It’s high time the Welsh governing class got behind Wales’ Brexit

It’s high time the Welsh governing class got behind Wales’ Brexit

The EU Referendum in Wales was a profoundly democratic moment when the Welsh people ignored the instructions of its pro-Brussels devolved governing class and voted to leave the EU.

Wales voted 53% to leave on a 72% turnout. More voters in Wales backed Brexit than voted ‘Yes’ in the devolution referenda of 1997 and 2011 or for anything in a Welsh election since 1997.

At the 2017 General Election 85% of Welsh voters backed parties committed to leaving the EU’s customs union.

Wales is steadfast in its resolve to leave the EU. The Wales Governance Centre found that 41% wanted the UK to regain “full control over how Britain is governed and who can live here” even if that means no deal with the EU, compared to only 21% who supported “trying to get Britain to remain in the EU.”

And a recent ITV Wales poll found Welsh opposition to a second EU referendum increasing to almost 50%, 10% ahead of those hankering after another go.

Welsh Labour’s devolved governing class is running a ‘Brexit Consultation’ of 11-year-olds and wants to give the vote to 16-year-olds, but it is contemptuous of Wales’ 854,572 Leave voters.

Despite 63% of working class voters and the South Wales Valleys backing Vote Leave, Welsh Labour’s First Minister Carwyn Jones claimed there is “no need to leave the single market” and any future US deal must only be handled at the “European level”. Jeremy Corbyn kyboshed Jones’ recent Washington visit simultaneously announcing Labour’s customs union volte-face. And Corbyn’s support for SNP opposition to the Withdrawal Bill impliedly accuses the First Minister of succumbing to a ‘Westminster power grab’.

Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood has described her EU nationalists as a party of ‘European Values’, oblivious to the EU ruling out membership for an independent Scotland, Commission support for Castilian Madrid against Catalonia and Jean-Claude Junker’s plans to strip regional assemblies of their vetoes over bad trade deals.

And Kirsty Williams, the only Welsh Lib Dem left in the Senedd, absurdly claims Brexit was a “false nostalgic nationalism” which jeopardises “our victories on feminism, gay rights, devolution” and “tolerance in society”. Voters don’t like being insulted and it wasn’t surprising that her fringe party lost its deposits in 36 out of Wales’ 40 seats at General Election.

Now 31 brazen elitists from Wales’s failing left wing governing class including the Assembly Members Leanne Woods (Rhondda, 54% Leave) and breaching collective cabinet responsibility, the Welsh Government Cabinet Secretaries Kirsty Williams (Brecon and Radnor, 54% Leave) and Alun Davies (Blaenau Gwent, 62% Leave), have put there name to a ‘Wales for Europe’ letter demanding a second referendum.

Their mask has slipped revealing contempt for Welsh democracy and an arrogant disregard for the hundreds of thousands of working class voters in Wales who vote for Brexit.

There are several reasons for their anti-Brexit group think. In the political self-image of Wales’s left wing establishment, Wales is more ‘progressive’ and ‘supranationalist’ than England. But Wales’ Brexit vote scotches their claim that Eurosceptic England is dragging the Celtic fringe out of the EU.

The EU process makes life easier for Welsh Governing class politicians who have a vested interest in the status quo. By contrast Brexit entails more devolved responsibilities and may trigger new alignments in the Senedd thereby destabilising the status quo.

And Brexit forces Wales’ Labour dominated governing class to examine their failures including the worst education system in Britain, declining social mobility and botched regeneration schemes.

Ironically the Conservative Government in Westminster is closer to Welsh public opinion in its resolve that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to respect Wales’ devolved settlement, which will receive an “unprecedented democratic dividend” as powers are returned and has secured legislative consent from the recalcitrant Welsh Labour Government for the Withdrawal Bill.

Brexit enables better-focused and nimbler decision-making for Wales. UK Government institutions including the Department for International Trade, the Board of Trade (on which the Secretary of State for Wales is a permanent advisor), and the Welsh Office tirelessly promote the Global Wales brand. The UK Government has sent copies of the Wales Export Guide to more than 26,000 Welsh businesses identified as potential exporters. Foreign Office Heads of Mission have been briefed at the Welsh Office on Wales’ trade interests. And the UK’s new Ambassadors Designate were dispatched to Swansea and Cardiff to meet Welsh exporters before taking up their posts.

Eighty firms joined the Department for International Trade and the Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns at the inaugural 2017 Wales Business Export Summit. The Secretary of State has convened seven Expert Panels on leaving the EU and has chaired UK Export Strategy Meetings in Cardiff to help break down barriers to Wales’ global exporting ambitions. And he recently convened an Economic Advisory Board in Cardiff to discuss Industrial Strategy priorities for Wales with Welsh business leaders.

By contrast the paralysis of the Labour controlled Welsh Government has stalled the devolved institutions when they should be galvanised behind Brexit. The Federation of Small Businesses says the Welsh Government is “fumbling ineffectually” in its trade and investment strategy and their overseas offices “do not seem to have a tangible effect on export performance.” CBI Wales Chairman Mike Plaut regrets the missed opportunity for a “devolution dividend” and “somehow it’s not coming together”.

The Welsh Government rejected calls from independent Welsh think-tank Gorwel for a dedicated Brexit portfolio. It dismissed Welsh Conservative proposals for new Welsh trade envoys. It refuses to relinquish control of Visit Wales, blocking an industry-led approach to Wales’ visitor economy. Its EU Transition fund trailed the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement announcement of £3bn for Brexit contingency planning by several months. Its now redundant ‘Continuity Bill’ undermined the UK Government’s negotiating position, was referred to the UK Supreme Court and will now likely be withdrawn. And Carwyn Jones’ ‘Joint Statements’ with Nicola Sturgeon have tethered Wales’ Brexit preparations to the whims of the SNP.

Their negative attitude to Brexit is worrying at this crucial juncture. Between 2013 and 2016, Wales’ exports to the US, Japan, China and India fell 13%, 55%, 3% and 9% respectively. Now Wales’ exports to non-EU countries are growing faster than those to EU member state economies. However the Welsh Government leaves Wales more exposed to the declining EU economy at a time when European Commission figures show that 95% of global growth in the next twenty years will come from outside the EU.

When in years to come Welsh voters reflect on their devolved governing class’ low expectations for Wales’ Brexit, they may conclude that it was as out of touch with their values and interests as Scottish Labour was before its electoral demise. Welsh historian and Labour peer Kenneth O. Morgan has written that Welsh Labour has ‘lapsed into insular isolation’. How right he was.