Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Wales and Welsh Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Baroness Chris Humphreys has used a speech in the House of Lords to warn about the consequences of Brexit for Welsh agriculture and the Welsh economy.
As the government begins to make its arrangements for the UKâ€™s potential exit from the EU I want to make a few comments and pose a few questions about issues that are important to Wales – Welsh agriculture, Welsh industry, particularly in North Wales and the port of Holyhead.
At the outset, however, I would like to repeat a question I, and others, have asked before in these debates – West Wales and the Valleys have qualified for and benefited from Objective One funding for almost 20 years and have seen improvements in terms of road and community infrastructure and connectivity – has the government planned for similar funding to continue if Brexit happens and will it be allocated on the EU’s basis of need or on the outdated and by now, infamous, Barnett formula which relies on a crude population count?
Let me turn now to agriculture and place on record in this place, some of the findings of the Welsh Affairs Committee in the Other Place in their report Brexit: priorities for Welsh Agriculture, which was published earlier this month.
Those of us who live in rural Wales already know and appreciate the contribution and value of agriculture and its central role in community life and its essential role in maintaining the Welsh language. Fewer people might be aware of its impact on the Welsh economy where it accounts for a higher proportion of jobs and economic value than in the rest of the UK.
The report highlights all this and calls on the government to acknowledge the unique circumstances of agriculture in Wales.
Because over 80% of Welsh food and animal exports are to the EU, the report repeats the overwhelming view of witnesses – and Welsh members on this side of the Chamber – that barrier free access to current markets is essential for Welsh agricultural products and could be best achieved by retaining membership of the Single Market and Customs Union.
If a post-Brexit Britain is to exist, Wales needs its fair share of agricultural funding. And it needs clarity on the formula to be used with any replacement agricultural funding scheme – as it does with structural funding.
We are told that funding will be broadly the same over the next few years but the Welsh Affairs Committee’s report recommends that – ‘before Committee Stage of the Agriculture Bill in the House of Commons – the U.K. Government agree with the devolved administrations a mechanism for future allocations of funding for agricultural support ‘.
My Lords, we cannot tolerate a repeat of the early stages of the Withdrawal Bill where UK Ministers sought to take decisions regarding EU laws in Wales into their own hands. There is no place for a similar colonialist attitude now – the voice of the devolved administrations must be heard, especially in areas such as this where they already have devolved responsibility.
The situation facing Airbus and other manufacturers who rely on the highly efficient and highly cost-effective ‘just in time’ supply system is now surely beyond parody.
After initially welcoming the Chequers White paper as “going in the right direction” Airbus’ CEO, Tom Enders, expressed his concern at the government’s decision to accept the European Research Group’s hard-line amendments to the Customs Bill and sees the government’s strategy for leaving the EU as “unravelling”.
Consequently, the company has taken measures to activate their contingency plans and begin stockpiling parts to mitigate the effects of this change in government policy – but the CEO adds ‘for a short period’.
Has the government made an assessment of the long term impact of funding these contingency plans on future investment in companies such as this?
The ERG’s small group of about 40 MPs appear to revel in holding the government to ransom and will have scant regard for the potential loss of Airbus’ 6,000 jobs in Broughton in North East Wales but these full time, well paid jobs are vital to our economy. While millionaires manipulate the situation for their own benefit, secure in the knowledge that their fortunes and pensions protect them, workers in places like Airbus are beginning to understand the potential impact of a hard or no deal Brexit on them, their jobs and their families.
In North West Wales, if there is a hard or no-deal Brexit, the port of Holyhead faces the same problems as Dover in terms of customs checks leading to delays but infrastructure problems could make the situation there even worse. Now that the new Brexit Secretary appears to be preparing us for a no-deal Brexit can we assume the government will publish contingency plans for the port?
But whatever happens, whether there’s a soft, hard, red white and blue or no-deal Brexit or even no Brexit, Holyhead faces a reduction in trade and probably a reduction in employment. Ireland, and the shipping industry, have been incredibly pro-active in the face of Brexit and have sought ways to ‘avoid the land bridge’ between Ireland and the EU. Now, the world’s largest short sea Ro-Ro ship has begun running between Dublin and the continent. Officially, it’s called the MV Celine. Unofficially, it’s the ‘Brexit Buster’.
Sadly, only about 20-30% of Ireland’s trade is with the EU – a massive 70% is with the UK. With chaos on the horizon, the tragedy of the situation is that what has been called ‘an act of national self-harm’ risks harming our closest neighbours, and the remaining EU 26, as well.
Finally, My Lords.
This weekend I was horrified, and yet strangely satisfied, to hear the leader of the European Research Group finally admit that it will probably take some 50 years for the country to know whether Brexit has been a success or not. By then my eldest grandchild will be 60 years old. What will her life have been like if Brexit is a failure?