membership and also against. Horrified at Westminster trying to reinstate its rule over Wales, but not horrified enough to turn up to vote against it.

Labour’s constructive ambiguity has allowed the Tories to take us down this needlessly damaging path out of Europe. It allows a minority Tory Government to deliver as hard a Brexit as they like.

Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the Greens and the Lib Dems will be pressing our joint amendment to the Bill today.

This would allow all four UK member countries to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union after Brexit.

There are plenty of sympathetic Tory backbench MPs. The Westminster Government could face defeat. But they’ll only be beaten if Labour turn up to vote.

So here’s a chance for Labour to get off the fence – to work with the other opposition parties, and to make good on Jeremy Corbyn’s promise.

Our spokesperson in the National Assembly, Steffan Lewis, is also introducing an Individual Members’ Proposal today in the Senedd, calling for a Continuity Bill to enshrine the relevant parts of EU law on devolved matters into Welsh law before the Westminster Government can get their hands on them.

If Labour AMs vote with us it sends a strong message to Westminster that Welsh democracy is not up for grabs.

If they abstain or vote against, Westminster will know they have an open door to reverse devolution.

Anything less than voting with Plaid Cymru today will make it clear where Labour stands: shoulder to shoulder with the Tories.

Pushing our country, our economy and our people’s standard of living over a cliff edge.


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