The inequality between Wales and London is the deepest in Europe – and Brexit will make it worse

Merthyr Tydfil (left). Picture by Biggs (CC BY 2.0). The City of London (right).

Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru Member of the European Parliament

Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru MP and the party’s Brexit Spokesperson

The worst inequality in Europe is between London and Wales. This is what the group of European regional and local governments known as the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR) concluded this week.

To overstate the grotesqueness of our current inequality is nigh-on impossible. The UK is an outlier in geographical inequalities among EU Member States – it manages to have both some of the richest and poorest regions contained within it.

Inner London’s GDP is 614% of the EU average, while West Wales and the Valleys possess a regional GDP of 68% of the same EU average.

Geographical inequalities have disfigured the UK economy to the point where we no longer really have a “UK economy” in any meaningful sense. There is the booming economy within the confines of the M25 – and then there is everywhere else.

And not only do regional inequalities in the UK remain strikingly high but, in some places, they are actually getting worse. East Wales, which was considered a ‘more developed region’, would now be downgraded to a ‘transition region’.

Brexit will not emancipate Wales from the economic model which has held it back for decades – the economic model which prioritises London and the South East of England while discarding the rest of us as something less than peripheral. It will simply make things worse.

Leaving the EU and missing out on this investment funding will only serve to deepen the brutality of contemporary wealth disparities.

Future

These figures don’t only paint a picture of the current sorry context. It means material change for how much investment Wales will receive in the future.

The new analysis concludes that the United Kingdom would be entitled to around €13 billion of regional development funding between 2021 and 2027, should the UK choose to stay in the European Union. That is an increase of 22% since the previous EU funding cycle (2014-2021).

Brexit is picking Wales’s pocket.

If not for Brexit, Wales would see a rise from £3.1bn to £3.8bn in EU investment funds intended for infrastructure, skills and training. Projects which close the economic gap.

This wouldn’t be spending for spending’s sake, but targeted investments to create high-skill, high-paying jobs. The types of jobs and industries we need in order to rebalance our economy away from the black hole of London and the South-East of England.

Our EU investment is being taken away at a time when we have more need for it than ever before.  And little faith should be placed in Westminster to make it up.

The mere fact that Wales qualifies for increased EU support is – in and of itself – a damning indictment of successive Westminster Governments, given that funding is allocated based on regional deprivation.

Plaid Cymru is fighting not only for Wales’s EU funding, but for new innovative ways to boost economic growth and jobs in Wales.

We believe that Wales needs a separate Visa system to attract talent and investment from all over the world. We want to see tax powers be devolved to the Welsh Assembly – including corporation tax, Air Passenger Duty and VAT.

We want a radical overhaul of our outdated public transport infrastructure to better connect people with jobs.

But the reality is economic transformation is difficult without the money to make it happen. Leaving the EU will not only make Wales poorer but will weaken our ability to change this in the future.

For decades, Westminster has squeezed Wales for its resources. But we still look to London for the answer to our economic woes. The answer is not inside the M25, however.

Implicit in the UK economic model is an acceptance that the level of wellbeing in most of the nations and regions of the UK will continue to substantially lag behind London and South East England.

As long as the UK economy line is going up, Westminster will not need to think about the economic inequalities that exist within its own borders.

Economics is not, however, about lines on a chart. It’s about empowering people to be their best selves and to live their best lives. It’s about people not having to move hundreds of miles for work and being able to put down roots in a place that they love.

Westminster has never sought to develop a sustainable Welsh economy where this is a reality. Brexit is now ensuring that is made even more difficult.

An economic model which entrenches the worst inequality in Europe is not a sustainable one.  These figures confirm that like the past decade of austerity, it will not be those that created this chaos that will shoulder its burden, but the communities least equipped to cope.

Day after day, the terrible effects of Brexit become ever clearer and the lies of the Brexiteers more exposed. For the sake of our democracy, society, and economy we must have a final say on the reality of our European future.

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