The morning of June 24th was a very disappointing one for Wales, the UK and everybody involved in the European project.
For the first time, the electors of a member state voted not just to reject a treaty or constitution but actively voted to leave the European Union.
As a Plaid Cymru Member of the European Parliament since 1999 it was especially disappointing to watch voters in Wales make the decision to leave by a narrow vote of 52.5% to 47.5%.
Wales has undoubtedly benefited economically from European Union membership, an argument that was made repeatedly in the run-up to the vote, and confirmed by the Welsh Governance Centre who said that Wales directly received £245m more in 2014 from the European Union than was paid into the EU as membership as part of the United Kingdom.
Welsh agriculture and higher education are amongst the sectors that benefitted directly from EU investment, while the European Regional and Social Funds are of particular support to post-industrial and rural areas of Wales, the NUTS2 West Wales and the Valleys area. Even ignoring targeted EU investment through CAP, Horizon 2020 and ERSF, one in seven jobs in Wales rely on import and export through the single market. All of these could be under threat.
But the European Union membership referendum was not won or lost on the basis of facts and consequences of leaving. In many respects, there was no media campaign to Remain in the European Union. While some British media outlets made the case strongly to Leave through distortion and hysteria, the establishment media were hamstrung by a commitment to balance which gave equal priority to fact-free rhetoric as it did to academic research. In Wales, where our native media is drowned out by London bias, the Welsh national interest and the consequences of ‘Brexit’ to Wales were amongst the first casualties of the referendum.
Within hours of the vote to Leave the European Union, the Brexiteer promises unwound. There was no extra money for the National Health Service, despite the promises of £350m per week being made; leaving the EU would not necessarily impact upon levels of immigration; and the economic impacts of Brexit quickly became clear with European contracts being cancelled or put on ice and international students withdrawing from higher education courses.
Having called a referendum for party political reasons, David Cameron resigned quickly as Prime Minister. His replacement has appointed a cabinet that is right wing likely to continue the failed austerity policies of his predecessor. Wales has been told that it cannot expect to receive funding from the UK Government to replace that provided by the EU. Promises by Wales’ leading Brexiteer – the Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies (whose party slipped from second to third in Welsh elections in May) – that Wales would receive £490m from the UK appear to be unmet.
In such circumstances, with the arrogance of traditional politics and political elites letting down so many people in such a short space of time, it is unsurprising that there is a strong swing towards the alternatives. A recent poll by You Gov for the Wales Governance Centre showed that 35% of people in Wales would back an independent Wales within the European Union. That, of course, has always been Plaid Cymru’s position. We see Wales as a proud inheritor of a European tradition. We recognise that, according to the principle of subsidiarity, international issues can only be solved by international co-operation, whether that be the prevention of conflict, the challenge of climate change and preserving our environment or securing the multi-national framework required to prevent global capital from avoiding its responsibility to pay tax and treat workers with the respect they deserve.
The result of the referendum must, of course, be accepted. The people were asked a question and the verdict must be respected, however much we may disagree with it. However, that does not mean that the counter-arguments cannot be made for a better society, and be made strongly.
That is the position that we will campaign upon in coming years. Plaid Cymru will be working for Wales and for European co-operation, promoting our mutual interests. As a bilingual country that supports a social model of society we want to keep our prized links with Europe – our freedom to travel, to study, to work; our academic co-operation and research and development; our food and energy security – and our mutual responsibility for people and the planet.
Events in the past few weeks show that anything is possible. We believe that an independent Wales within the European Union remains the best outcome for Wales. Our task now is to show the people of Wales that it is their best outcome too.
By Jill Evans MEP, Plaid Cymru