The industrial sector has been at the heart of Wales since the Industrial Revolution began during the 19th Century. The origins of post- industrial Welsh society are once again at risk, this time from the perils of Brexit. Carwyn Jones has warned that the Welsh steel industry would be “wiped out” if Britain left the European single market and signed a free trade agreement with China. Later stating that a fresh deal with New Zealand including agriculture could badly hit its farmers.
The Welsh Minister made these comments after the Welsh Assembly launched their trade paper claiming that hard Brexit would have a severe, negative impact on the country’s economy. The report, which is supported by an economic impact analysis from Cardiff Business School, claims that crashing out of the EU on to World Trade Organisation rules would result in the Welsh economy to shrink by between 8 and 10%, equivalent to £1,500-£2,000 per person in Wales. The report concluded that the best way to protect the Welsh nation from a Tory led ‘Hard Brexit’, would be retaining full access to the European single market and membership of the customs union, saying that tariffs would particularly hit the automotive, chemicals, steel and electrical engineering industries.
Whilst Theresa May is ignoring the severe consequences of a hard Brexit and jet setting to China to discuss a possibility of an “ambitious” post-Brexit deal with the president, Xi Jinping. The Welsh Government is asking for a much closer relationship with the EU, in a post Brexit society. Jones warned: “A free trade deal with China that allows free flow of steel would kill off our steel industry.” Which is exactly why the first minister is calling for a “sensible Brexit”.
Reflecting on the Brexit vote Jones stated that he “never accepted the vote was for the hardest Brexit”, saying that was only the view of fundamentalists. “I think people voted for a Brexit that works for the UK; that means a soft Brexit,” he said, arguing that meant full participation in the single market and staying inside the customs union. He later claimed that voters had used the EU referendum to make a statement about David Cameron, immigration and globalisation. “No one talked about the single market. No one mentioned the customs union to me,” he said, arguing that no one voted to lose their job.
The Welsh trade paper outlines how the Government plan to protect the Welsh economy from Brexit, and calls for no new barriers to the 61% of identifiable Welsh goods exports that go to the EU and for the UK government to consult extensively with the devolved administrations. Jones argued that Welsh exports were worth £14.6bn each year. “As our trade paper highlights, moving to WTO rules and the imposition of tariffs could have a catastrophic impact on our lamb sector and on the Welsh shellfish industry, which currently exports around 90% of their produce to the EU,” he said.
“These hard facts underline what is at stake if the UK government fails to get the right deal for the UK or we crash out of the EU without one.” Jones made clear that he disagreed with May’s claim that no deal was better than a bad deal. “Ministers in London have yet to show us any evidence of the benefits of leaving the single market and the customs union or how new trade deals would replace the benefits of access to the EU. In fact, UK government documents that have come to light this week chime with our own analysis of a post-Brexit economy.”
Time and time again evidence is presented that Brexit is detrimental to the Welsh economy and society, and the Brexit process is suicidal for Wales. Whilst the vote made by Wales was to leave, it is important to recognise that this vote was not a vote for a hard Brexit, in fact the terms and conditions of the Brexit process were non – existent. It is time for May her and Merry Men to stop blindly leading Britain towards uncertainty, but rather a future where Wales and the United Kingdom have prosperity, which is inside the Single Market.