Why I’m leaving the Labour party for Plaid Cymru over Brexit and Wales’ future

Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: Garry Knight (CC BY 2.0)

Hywel Ceri Jones, former Director General with the European Commission and founding father of its Erasmus Programme. He is a member of the Welsh Government’s European Advisory Group.

Despite the unconvincing role played by Jeremy Corbyn during the 2016 referendum, and despite his continuing ambivalence on the European question over the past three years, as a member of the Labour Party I had still hoped that he would have seized the opportunity of the open door presented to him by the failures of Theresa May as Prime Minister.

He has had every chance to present a convincing narrative to reject the damage of Brexit and to make the case for Remain and Reform. This was a formula he employed briefly back in April 2016, However, thereafter he failed to articulate it with clarity and conviction throughout the referendum.

With the multiple anti-Brexit motions presented to the September 2018 Labour Conference in Liverpool, and its final conclusions ringing in his ears, I had, as a Party member, every right to expect Corbyn to respect that line. And not least because it has been endorsed by many Labour MPs and by a majority of the Party’s membership.

Of course, I understand that there are divisions within Labour on this issue, especially on the justification for holding a second referendum. This is why the positioning of the Labour leadership and the Labour Party as a whole matters so much for the future of the UK.

Yet the deliberate and ambiguous leadership of Corbyn has continued. He has held to no clear line on the holding of a second public vote. But I can no longer take this ambiguous position. In particular, the sight and sound of Barry Gardiner voicing the ‘official position’ of the Labour Party has driven me over the cliff-edge to resignation from the Party.

I acknowledge readily the consistent efforts made by Sir Keir Starmer and a number of others, notably Yvette Cooper and our local MPs, Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) and Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North), to rescue the Labour Party from Corbyn’s ambiguous stance.

They have clearly articulated the negative impacts hitting so many sectors which have already occurred in anticipation of Brexit, and which continue to damage our economy and society across the four nations of the UK.

Anathema

The policy that May and Corbyn both share will lead to the worst of all worlds. We would be OUT of the EU, but IN for a range of EU policies and programmes. And, moreover, we would have no seat at the European decision-making table.

We would continue to pay into the EU budget for the benefits which both May and Corbyn claim they wish to retain for the UK, although they have been unable to agree between themselves precisely which they wish to advocate.

Any reader of the draft Political Declaration tabled by the PM will see at once that there is much in it which will be of complete anathema to Boris Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Redwood and their ilk. The Political Declaration proposes that the future partnership between the UK and the EU should be “rooted in the values that the EU and the UK share arising from the geography, history and ideals anchored in their common heritage”.

This rationale is further amplified in the Declaration’s proposal for a “continued commitment to refresh the framework of the EU Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), while the UK and the EU would be bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights which reaffirms the rights resulting from the ECHR”.

There is a great deal to welcome in this text which is in the long-term interest of the UK, and most certainly if the UK retains the status of being a Member-State. It would encourage and drive further reform, centred around a European anti-austerity economic and social strategy, building on the new European Pillar of social rights and the recently initiated European Labour Authority.

Damaged

Yet, as it stands, much of the Political Declaration’s content is highly unlikely to find a favourable reaction from hard-line Brexiteers. We can anticipate much stormier sessions at Westminster when the time comes for the House of Commons to address and confirm the substance of what is to be proposed and agreed in this text.

We can also well imagine that EU legislation safeguarding the rights of workers and other EU social legislation concerning equal opportunity and the situation of disabled persons will again be attacked by Boris Johnson and his friends. Johnson sent his warning shot across the bows in his resignation speech last summer– “that we will be forced to match EU arrangements on the environment and social affairs and much else besides.”

As a Welsh European, I value greatly the European citizenship rights I currently enjoy. I see them as a rich addition to my life and that of my family. I am a fully committed Remainer, as well as being in favour of significant reform of both the EU and the UK.

Meanwhile, I am profoundly concerned by the already negative impact of Brexit on Wales, economically, socially and culturally. Experience of the Brexit psychodrama has helped drive home to me a double message.

First, there is little parity of esteem nor effective intergovernmental machinery between the four nations within the UK. And secondly, that the position of Wales will be severely damaged if any form of Brexit goes ahead.

For these reasons, I have now decided to join Plaid Cymru, the National Party of Wales. It is unambiguously supporting a second public vote on Brexit, and is spelling out the downsides of any form of Brexit. Plaid Cymru is making the powerful case to remain an active member of the EU, pressing also for significant reform of the EU as well as of the UK itself.

Courageous

Now in mid-2019, after much more exposure to discussion on European issues than during the previous 40 years of EU membership, the public should certainly be better informed to express its views through a public vote on the choice of future it now wishes for their children and their families.

The vision presented on the future for Wales by Plaid’s leader Adam Price is firmly underpinned by his conviction, commitment and charisma. He has the necessary hallmarks of a political leader who will strongly and systematically pursue the priorities and challenges facing Wales.

He is already eloquently projecting and promoting Wales as an open, welcoming and inclusive society. He is dedicated to building partnerships across Wales and with our European neighbours to stimulate economic, social and cultural entrepreneurial initiatives which will enhance the performance and place of Wales in the world.

I expect that with the courageous leadership of Adam Price, Plaid Cymru can project a win-win perspective for Wales, building creative partnerships urgently necessary to address the massive global challenges we have to face. These are most especially the emergency situation created by climate change, the fight against poverty and social exclusion, and the difficult issues of ill health and security in the world in which we live.

This will be my new political home forthwith. I believe the success of the Plaid Cymru approach will serve to change Wales for the better as well as acting as a lever for change to the UK model of development.


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