The Tories promised Wales a post-Brexit land of milk and honey – the curdled reality leaves a sour taste
Luke Fletcher, Plaid Cymru Economy spokesperson
After yesterday’s heartbreak at the Euro 2020 championship defeat, a sporting cliché comes to mind to sum up the week in the Welsh Parliament; it’s the hope that kills you.
In the shadow of a global pandemic and with much post-election talk of a more constructive and conciliatory approach, I had hoped the Tories would now focus on building for the future.
Instead, Wednesday saw the Welsh Conservatives resort to type. They chose to focus their opposition debate looking back – marking five years since the referendum to leave the EU.
One after another, they traded a pot plant for a Union Jack on their Zoom screens and lauded the so-called luxuries afforded by leaving the European Union, of supposedly ‘taking back control’ of our laws, money, and borders.
Yes, Wales voted to leave the EU. Yes, my party campaigned passionately against that outcome. But, as set out in a key note speech by Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price in January of last year, we have also recognised the need for Wales to move on and seize new opportunities.
We must now shift our focus to making our economy more independent and our democracy more resilient. The question no longer is “if” Brexit happens but rather “how.”
As the Tories indulged in their jingoistic jamboree on the floor of the very Senedd which their party seems intent on stripping of its power this week, it seemed to bear no relationship with reality or the promises made by the UK Government before and since 23rd June 2016.
£350m a week for the NHS. Not a penny less for our farmers. “No downside” to Brexit.
It is the failure to keep the last of this trinity of tinpot pledges which seems to be causing such disruption and distress for Welsh businesses at present.
Figures released this week from a Beaufort Research survey analysing the exporting behaviours of small businesses in Wales show that Brexit comes out on top in a list of barriers to SMEs who currently export.
37% of the SMEs surveyed identified the UK’s exit from the EU as a barrier to their exporting activities, with one in four businesses which currently don’t export citing Brexit as a potential barrier.
Back in February, small businesses spoke of “drowning” in paperwork due to Brexit, adding that transit costs had increased considerably.
As my colleague Ben Lake MP warned at the time, large companies may have legal departments and the relevant expertise required to navigate yet another layer of bureaucracy, but small businesses are forced to fend for themselves.
A Welsh Conservative MP’s reaction? That in a few weeks people would “develop more expertise so we will see costs and time go down.” Expecting someone to develop expertise when it comes to complex legislation in just “a few weeks” is frankly insulting.
SMEs are the lifeblood of the Welsh economy. Those who produce locally, and trade globally now face the double-hit of inadequate Covid business support and an increase in the cost of exporting which for many is simply unsustainable.
That is why Plaid Cymru is making the case for greater economic independence – Welsh suppliers selling to Welsh businesses, keeping money in the local economy, raising procurement levels, and creating thousands of jobs in the process.
Research shows that for every 1% increase in local procurement levels, there is a potential to create up to 2,000 new jobs. We need to incentivise businesses of all sizes in Wales to adopt a “Local First” approach to shorten the supply chain in a way which benefits our economy and environment alike.
Whilst it becomes ever clearer that there is no such thing as a Brexit dividend for Wales, the Labour Welsh Government should be dialling-up the devolution dividend by taking tangible steps to strengthen our economy right away.
The Welsh Government could place a statutory duty on public bodies to adhere to national procurement guidelines and increasing the level of Welsh content purchased by the public sector’s first and second-tier suppliers.
They should also be breaking up contracts where possible into lots to enable small companies to bid and commit to ending and reversing outsourcing in the public sector, bringing activities back in-house or at least under local control and delivery.
While the Tory vision of Brexit promised the land of milk and honey, the curdled reality leaves a sour taste.
As a party committed to a future in which Wales stands on its own two feet, Plaid Cymru’s focus is now on challenging Westminster’s encroachment on our nation’s economy, culture, and constitution.
Brexit is failing. Britain is failing. The latest demonstration of desperation on the part of the UK Government is a widely ridiculed plea for all school pupils to partake in a sycophantic sing-along.
‘One Britain One Nation’ represents nothing more than one last throw of the dice for a decaying union – a desperate own goal from a Tory party losing its way and intent on blocking Wales’s path to prosperity.