Jonathan Edwards MP
Today the House of Commons will hold a rare session of the Welsh Grand Committee, where Westminster MPs come together to discuss the impact of Westminster policies on Wales.
Plaid Cymru MPs raise these matters on a daily basis of course but the Welsh Grand Committee is when the unionist parties do so too.
That we haven’t had a session of the Welsh Grand Committee since February 2016 gives an indication of how seriously the unionist parties take it.
Today’s session will focus on the Budget and its impact on Wales – 11 weeks after the Chancellor gave his Budget statement.
MPs would be forgiven for having completely forgotten what the Chancellor announced and how it will impact on our citizens had the Chancellor announced anything at all for Wales, but luckily for us, there were very few announcements in it for us to forget.
There was a £145 billion package of rail investments for “England and Wales”, none of which involve Wales at all, other than the fact that our citizens will be allowed to use these railways too.
Meanwhile, the one project that they did promise Wales – electrification of the Great Western Line to Swansea – was scrapped, and the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon was kicked into the long grass.
My response to these repeated examples of the Westminster dividend is simply – if they are so clearly not interested in investing in our country, then give us the tools to do it ourselves.
This principle applies just as much to our trading relationships around the world as it does to infrastructure investment.
Suffice to say, Westminster’s pre-determined strategy of leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union after we leave the EU will go down in history as an act of grave self-harm.
It’s not just Wales’ trade with Europe – our most important trading partner – that looks perilously close to disaster.
If the UK leaves the Customs Union, future trade deals with the rest of the world will be negotiated by Westminster, not the EU. The same Westminster that considers HS2 and Crossrail to be in “England and Wales.”
From an “England and Wales”, Westminster perspective, financial services and the City of London are infinitely more important than Welsh manufacturing and agriculture.
The demise of Wales’s key economic sectors would make little difference to Westminster but any hit to manufacturing and the food sector will have a disproportionate impact on the Welsh economy.
As was set out in the Welsh Government’s recent paper on trade deals, many of the poorest areas of Wales are also the most dependent on either manufacturing or the agricultural industry.
These are the areas whose protections Westminster is preparing to negotiate away, in search of trade deals with China, New Zealand and Trump’s USA.
The First Minister’s statement this week, therefore, that trade should be a matter for Westminster and Westminster alone, was one of the weakest and pathetic statements he has made on Brexit to date.
The First Minister, as he was giving evidence to a Westminster committee on constitutional affairs, said he did not think it would be appropriate for Westminster to have to seek the agreement of all four countries before signing a trade deal. Instead, we should simply be consulted.
Even when reminded by an ardent Brexiteer on the right wing of the Conservative Party, that Wallonia – a region of Belgium – will need to agree to any future trade deals involving Belgium, the First Minister insisted that forcing Westminster to get the agreement of all four UK countries would be inappropriate.
It appears that our national government’s ambition is to be consulted on trade policy, but to have no responsibility or ability to genuinely protect our interests. We should be allowed to air our concerns, but nobody should have to act on them.
Wales finds itself in the position of being ruled by a hostile, right-wing Westminster Government – for whom Wales did not vote – hell-bent on selling off our public services and flooding our own internal markets with cheap foreign imports, undermining our home-grown industries, and our own national Government in Wales doesn’t want any power to stop it.
The Labour Party’s desperate lack of courage and ambition is a drain on our country’s future. With uncharted waters emerging following Brexit, it is critical that Wales has a national government that stands up for our country and refuses to dance to Westminster’s tune.
That a region of Belgium will have more of a say on future EU-wide trade deals than Wales will have within the British State makes a mockery of the suggestion that the UK is a partnership of equals.
Giving the UK countries an equal and formal role in forming new trade deals will not only protect our respective countries’ interests but also advance them. We should be building positive relationships and expanding opportunities for Welsh businesses abroad, not undermining them.
Until Wales takes its own future into its own hands, we will continue to be a western region of “England and Wales” whose interests are at best ignored, and at worst sacrificed by a government whose focus will always be aimed at the City of London.