Why we should trust the people to decide the best way forward on Europe

Steffan Lewis AM. Picture by National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Steffan Lewis, Plaid Cymru AM for South-east Wales

On Tuesday, Assembly Members will be asked to express our view on what should happen next in terms of the UK’s separation from the EU.

This crucial vote is an opportunity for Wales to decide whether to accept or reject Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.

I had hoped that the Welsh Government would take this opportunity to present a motion that my Plaid Cymru colleagues and I could support.

After all, we did produce a White Paper together that set out in great detail what needed to happen so that the UK’s separation from the EU could occur in a way that protected the Welsh economy and the interests of Welsh citizens.

It called for continued participation in the EU Single Market and Customs Union and robust guarantees in respect of workers’ rights, human rights, equalities legislation and citizens’ rights.

Theresa May’s deal falls short of these calls in every respect.

It offers no guarantees on the economy, rights, standards future participation in EU programmes nor our ports.

And it amounts to a ‘blind Brexit’, with all critical decision deferred until a later date, to be negotiated during the transition period when the UK is outside the EU.

So you would expect the Welsh Government to explicitly reject the deal, and offer an alternative way forward.

But their motion doesn’t even take a view about whether the Assembly should accept the Withdrawal Agreement or not.

Like the Tories, Labour are busy trying to paper over internal cracks rather than take a coherent position on a way forward.

Trust

Plaid Cymru’s amendments set out clearly the Assembly’s rejection of the deal, calls on the UK Government to seek membership of the European Single Market and Customs Union and calls for a People’s Vote, including an option to remain in the EU.

When die-hard Leavers, such as the former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, are now saying that remaining in the EU would be preferable to the deal that’s on offer, it raises an obvious question of why people shouldn’t be given the option of Remain in a fresh plebiscite.

We are at a historic crossroads with vastly different futures on offer for our country, and given the House of Commons’ seeming inability to agree on a way forward, direct democracy seems to provide a legitimate route out of the impasse.

If we’ve learned only one thing from Brexit, it’s that there is a pressing need to rebuilt trust in politics.

Trust is a two-way process, which is why the first step has to be trusting the people to decide the best way forward on the issue of Europe, rather than leaving all the crucial decisions in the hands of MPs.

Assembly Members who have backed a People’s Vote, including two of the contenders in the Labour leadership contest, should search their consciences ahead of the vote on Tuesday and consider what impression it would give were they to vote against a course of action they’ve publicly advocated.

It’s no longer acceptable for politicians to duck and weave the most momentous issues of our time in the narrow interests of party political expediency.

It is time to take a stand, and make our voices heard.

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