By Jamie McKay
Last week the First Minister and Prime Minister shared a platform at an event held at the British Gas offices in Cardiff aimed at encouraging voters to cast their votes to remain in the EU. In the first time two heads of government from opposing parties put their differences aside to campaign around a single issue, the duo focused on the economy and how a possible British exit would impact on business and personal finances with Jones arguing that a Leave vote would “hit people in the pocket”. Amid the excitement at Wales’ debut in the European Championships Jones decided to make his pitch in football terms as he called on voters to “make sure we are on the pitch, let’s make sure we are at the heart of Europe, and let’s make sure people take notice of us”. Just two months ago Cameron had few positive words for the Labour party as he made his speech to the Welsh Conservative conference, calling on activists to give Jones “a real run for his money” in the May elections but at this event there was no sign of inter-party strife. Instead Cameron argued that “I think it says something that when Labour and Conservative politicians are prepared to stand together on an issue, together with Greens and Liberal Democrats and Trade unionists and businesses and voluntary bodies. I don’t see that as some ‘establishment stitch up’, I see that as a reason really, to listen”.
Though in travelling across the border for this bipartisan event Cameron found little support within his own party. Conservative AM for North Wales and Vote Leave campaigner Mark Isherwood wrote off the event as a sign of “desperation”, brushing off what he described as “prophecies of doom” from the Remain camp. Mr Isherwood isn’t alone in his distrust of the campaigns made in favour of a Remain vote; Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies gave his support to the Leave campaign back in February, just a few days after Mr Cameron announced the date of the referendum. As the campaigns have progressed across the UK Mr Davies has made numerous media appearances and canvassed voters on behalf of the Leave campaign alongside UKIP’s leader in Wales, Nathan Gill.
And as Leave campaigners promised Welsh voters that the European funding would be met by Westminster in the event of a Leave win Davies was keen to back them up stating; “there’s no such thing as European money, the money comes from nations treasury’s. And in this instance when the money comes back to the UK it’s being recycled and we lose two pound in every three we send over” and arguing that in the event of Britain choosing to Leave “we’ll be able to spend the money, as we see fit, within this country”. According to the Welsh Government, Wales receives £500m in EU funds annually, with £1.8bn expected for the 2014 to 2020 period.
The Assembly’s new faction, UKIP, have wasted no time in throwing themselves behind the Leave campaign as Wales sees its own Eurosceptic surge. Canvassing across the country, Nathan Gill draws attention to the high unemployment rates seen across the Eurozone and arguing that, “Young Britons should never be in a position in which their generation is worse off than that of their parents. We can buck the trend by voting ‘leave’ and re-engaging with the world, looking beyond the continent to attract inward investment to unlock opportunities for our nation’s young people”. Repeating the claim made by those for Leave, Mr. Gill claims the UK sends £350 million a week into the EU, and that this money is better spent in the UK, “on our own priorities such as higher education and scientific research”.
Plaid Cymru, the official opposition in the Assembly, have been unanimous in their support for Wales’ continued membership of the EU, stating that their belief is that students are far better off within the European Union. In the same week that Cameron and Jones made their joint appearance, Plaid leader Leanne Wood made an appearance alongside SNP leader Alex Salmond in Cardiff City center. Predicting a strong turn out for Remain in Scotland and Northern Ireland Salmond voiced his hopes that Wales would follow to “make it a Celtic triple, as it were”. In a speech made the day before, Wood made the argument that the EU “redistributes wealth to the poorer regions “, stated that “Westminster can’t be trusted on funding and called on voters to ensure that we remain “a partner in the European family of nations”.