The Welsh Tories provide a positive alternative to Labour’s anti-Brexit politicking in Cardiff Bay

The Welsh Tories provide a positive alternative to Labour’s anti-Brexit politicking in Cardiff Bay

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, architect of Welsh Labour’s General Election debacle, will apparently stick with their “basic message”. Welsh Labour’s campaign had an “unreservedly and enthusiastically” Remain stamp. And at last week’s Questions to the First Minister, he claimed he was right to campaign for a second referendum as “Wales’ future was better off inside the European Union”.

If Welsh Labour cannot now change direction then the General Election gains forming a Conservative blue wall may turn out to have been canaries in the coalmine. The 2021 Senedd elections are an historic opportunity for Paul Davies to form the first Welsh Conservative Government and change Wales’ Brexit policy in two important respects.

Firstly, since there are no fewer than 70 areas where EU law interacts with Welsh devolution, Brexit requires governments in Cardiff Bay and Westminster to work together on the repatriation of powers from Brussels.

Conservatives see Brexit as a prism enabling greater devolution. Yet this must be done in a way that preserves UK frameworks that maintain the seamless integrity of Britain’s internal market, overwhelmingly the destination of Welsh exports. For instance 60% of Wales’ lamb exports are destined for the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Welsh Labour Government either disputed or recommended against ‘legislative consent’ to the UK Government over the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill and the Healthcare Bill before acquiescing. Last year the UK Government referred the Welsh Labour Government’s ‘Continuity Bill’ to the Supreme Court before it was withdrawn.

Last week Drakeford confirmed his government will recommend against Legislative Consent to the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. The First Minister hyperbolises about the ‘banal mendacity’ of Brexit, accusing the UK Government of ‘imperialism’, ‘colonialism’ and ‘flag-waving’. Yet the Cardiff Bay-Westminster dynamic has ramifications for the Welsh economy beyond 2020.

Welsh Labour Assembly Members have spent the last three and a half years engaged in anti-Brexit politicking and Project Fear scaremongering in the hope of preventing Brexit. A Paul Davies Welsh Conservative Government would bring Labour’s litigious and Eeyorish approach to an end and inject optimism into leaving the EU.

Secondly, a Welsh Conservative Government would seize the economic and political opportunities of Brexit. A sovereign UK trade policy offers new opportunities for Welsh companies. In the next ten to fifteen years, 90% of world growth is forecast to come from outside the EU. Capital Economics has advised businesses to lift their horizons to take advantage of Brexit. Companies that focus on markets outside the EU outpaced those exporting predominately to member states.

Welsh exports to non-EU countries in the year to June 2019 rose by 8.6%, faster than the 5.7% export growth to EU member states. A Welsh Conservative Government would market Wales through a new ambitious export strategy and appoint trade envoys attached to British embassies to help Welsh businesses forge new connections around the globe. Welsh Conservatives have even offered to work with the Welsh Labour Government to promote trade. And their General Election manifesto, Unleash Wales’ Potential, promises a free port for Wales with different tax and tariff rules to encourage trade.

Boris Johnson has indicated that the UK will break free of EU state aid rules, instead using World Trade Organisation principles to enable rapid response to “economic turbulence”. The People’s Government will change public procurement rules to “back British business”. Industrial strategy will be more nimble in fostering the success of regional growth sectors Wales needs.

Disproving Welsh Labour nay-sayers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has guaranteed £243 million of funding for Welsh farmers over the next two years. Future agricultural funding will incorporate incentives to enhance the environment and safeguarding high animal welfare standards.

Agricultural policy will now prioritise the needs of Welsh farming over continental producers. Free of Common Agricultural Policy red tape, Welsh farmers will lead the world in high-quality agricultural produce and livestock. Wales can become a pioneer in managing its land effectively. And, as we become a sovereign coastal state, Welsh Conservatives in government will shape a new fisheries policy based on the ‘maximum sustainable yield’ principle.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund replaces bureaucratic EU Structural Funds, better targeting communities in need while guaranteeing Wales ‘at least the same level of financial support as it currently receives’. The IPPR sees leaving the EU as a chance to redesign regional funding to create sustainable and inclusive regional economies. We can now move away from centralisation to empower communities to shape how funds are spend locally.

Public support for redirecting EU budgetary contributions to spend more on the NHS was the impetus to the UK Government’s NHS Brexit Dividend. Paul Davies has urged the Welsh Labour Government to allocate the £1.9 billion it received from Westminster due to increased health spending in England to frontline Welsh NHS services where it can benefit patients the most.

Brexit is about more than leaving the EU. Welsh Conservatives will burst the Cardiff Bay bubble, closing the gap between devolved politicians and the people. Assembly appointment of ombudsmen and commissioners, greater scrutiny of special advisers and tighter regulation of lobbying would give voters a greater sense of owning devolved politics.

Moving an entire Welsh Government department to North Wales will help address the estrangement of North Walians from Cardiff Bay. Welsh Conservativesproposed Seaside Towns Fund and Market Towns Fund would spread the benefits of regeneration more widely, while ending Welsh Labour’s controversial local authority mergers will preserve local power centres and prevent over-centralisation in Cardiff.

Drakeford claims leaving the EU by the end of 2020, as the UK Government is legislating for, would be “catastrophic”. Yet just imagine how much levelling-up three and a half years of Welsh Conservative Government would have achieved since the referendum instead of Welsh Labour’s dither, delay and negativity.

In his New Year message, Boris Johnson invoked reconciliation, urging people to “turn the page on the division, rancour and uncertainty” of the last three and a half years. The new Welsh Secretary Simon Hart wants Brexit to “forge a bright future for Wales” and seeks a “positive relationship with Cardiff”. The vast majority of Wales yearns to get Brexit done and expect their governments to work together to achieve this.

Welsh Labour must now leave the politics of ‘Neverendum’ behind and move with the times. If Drakeford continues to misjudge the national moodvoters may use the 2021 Senedd elections to mandate Conservative administrations at both ends of the M4 motorway to get Brexit done for Wales.