Can I thank UKIP for yet another debate on Brexit? I’m afraid that as the resolution stands, it’s full of inaccuracies and, once again, demonstrates UKIP’s lack of awareness about how the EU actually works. It paints this idealistic utopian vision of the future in Wales for a land full of milk and honey, where those pesky outsiders can’t tell us what to do and they’ll stop ordering us about.
So, here we go: paragraph 1(a) stipulates that Welsh people will have more control over their own lives’ and will stop those unelected EU technocrats from ruining everything. Well, that could be true—a woman alone in a desert has absolute total control over her life, but it’s not much value and it’s not much of a life. That’s the kind of control that Neil Hamilton would like to see in Wales.
With the publication of the repeal Bill, now called the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, we know that Welsh people will actually have a quieter voice than the one we had when we were allowed a seat at the table in a rotational system when agriculture and other devolved matters were discussed in Brussels.
What about this ridiculous line about ‘unelected technocrats in Brussels’? The Commission only has the power to propose laws. It’s the European Council—the elected Governments of the EU, overseen by elected Members of the European Parliament—who decide if these laws pass. To be fair, he probably isn’t aware of that, because a lot of the UKIP MEPs don’t even bother to turn up to those committees where those decisions are made.
Right, let’s move on to paragraph 1(b): Brexit will ‘create more prosperity for agriculture’ and the rural community. Well, I’d love to think that that was true, but he must know that of all the sectors in the economy where it’ll be difficult to gain tariff-free frictionless access to the EU market, it’s agriculture that is the most exposed—not even Norway has this kind of access. You know what, you can throw as many subsidies as you want at farmers, but if they have no market for their goods, it’ll be game over if they face anything like World Trade Organization tariffs of 84 per cent for cattle and 46 per cent for lamb. He suggests that we’ll be able to expand into our home market—not if we see a flood of food from Argentina, New Zealand and all these other places he wants to have deals with.
Just as an aside, the Tories are suggesting that they’re going to be able to cut red tape. Really? Do you not understand anything about the customs union? You have to fill in more forms—country of origin forms. That’s your suggestion.
On paragraph 2, empowering local people to make policies in rural areas, perhaps the leader of UKIP might like to read my proposed economic development plan for rural Wales, where we called for that bottom-up approach to economic development. He says that major planning decisions should be decided upon locally, in particular relating to windfarms. But, it must be understood that, for example, in mid Wales, with the development of a reinforced electricity grid to host the windfarms—where that was proposed and effectively rejected by the local population—there are real consequences to these decisions, as the First Minister outlined to Russell George yesterday. There’s no point bleating on about wanting an industrial estate to create jobs if you can’t get power into the area. I think people need to think hard about how they’re going to get around in future when there’s this shift to electric vehicles, but there won’t be enough electricity to charge those electric vehicles in mid Wales.
On paragraph (b), rural schools, the education Secretary has made it clear that she will put measures in place to protect small rural schools.
On paragraph (c), of course there’s a need to facilitate more affordable rural houses, but, having spoken recently to private housebuilders, who tell me that it’s simply not economically viable for them to construct in parts of rural Wales, we need to get a much better grasp of how the market works in rural Wales. The answers aren’t straightforward; they’re complex.
On paragraph (d), giving greater priority to the provision of NHS facilities in smaller rural towns, of course, it seems like a really easy statement to support, but I invite Mr Hamilton to try and find a paediatric consultant to come and work in Withybush hospital, or a GP to become a partner in St David’s Surgery. I am sure that the local health board will bite your hand off if you can find somebody.