Now the Welsh Assembly backs single market access – not membership – and immigration controls

Now the Welsh Assembly backs single market access – not membership – and immigration controls

Last week the Welsh Assembly made history as Members voted against full membership of the European Single Market, becoming the first national institution in the UK to do so since the referendum on June 23rd.

It was a development scarcely picked up by the UK media – but nonetheless hugely significant for the whole of the United Kingdom.

It is widely accepted that full membership of the single market requires an acceptance of the principle of freedom of movement, and that it would also make the pursuit of new trade deals illegal – both of which would be totally unacceptable to the millions who voted to take back control of our trade and borders.

Much to my surprise, most of my colleagues in the Assembly agreed – including Welsh Labour ministers.

Instead of backing a Plaid Cymru motion calling for ‘full membership’ of the single market (which was defeated by 40 votes to seven), AMs supported a Welsh Conservative motion – by 41 votes to six – backing ‘access’, and welcoming new trade agreements with countries around the world.

Just days earlier, on this site, I had penned a passionate plea to the Welsh ‘establishment’ to accept the result of the referendum and get on with the job of getting the best possible deal for Wales.

Let’s be clear, this was a profound U-turn, particularly by Labour ministers, and one that I’d never expected to happen when we tabled our amendment.

It was a bright day for Welsh democracy too. A majority of the Welsh public voted to back Brexit in June, and they want politicians to get on with enacting that decision.

My party tabled a sensible, constructive compromise which sought cross-party consensus in order to heal the tensions which have remained in Welsh political discourse since June 23rd.

On the surface at least, we now have a collective voice for Wales and though there will be bumps along the road, a set of basic principles have been established. Even the Welsh Government’s Lib Dem Education Secretary appears to have accepted that the status quo on freedom of movement will no longer do.

Last week’s vote sends a strong message to voters across the UK that the Welsh Assembly accepts that the public want to see immigration controlled at a UK level; it also sends a signal that we now want to work collectively as a country to support the Prime Minister in moving Brexit forward.

Sadly, we still have some way to go towards getting Labour’s First Minister to accept that the next steps need to include voices from the Leave campaign.

This morning he is announcing the composition of the Welsh Government’s new ‘European Advisory Group’, which has been established to provide support and advice to ministers on the “challenges and opportunities” arising from Brexit.

Notably it will also consider how Wales can continue to work positively with Europe, though the statement makes no reference to working (positively or otherwise) with the UK Government – which may not be much of a surprise given that the group will be chaired by a man who has held just one phone call with the UK Government about Brexit since the referendum.

In spite of the First Minister’s claims that no individual or group has a monopoly on good ideas, his rhetoric isn’t born out in deed, and on a panel of 20 there is just one confirmed Leave campaigner – or 5% of the group.

More than half of the Welsh electorate voted to leave the EU, and whilst I wish the group well it is very disappointing to see the First Minister packing it with the people such as Lord Kinnock, who not only helped the Remain campaign to defeat, but who spoke with such venom about many of the people for whom he will now claim to speak.

Personally and professionally speaking, I hold many of the names on this list in high regard but I can’t help but feel that this was a missed opportunity to prove that the Welsh Government is serious about engaging with everyone – Leave or Remain – to shape a positive future for Wales. After all, we’re all Brexiteers now.