One year on from the EU referendum, and the political landscape in the United Kingdom has shifted considerably. In just twelve months, a Conservative Government has triggered Article 50, published its twelve key principles for Brexit and commenced the negotiation process that will see the UK leaving the European Union in a little under two years.
For those of us who campaigned to leave the EU, it’s an extraordinary achievement, and one to be proud of. And whilst the Prime Minister is now forced to work without a clear majority in the House of Commons, there is little
evidence to suggest that there is any public appetite for that process to be checked, or reversed. Instead, ahead of the first anniversary of the referendum, I want to extend an invitation to the so-called ‘Hard Remainers’. It’s time to lay down your weapons. And it’s time to get on with the job of shaping the landscape that we will inherit once we have left the European Union. It may be difficult to accept the outcome of the referendum, but we need to work together now to forge the regeneration, farming and research schemes that will follow our departure from the EU.
The referendum last summer was one of the biggest exercises in the history of British democracy, and the Welsh public played its part – voting like the UK as a whole for a new relationship with Europe. Support for Brexit was then reinforced in the recent General Election, not undermined, marking as it did a return to two-party politics in this country in a way not witnessed since the 1970s. Indeed, 82.4% of the votes cast on 8th June went to the two main parties pledging to deliver on the referendum and with explicit manifesto pledges to leave the Single Market.
And yet we cannot pretend that the election result hasn’t changed the way in which the Government needs to work – particularly with other parties – if we are going to be able to pass the legislation necessary to make a success of Brexit. There is a need to establish a consensus, where it can be achieved, in the interest of the country. Not only will that enable us to portray a united front in these complex and competitive negotiations with the EU, but it will
provide the markets with confidence in these turbulent times.Equally, there is a need to send a strong message to each of the devolved administrations that the Government retains a steely determination to get a good deal not just for the UK as a whole, but each of its constituent parts.
They could start right away. The Chancellor has already guaranteed EU funding until 2021. I want to hear firm guarantees that Wales will not lose a single pound as a result of Brexit. I am also calling on the UK Government to announce an urgent review of the Joint Ministerial Council. This is not the 1950s: we need to establish better ways to engage as a United Kingdom, the need for which will soon become clear once additional powers are returned to the UK from Brussels.
Lest we forget, at the heart of the Vote Leave campaign was a sense that we were speaking for the millions of people in this country who felt ignored by a distant and unelected elite. With the very real prospect of new UK-wide frameworks for farming, regeneration and research, it is vital that we have the structures in place to ensure that people in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have a bigger stake in the process. That means a better voice for the devolved nations.
But that lesson must also extend to the First Minister, in Wales, Carwyn Jones. Just this week he called for an agenda of “respect”, urging the Prime Minister to work more closely with the devolved nations to work through problems. But he needs to take a close look in the mirror.
Here in Wales, the Labour-led establishment has adopted a position that (cosmetically at least) gives the impression that they accepted the result. And yet, Carwyn Jones’ idea of cross-party co-operation is to work exclusively with the parties in Wales who opposed Brexit.
What kind of message does that send to the 854,572 Welsh voters who didn’t share their worldview on 23rd June last year?
Brexit is a huge opportunity for Wales, and a chance to put behind us decades of failure to target resources and finance where they are needed most. We can determine priorities locally, and reverse the power grab of faceless and unelected bureaucrats.
Some of the detail is already emerging and it’s exciting, particularly for communities outside of the gerrymandered region which has soaked up the lion’s share of EU funding.
Places like Barry and Wrexham will now be able to benefit from the UK Government’s ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’, just as Welsh farmers will soon benefit from a locally driven replacement to a CAP which doesn’t fit.
It’s a victory for democracy, and I hope that we can all now unite and work together – on all sides – to deliver on the collective will of the people.