Brexit and Wales

As the recriminations into the Brexit vote gather momentum among the political parties, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that 52% of voters in Wales are now presumably punching the air in delight at the prospect of life outside of the EU.

Considering that 35 out of Wales' 40 MPS, the leaders of the two main parties and the majority of assembly members wanted to remain, it was a spectacular example of the public revolting against the wishes of most of the political class.

There are two glaring paradoxes from the result in Wales? Why did do many people vote to leave the EU when their communities had benefited from EU money? And why did so many people believe immigration was an issue when they lived in communities with some of the lowest rates in the UK?

In answer to the first, it was striking how little recognition, let alone positive feelings, there were to the EU.

The billions invested in Wales simply failed to register. One reason may be that the Welsh government largely took the credit for any schemes supported by EU cash, from Jobs Growth Wales to the various road projects and community schemes it funded.


Or maybe it was because the EU money failed to lift economic deprivation levels, it actually didn't make any tangible impact to people's lives. There was also the Leave claim that it was our money anyway, and that did appear to have gained some traction.

Either way, the Leave campaign easily neutralised the arguments that Wales would lose out in vital funding from Brussels. People clearly didn't value it otherwise they would have voted in a different way, particularly in the south Wales valleys.

And then there was immigration. I went to a number of isolated communities in Wales during the referendum campaign and it was striking that the more remote the location, the greater the fear of immigration.

This has now become a well-documented phenomenon. Some on the remain side have put it down to job insecurity, and there may be something in this.

If you're in a relatively low-paid job with limited career options, then the prospect of cheap Turkish or Romanian workers undercutting you in the labour market is something you take seriously.


I lost count of the number of times people would begin by telling me that they weren't racist but they were worried about the number of jobs being taken and benefits claimed by migrants.

The prominent Leave campaigner Chris Grayling acknowledged the tiny rates of immigration in many of these communities when I caught up with him during one particularly noisy rally in Caerphilly, but said they were addressing the potential spike in immigration that could happen in the former industrial areas in Wales over the next 20 years.

I also witnessed at first hand the real force of political momentum. I've broadcast this a number of times already, but it was clear that when Remain, and Labour campaigners in particular, got into full swing, the fight had already been lost and too many people had made up their minds.

Not only were the door-knockers met with indifference, they faced downright hostility from residents who were in no mood to be told that there was too much to lose and control of our borders wasn't a problem.

When I went out with Leave campaigners, the contrast in the reception on the doorstep was noticeably warmer.


With hindsight, it must now be considered a huge political miscalculation by many of the parties backing Remain to have closed down any debate on the EU during the assembly campaign.

The parties want nice neat demarcations but the public don't see it that way. As we saw in the general election last year when the devolved health service became arguably the main subject, politicians don't get to choose what the public want to focus on.

And they absolutely did want to focus on the EU referendum with a turnout of more than 70% in Wales, compared to 45% in the assembly election.

So what next? The time-line for negotiations now has to be established.

The key point will be whether companies who export to the EU will face tariffs in future. The EU accounts for nearly half of everything we export.


As things stand we don't pay tariffs because we are in the single market, and as a result have to accept the free movement of labour.

The free movement of labour is now off the agenda for the UK so presumably we will be booted out of the single market and will have to face tariffs.

But then presumably if that happens the UK will threaten to impose tariffs on all EU imports to the UK, and we take around 16% of all EU exports, including around a fifth of cars made in Germany.

The Brexiteers' calculation is that the British tariff threat will cause such concern among European manufactures who are reliant on the UK market that it will force everyone round a table. In other words, trade wins over everything.

That prompted the inevitable call from Remainers: "Why take the risk?"

Well the risk has been taken, and it will be up to the quality of the negotiating team to take as much risk out of the equation as possible.

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