28th Mar 2023


Wales' message to Europe: 'We'll be back'

  • The UK government's so-called Levelling Up fund has seen 11 Welsh local authorities denied funding altogether; a far cry from the £1.1bn [€1.23bn] of funding Wales would have received under previous EU schemes (Photo: Catrin Ellis)
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Three years since Brexit, the dire warnings of economic decline are coming to pass. The UK's economy is shrinking, and Brexit job losses are biting.

My party, Plaid Cymru — the party of Wales — is firmly a pro-European party. We didn't want to allow the Conservatives to gamble with our economy in 2016, and our long-term aim continues to be for Wales to rejoin the European Union as a member state in our own right.

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  • Liz Saville Roberts MP is the Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh independence party, which has three MPs at Westminster, 12 seats in the Welsh parliament in Cardiff, and around 200 local councillors in Wales (Photo: Plaid Cymru)

We sadly lost the argument in 2016 — the Brexit wreckers tapping into a deep disillusionment among a population tired of their services being stripped of funding, and their opinions discarded time after time.

Having narrowly voted to leave the EU in 2016, however, Wales has now decisively swung against Brexit, with a recent poll by Focaldata showing that the number of people regretting their decision to leave outnumbering supporters in every Welsh constituency.

The scars of the vote have left their mark in communities across Wales. The Menai mussel industry in the north-west has experienced a sharp decline having once been a staple in fish counters and restaurants across Europe; its business model wrecked by post-Brexit rules.

The near-collapse of the Welsh steel industry in the south is being accelerated by a trade policy that — deliberately — strains supply chains.

The UK government's so-called Levelling Up fund has seen 11 Welsh local authorities denied funding altogether; a far cry from the £1.1bn [€1.23bn] of funding Wales would have received under previous EU schemes.

The antidote to this malaise is to rejoin the EU single market and customs union. Trade with the EU has tumbled by 15 percent, productivity is down by four percent, and the NHS is 4,000 European doctors short since Brexit. While these figures make for grim reading, rejoining the single market presents a tried and tested solution to issues inflicted on our economy by the UK Government itself.

We needn't look far for results either; Northern Ireland remains in the single market for goods and its economy vastly outpaces Brexit Britain.

While a majority voted to leave the EU in 2016, the calamitous effects on our public services and economy can no longer be denied.

Indeed, Folcdata's polling shows that many voters now share that view. Though not alone in our pragmatic approach to the single market, it is disheartening that the Labour leadership can no longer be considered allies in this fight.

Remainers can't count on Starmer

Once a principled pro-European, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer now insists that no "political case" exists for rejoining the single market.

While Labour grips onto disproven lies for political expediency, Plaid Cymru is unwavering in our commitment to a pragmatic and pro-European economic and trade position. It cannot be right that the Conservatives and Labour refuse to acknowledge the damage that Brexit has caused to our communities and our economy.

The International Monetary Fund recently forecast that the UK will be the only G7 economy to shrink in 2023. While British prime minister Rishi Sunak is a committed Brexiteer, now is the time for him to exchange ideology for honesty. Single market membership offers a simple solution on our very doorstep for the thousands of struggling families enduring the cost-of-living crisis; we in Plaid Cymru passionately believe that barriers to trade and skills shortages are deepening this crisis.

While the Labour leadership remains opposed to these calls, murmurs of dissent exist within both of the major parties.

Last year, Tory MP Tobias Ellwood argued that issues including shrinking European exports and the Northern Ireland Protocol would "disappear" were the UK to rejoin the single market. Labour mayor of London Sadiq Khan recently called for a "debate on whether the UK should rejoin the European single market."

Voters and politicians across the political spectrum are increasingly aware that "getting Brexit done" was nothing but cynical sloganeering. Only a total rejection of the Brexit lies can restore our broken communities, and tumbling support for politicians. Any honest politician would and must look at our economic prospects and recognise that a change of policy is required.

Single market membership provides an immediate and clear solution to the problems wrought by recent Conservative failures. In the longer-term, we are building the case for an independent Wales at the top table of the European family.

Plaid Cymru was represented in the European Parliament for the last two decades of the UK's membership, and in that time developed close bonds with our allies across the continent, making the case for a social democratic and green Europe.

Rejoining the single market is a first step in healing our broken communities and re-establishing decades-long economic connections shattered by the hubristic recklessness of Westminster politicians.

Three years on from our departure, our message to Europe is: Wales is still an outward-looking European nation. It may take a while, but we'll be back.

Author bio

Liz Saville Roberts is leader of the Plaid Cymru party at Westminster, and MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd in Wales.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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