Making sense with a year to go

Nick Servini
Political editor, Wales
@NickServinion Twitter

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Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Theresa May met textile workers in Ayr, Scotland, as she began a whistle-stop tour of the UK

You will not hear anything new about the Brexit process but with exactly a year to go, this is a big day in the calendar to give a platform for politicians to choose the areas they want to highlight - and for the rest of us to try to make sense of it all.

Let's start with Theresa May. The prime minister could have done all sorts of things today- she could have gone to a bank in central London to reassure the cash cow that is the UK's financial services sector or gone to a West Midlands factory to talk up prospects in the industrial heartland.

But instead she is embarking on a tour of the UK nations with a message that the world's most successful union is not based in Brussels, but here in the UK.

As well as being packed full of symbolism, this is also more than a nod to the current stand-off between the devolved administrations and the UK Government.


I am not sure whether any of us expected it but the main Brexit debate in Wales in recent months has been dominated by wading through the long grass of the devolution settlement.

It is a strange world that at a time of seismic change like Brexit, some of our politicians have been obsessing about who is in charge of food labelling and fertiliser regulations.

That sounds flippant but that is exactly how it must appear to the public looking at the constitutional stand off from afar.

At a time when existential questions have been asked about the future of the British economy in the context of Brexit, many I suspect would give the answer "who cares?"

But the point is that these powers have been tucked away in Brussels with no questions asked for decades and now the control of them has to be sorted out in a way that keeps everyone happy.

After all, if Theresa May cannot prevent a row in her own backyard, what hope up against 27 EU nations?

So there is the added significance of this being an extra test for a prime minister who has more than enough of them already.

Money matters

An added point on powers coming under an intense spotlight after being tucked away in Brussels, is that the same applies to the money as well.

The cash for agricultural subsidies has been hidden under the EU's protective Common Agricultural Policy blanket for years, and now it will come under the full glare of those desperate for more funding to head to schools and hospitals.

But back to the here and now. Theresa May drops in on Barry as part of the Welsh leg of her journey.

If she wants to deliver the message of Brexit working for everyone, it is as good a place as any, with the Vale of Glamorgan narrowly voting Remain in Leave-voting Wales on a massive turnout of 76%.

The most difficult question to gauge is where the people of Wales are on the question of Brexit with a year to go.

There are some, including the Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, who believe many feel the day-to-day issues affecting their lives are being ignored by government, as the withdrawal process soaks up so much effort.

Waiting game

For others, the priority is clarity. There are mixed messages from businesses about future investment decisions.

By and large, companies have been keeping their heads down and reverting to the default corporate setting of saying very little about what is really going on in boardrooms across Wales.

There has been positive news, such as the decision by Toyota to invest in future engine production at Deeside, but there have also been indications of a wait-and-see approach by firms.

But almost without exception, businesses want more information about what kind of deal is around the corner and Theresa May has not been in a position to tell them, and that was reflected in the message from First Minister Carwyn Jones.

More broadly, my experience is while there may be disillusionment and no shortage of confusion, there is still plenty of engagement with what is happening, which means the divisions appear as deep-set as ever.

And, frankly, a well-meaning whistle-stop tour of the UK by the prime minister is not going to alter any of that as we all contemplate life outside of the EU from the 29th March 2019.

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