Brexit will give Wales a more powerful voice and help strengthen the United Kingdom

Brexit will give Wales a more powerful voice and help strengthen the United Kingdom

As we hit the one-year countdown to Brexit, it’s fair to say that there has been a clear shift in the mood – if not in Wales, then certainly at a UK level.

The meeting of the European Council last week marked a significant point in the negotiations. The approval by the EU Member States of the implementation period paves the way for us to crack on and deliver a successful Brexit.

The 129-page agreement gives businesses and citizens certainty and is a hugely important step in delivering the wishes of the people of Wales and the United Kingdom – departure from the European Union.

The process will be underpinned by a duty of good faith and governed by a Joint Committee to ensure the agreement is faithfully and fully implemented by both sides.

We prioritised the future of our citizens and we’ve secured a commitment which allows one million Brits living in the EU and three million EU citizens in the UK to carry on living as they do now, with their long-term rights confirmed.

And importantly, we can also take the notable step once again of becoming an independent trading nation, by negotiating, signing and ratifying our own trade deals for the first time in forty years.

It’s fair to say we’ve already achieved so much more than the doomsayers ever predicted.

It’s a sign that we are succeeding and delivering in the negotiations with the EU and today, Britain will be exactly 12 months away from formally bidding the EU ‘au revoir’.

And that’s testament to the hard work and achievements of the Prime Minister and Brexit Secretary, David Davis.

I’m now more confident than ever that Wales and the UK will thrive after we leave the EU, and that Brexit will strengthen our precious union.

Needless to say, whilst the terms of our departure may be 75% “locked down”, in Wales, the governing establishment seems intent on fighting a battle which they lost nearly two years ago.

I’ve long tired of the talk of power grabs and bogus continuity bills in the Welsh Parliament. We’ve wasted weeks debating the constitution while our schools, NHS and economy remain the weakest in the UK.

The Welsh Labour Government – led by Carwyn Jones – can never resist the opportunity to ignore the day job and I cannot recall a single complaint from him when these powers were accumulated year-in, year-out in Brussels.

Despite his belligerence and life of denial since the referendum, it’s always worth remembering that even his own constituency – Bridgend – voted to Leave in significant numbers.

And in any case, far from diminishing Wales’ voice, Brexit will strengthen it and in doing so secure the future of the union for future generations.

Leaving the European Union will see more powers coming to Wales, extending – not diminishing – the devolved settlement. And it will reverse the process of 30 or more years of leeching of power from the UK to bureaucrats in Brussels.

The vast majority of powers returning from Brussels will return to Cardiff, with expectations of anything from over 40 new levers given to Wales. This is taking back control and puts powers in the hands of elected politicians who Welsh people have voted for, rather than faceless bureaucrats.

Welsh communities have long been disenfranchised by our EU membership, but we now have an opportunity to craft regeneration and farming schemes for the benefit of our own people.

One example is the proposed ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ which will replace Structural Funding. It’s a national shame that we still require this money after three rounds of such funding – despite being told that the first tranche was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It means that successive Welsh Labour Governments have failed to lift prosperity in Wales.

Under the old system, EU strictures forced us to gerrymander ‘convergence areas’ in Wales to ensure that we qualified for regeneration money, but it meant vast sections of the country missed out on their fair share. We’ll have an opportunity to put that right once we have left the EU.

We heard a lot of talk during the referendum about Welsh towns benefiting from so-called EU money – but it’s important to remember there’s no such thing.

Every penny (and more besides) of the money we receive through various EU schemes is funded by our own contributions to the pot. It’s UK taxpayer money sent to Brussels – administered by bureaucrats – then, returned with significant strings attached.

It’s probably the least efficient way imaginable to spend public money.

And for the farming industry, we’ll have the power to sculpt frameworks which can deliver a renaissance in the countryside, for the benefit of rural communities.

A dynamic programme which makes food production, the environment and animal welfare top priorities, supports our hill farmers, and ensures that young people have more opportunities to get into farming, so we can tackle the appalling fact that the average age of a farmer in Wales is now over 60.

Today, Theresa May embarks on a tour of the UK to set out how leaving the EU will bring opportunities and growth to every part of the country.

In twelve months, the wishes of the people of Wales and the UK will be enacted and we will be leaving the EU. The time for fighting the referendum is over.

All energies from politicians of all colours must be directed in securing a new and exciting partnership with the European Union.

A new partnership which will strengthen our own union, bring together our communities, grow our economy and keep people safe – ironically, pursuing the positive and pragmatic agenda all political parties adopted in Wales after the devolution referendum of 1997.

It’s incumbent on us all to embrace this challenge and deliver on the new opportunities which will be presented to us post-Brexit.

This can be the fresh start communities the length and breadth of Wales have longed for. Now let’s get on and make it happen.