A year after leaving the EU, it’s time to publish an annual report on how Brexit has worked for Wales.
How does reality match what the Tories promised us in the 2019 election – that our farmers would be protected, food and environmental standards would be upheld, devolution would be upheld and, above all, that Wales would not lose a penny of the support our economy has received from the EU?
Brexit has caused huge problems for Welsh businesses. Trading with the EU has become much more difficult for our businesses, increasing bureaucracy and costs for business owners, resulting in higher prices and less choice for consumers. With the latest round of border controls coming into force on January 1, we are again seeing shortages of fresh produce in supermarkets and, again, higher prices in our stores.
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The creation of an Irish Sea border threatens the viability of our ports – trade is down 29% from Welsh ports, with freight using Holyhead falling by a fifth, as trade between Ireland and the rest of the EU is increasingly bypassing the border checks and delays that crossing from the UK to Dover would entail.
Welsh farmers have been told they will be protected against cheap imports from countries with lower animal welfare and environmental standards. But the trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand mean precisely that. Welsh farmers are rightly angry at how disappointed they have been, and just weeks ago their colleagues just across the border in North Shropshire gave their verdict on the performance of the government.
And Wales has been deeply disappointed by the replacement of EU funding which brought in £375m to Wales each year – much of it spent in the poorest parts of Wales, such as West Wales. of Wales and the valleys of South Wales. We were promised Wales wouldn’t lose a penny of funding, but so far only £46m has been provided, with no word on the long-term funding from the Shared Prosperity Fund which has been created to replace this funding.
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And we are clear that the end of freedom of movement has meant a real loss of freedoms for people here in the UK. Welsh people seeking to travel to Europe, for business or vacation, or to live and work in Europe have suffered severe loss of rights – including the need to pay for a visa to visit the EU; limits on how long people can stay; long queues at passport control; and no automatic recognition of professional qualifications.
In particular, Boris Johnson’s decision to leave the Erasmus Plus program has taken away valuable opportunities for our young people from all walks of life. Boris Johnson’s Turing scheme is not an adequate remote replacement. I am pleased that Kirsty Williams has been able to launch our own Welsh programme, the International Learning Exchange, which will start in 2022. It will enable 15,000 participants from Wales to go abroad in the first 4 years, with 10,000 participants coming to study and work. in Wales.
And, last but not least, Brexit justified an unprecedented power grab, with the Single Market Act undermining Welsh devolution and the powers of our chosen one Senedd, in the name of Brexit.
So all the evidence so far is that Brexit has badly damaged Wales and will continue to do so. The Westminster Tories have broken their promises to Wales and the Wales Tories appear reluctant to deliver on those promises.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to hold the Tories to account on Brexit. Our position is clear; we seek a return to the EU in the longer term, by democratic consent, but we recognize that this is not yet an option. We will therefore campaign for better alignment with Europe, to the benefit of our businesses, our farmers and our consumers, and push for the UK to join the Single Market and Customs Union.
And unlike Labor, we don’t think it’s possible to make Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘work’ and, with the Trade and Co-Operation offering the opportunity for renegotiation in 2024, we will push for the reinstatement of Brexit. ‘Erasmus and the ability of Welsh musicians on tour in Europe.
Brexit fails in Wales. And these aren’t start-up issues; they are profound, fundamental and largely predictable failures, reflecting the policy choices made by the Conservatives in London after the 2016 referendum. Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to hold them to account and advocate for closer alignment with the Europe that our businesses, our farmers and our consumers need.
The people of Wales deserve better than this Brexit.
Jane Dodds is the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Senedd MP for Mid and West Wales.
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