As a Welsh Liberal Democrat I am fully aware that my party’s position on the European Union is of great consternation to some. I thought I would take the opportunity to outline my thoughts on what is such an important issue.
During the EU referendum campaign we were repeatedly told by the Leave campaign that the negotiations would be quick, straightforward and painless. Quite clearly, this has not been the case. 16 months on from that vote there are still major uncertainties that still exist over key issues, including our future trading relationship with the single market, migration and farming support. The UK Government has been unable to offer any clarity or reassurance.
This means that those wanting to know the future direction of our country have no answers, and raises the chances of us crashing out of the EU without a deal.
My party and I believe that membership of the single market is vital to Wales’ future prosperity. The single market was not on the ballot paper last June, and it is up to the Leave campaign to make the case that Wales and the United Kingdom is better off outside the single market.
In Wales, benefits from the EU total over £500million per year, including: rural development support; fisheries and agriculture payments; structural funds; and research money. Our export market is far more heavily dependent on the EU than the UK average (two-thirds of our exports go to the EU while the UK-wide figure is less than 50%).
Promises of extra money when we leave – such as £350million per week for the NHS – have been exposed as lies.
There are clear benefits to being in the single market, and those wanting to pull us out of the single market need to make the case that this is best for Wales.
Here in Brecon and Radnorshire we have to meet a very specific challenge, securing the future of our farmers. A report from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board warned that farm incomes could collapse after Brexit, with profits being cut by more than half. Last month the Farmers’ Union of Wales called for “common sense to prevail” and for the UK to remain in the single market, while just last week the National Farmers’ Union (Cymru) warned against a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
Often I am told that most farmers voted leave and they deserve what they get, which is a rather crude depiction of an agricultural sector with diverse views in it. While I was certainly frustrated at the Remain campaign’s inability to convince enough farmers that the EU was a positive thing, we need to look at the bigger picture and act based on what is best for everyone.
Let me be clear – the fate of our farmers in Brecon and Radnorshire is inextricably linked to the prosperity and wellbeing of everyone here. Our food prices, our rural economy and our landscape depend on a thriving agricultural sector.
It is just not good enough for Leave campaigners to decry people raising these concerns as traitors and enemies of the people. The standard of discussion must be higher. I firmly believe that Wales is best placed inside the single market, I believe there are many positive tangible benefits we get from it, and I will continue to make the case for that.
There is room in politics for more than one set of views. Opposition parties have an important role in challenging the Government and making it justify its decisions.
Liberal Democrats and Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to hold the Westminster Government to account to ensure the best possible deal as we leave the European Union, and we will make no apologies for doing so.
This was originally an article published in the Brecon and Radnor Express.