What is the point of a Labour party that lets the Tories have their way on a hard Brexit?
Hywel Williams MP, Plaid Cymru Brexit spokesperson in Westminster.
This week, Jeremy Corbyn had the chance all opposition leaders dream of: the opportunity to defeat the government on a defining vote on maintaining membership of the Single Market.
Labour’s MPs, save for a handful, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, Liberal Democrats, and the Green MP were ready to go, as were a dozen sensible Tories. All Mr Corbyn had to do was to give the order.
Labour’s generalissimo ordered his troops to sit on their hands. To stay put. To let the Tories have their way.
75 rebel Labour MPs voted with Plaid Cymru to ensure a soft Brexit, to the dismay of the Labour whips, Canute-like in guarding the lobby doors.
Labour’s saintly Leader provided the Tories not only with a wholly undeserved, if very difficult way forward, but also with the luxury of a split opposition, even more divided than before, and that just when they need it most.
Winning this vote would have secured people’s jobs and wages. It would have given industry and business the stability and certainty for the future they have been pleading for.
It would probably have slowed or even reversed the continuing plunge in our economic fortunes.
But the Labour Opposition Leader gave the Conservative Government a free pass. Taking us down the steep spiral to an extreme Brexit.
Pulling us out of existing arrangements with our nearest trading partners, in favour of fictional trade deals with other lands.
Since the referendum, Plaid Cymru has tried to persuade the government to rescue something from the Brexit mess.
And a dreadful mess it all is too. Only the swivel-eyed deny that.
As the former head of the World Trade Organisation said, it’s like trying to take an egg out of an omelette.
For Wales, as elsewhere, it can only be disastrous.
The EU is Wales’ biggest trading partner taking 61% of our exports. Even the Labour Welsh Government believes that leaving the Single Market and Customs Union would shrink our economy by 10%, leaving us £5 billion worse off a year.
This isn’t ‘fake news’, ‘nonsense from biased experts’ or ‘Project Fear’. It is the bottom line.
Our links with Ireland, economic, social and academic are hugely important. For example, the port of Holyhead is the second busiest roll on–roll off port in the UK. Imposing customs checks would be very difficult, with traffic being backed up for miles.
The NHS in Wales, as elsewhere, depends greatly on EU medical staff, here through the free movement of people. Many have already left, and many no longer see their future in Wales.
Jeremy Corbyn had a choice to either vote with Plaid Cymru against the Tories, and in so doing, alter the course of Brexit for the good of the country; or do as the Government wanted, and forever go down in history as the opposition leader who emboldened the Tories to deliver this hard-Brexit.
He chose the latter.
There are now millions of people across Wales and the rest of the UK wondering what on earth is the point of the Labour Party.
This will remind some of 1981, of Labour’s splits which were so useful to Margret Thatcher and which kept them firmly in impotent opposition until 1997.
Others will perhaps cast their minds back to 1931 and recall Ramsay MacDonald’s pact with the Tories.
I’ll let you in on a secret: there wasn’t then and there isn’t now a point in the Labour Party.
Plaid Cymru will continue to do all we can to promote and protect our economic interests. The baton is now passed back to Dafydd Wigley in the Lords who will continue our case on the Withdrawal Bill, while the Plaid Cymru team in the House of Commons will begin working on new Bills due before us imminently – on trade and on customs.
We will be preparing amendments, as usual, to keep Wales and the UK in the Single Market and Customs Union, and to stand up for the interests of our citizens, businesses and our farmers.
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