Wales was right to give the establishment a kicking – but leaving the EU is not the answer
Adam Price, Plaid Cymru leader
The 2016 referendum provided the wrong answer to the right question.
It was the right question because it addressed decades of neglect and underinvestment in our poorest communities across Wales.
There is no question that many people living in the so-called ‘left-behind’ areas saw the 2016 referendum as an opportunity to give the Political Establishment – whether in Westminster, Brussels, or Cardiff Bay – a good kicking. And they were right to do so.
But what’s been made clear since the referendum is that leaving the EU will not provide an answer to their troubles. It will only make them much, much worse.
The most immediate threat is to jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, and to our hill farmers. We’ve already seen 600 job losses announced at Ford in Bridgend, 220 at Schaeffler and 95 at the Calsonic Kansei car components plants in Llanelli.
In total, we calculate that at least 200,000 jobs in Wales are dependent on our trade with the EU. Meanwhile, Wales has seen the sharpest reduction in foreign direct investment since the 2016 referendum of all the nations and regions of the UK.
And if we were to crash out with no deal – which is what many Brexiteers want – then our 20,000 hill farmers in rural Wales will face crippling 40% tariffs on selling their lamb in their main market – the European Union.
My view has always been that the right answer to the question about our membership of the European Union is to acknowledge that Wales has benefitted enormously from it, and to seek ways of enhancing it.
Between 2014 and 2020 Wales will have received more than £2 billion from the European Union. This funding has been hugely important in terms of driving economic growth and jobs.
This money was important but it wasn’t enough. Our most deprived areas in West Wales and the Valleys didn’t feel the impact of that money.
Europe played its part, but Westminster didn’t. The European money should have been matched by extra funding sourced in Westminster.
That is why we are campaigning for a Transformation Fund to reinvigorate our poorer communities, support industry and tackle low wages. This should be the continuing focus for EU economic and social strategy.
On past form, over the next European funding period, from 2020, Wales could expect to benefit by £2.5 billion of European structural funds.
We say this should be matched by equivalent funding from Westminster. That is why we are calling for a £5 billion Transformation Fund over five years.
This would enable us to spread prosperity, investment and opportunity to every part of Wales; from our cities and towns, to our valleys and our rural and coastal communities.
For decades, governments at either end of the M4 have underinvested Wales. We cannot continue on the same path or our communities will simply wither on the vine.
The sad truth is that Wales simply doesn’t matter to the Westminster parties. They’re more concerned with squabbling over which version of Brexit is better.
But we believe that there is no such thing as a good version of Brexit. There is no such thing as a Brexit which avoids deep and serious damage to our communities, our industries, and families.
And I believe that a growing number of people in Wales share that view. That is why we have been campaigning for a People’s Vote – a confirmatory referendum with Remain on the ballot paper.
The Westminster parties have taken us down a path that leads to a dead end. We cannot look to them to take us out of this mess of their own creation. We can only look to ourselves.
The choice we face is between continuing as a forgotten ‘region’ of a broken British state, or choosing a brighter, better future as an independent nation at the heart of Europe.
The only way out of this chaos is to take our future into our own hands. That is the platform Plaid Cymru is standing on in the European election on 23 May.
We are a passionately pro-Europe party, and we are clearly pro-Remain. But we also understand what persuaded people to vote Leave in 2016, and we respect that.
We’ve been consistent since the referendum in putting together clear proposals on how to mitigate what would be the most damaging effects Brexit would have on Wales.
But our conclusion has remained that there is no deal that protects Wales as much as staying in the EU.
So while the fractured Tories do everything in their power to keep their party together, and while Labour makes a fudge of Brexit at every turn, doing what they can to deliver Brexit without a People’s Vote, Plaid Cymru is the only party standing in this election whose one mission is to Make Wales Matter.
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