Why Brexit means Wales must strive harder than ever to sustain its place in the world
Jill Evans, MEP for Wales 1999-2020
The European Union flag will be lowered outside government buildings across the UK at 11pm today, but Brexit does not mean that Wales will no longer be a European nation.
Our history together goes back centuries, indeed to the time of the Romans who did so much to mould our language and culture. It cannot be undone on the whim of a single, uncertain episode, driven by the internal politics of the Conservative Party.
Yes, Wales is leaving the European Union, as currently part of a smaller, and fast diminishing British union. As Plaid’s leader Adam Price put it in in his keynote speech on Brexit earlier this week: “Not all of us were leavers but we are all leaving now. That’s not a statement of belief, it’s a statement of fact.”
I have represented Wales in the European Parliament for over twenty years. My priority has always been to seek the best deal for Wales and use Wales’s talents to help build a better EU.
We now have to adopt a new mindset that seeks out the opportunities that await us in the new political landscape that is unfolding.
So, for example, we shall be seeking powers for Wales to vary VAT, not permissible within the EU, that could benefit tourism and boost our construction industry. We shall also be seeking new powers over Corporation Tax to persuade new companies to set up their headquarters in Wales.
But these kinds of opportunities do not detract from our belief that our relations with the European Union, and especially the smaller nations within it, are exceedingly important. Indeed, our leaving the institutions of the EU means we will need to make greater efforts than before to sustain our connections and to ensure that Wales reaches its full potential in the wider world.
That is why Plaid Cymru has resolved this week to continue our membership of the European Free Alliance, the organization and European political party that represents 46 nationalist and autonomist parties throughout the European Union and operates as a political group, along with the Greens, in the European Parliament.
That is why, as well, I shall be proposing that Plaid creates an officeholder for European and International Affairs with a place on our National Executive. This person would be responsible for representing the party internationally and promoting bilateral relations with other countries across the EU and beyond.
Now is precisely the moment when we should burnish our internationalist tradition as a party. In the post-Brexit world that awaits us, it will be more important than ever to create the institutions and international channels of communication to ensure that we enhance Wales’s role and place in the world.
We are committed, for example, to a new-style Development Agency that will have promoting Wales overseas as a key part of its role. We will continue to have an office representing Wales in Brussels and want to extend the presence of other such offices both within and outside the European Union, especially in the United States and the Far East.
Whatever the future holds, Wales will continue to be a trading nation, and we want to expand our manufacturing exports and continue to attract high added-value inward investment from overseas.
But it is not just about the economy. It’s about political and cultural exchange as well. Only this week Plaid Cymru met with political leaders from Catalonia to discuss what we have in common in decentralising powers from our respective nation-states. We are, of course, in very different places politically. But what was fascinating from these exchanges is that we are not too far apart in the timescales we are envisaging for re-establishing our respective sovereignties. Both of us are looking at the coming decade as a period when we must build a much stronger democratic mandate. We can learn from, and help one another in that endeavour.
As far as Wales is concerned, Brexit has put on the table a powerful additional reason why achieving our independence is both necessary and urgent. It is already important if we are to have the powers to promote a successful culture, promote our economy and tackle climate change. Additionally, it is now only through independence that we will have the opportunity to rejoin what is undoubtedly the most successful and important economic, cultural, and yes, democratic and political union the world has witnessed.
Plaid Cymru is determined that eventually the people of Wales will be presented with the opportunity, through a Welsh referendum on EU membership, to make a contribution to that union which will bring us so much closer to a Europe of the Peoples.