Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd04/12/2018
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on this afternoon's agenda is questions to the First Minister. I have received notification, under Standing Order 12.58, that the leader of the house, Julie James, will answer questions today on behalf of the First Minister, and the first question is from Dai Lloyd.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on improvements to older people's social services in Wales? OAQ53040
Older people with care and support needs deserve to have those needs fully met. That is why we have allocated an additional £10 million this winter to social services to drive service improvement and deliver better outcomes for older people across Wales.
Thank you very much for that response. Naturally, tackling loneliness and isolation is one of the stated goals of your Government. However, financial cuts made by your Government to local authority budgets mean that councils the length and breadth of Wales are finding it more and more difficult to safeguard front-line services, such as social services for older people. We hear about the closure of day centres, individuals facing higher payments for services, reductions in meals-on-wheels provision, and a reduction in befriending services. When will your warm words as a Government, therefore, on tackling loneliness become firm commitments in the form of funding for our local authorities?
The Member makes a very important point. And that is why, next year, local authorities' social care services will receive an additional £50 million—£20 million of that as part of the local government revenue support grant, and the remaining £30 million as a specific grant from the health and social services budget. Specifically, as well, we've looked at digital inclusion issues around older people, and we've announced a £6 million programme specifically to look at healthcare service needs to ensure that we do get better digital skills amongst older people, as there is definitely a role to play for digitally enabled citizenry in that regard.
Leader of the house, concerns of recent reports from Betsi Cadwaladr health board that one of the key risks to the delivery of their winter resilience planning is the ability to secure a sufficient number of domiciliary care staff, particularly over the Christmas and new year period, to support the delivery of their own contingency plan are very worrying indeed. Now, we all appreciate the health and social care staff who work tirelessly to care for our nation and those who put their own family life on hold over the festive period to staff our services. However, considering that there are already workforce pressures in these areas, it is likely that the existing workforce will experience even greater pressure, which could have a direct impact on the quality of care people receive and on those delivering the care. Now, it is vital that services are staffed safely to support our vulnerable people at home and to reduce avoidable hospital admissions. What work are you doing, or your Government, exactly, with the Betsi Cadwaladr health board, and our local authorities, to ensure that there is resilience built in these areas to ensure services are safely staffed across the festive period and that we do not see anyone actually falling through the net at this particular time of year?
As I just said, despite the austerity budget that we've had, in the ninth year of austerity so far, we have been able to put an additional £50 million in—£20 million through the local government revenue support grant, and the remaining £30 million as a specific grant from health and social services—in order to ensure the sort of resilience that the Member discusses. Also, the Cabinet Secretary recently made his statement on winter resilience in this regard, and we do work very hard indeed to make sure that, given the austerity that we've been suffering all this time, we have sufficient resource to put in. That's why we fund health and social care at a higher per capita rate than England does, for example, for exactly the reasons that she outlined.
Leader of the house, last week, the Welsh Government announced an additional £15 million funding to help increase joint working between local authorities and health boards to support adults with care needs in their homes. Leader of the house, what difference will this additional money make to avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions, returning patients back to their homes, and to aid the quality of life for carers throughout Wales?
The Member is quite right; that's exactly what the additional money is for. Just to give you two examples, in Western Bay, a £5 million investment has supported a range of intermediate care services. So far this year, over 900 hospital admissions have been avoided and 10,000 bed days saved, resulting in over £1 million in cost avoidance. And, in Cwm Taf, for example, over £1.8 million to continue to develop the 'stay well at home' service. As a result of that service, emergency admissions for patients aged 61 and over has significantly reduced. Last year, for example, 13,000 bed days were avoided, which equates to £1.6 million in financial savings. You can see that the investment pays dividends all round, and that's why the Welsh Government is committed to that kind of dual care.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the role that sheltered housing can play in the future provision of high-quality housing for older people? OAQ53061
Yes. Sheltered housing is a well-established housing model for older people in Wales. It's important that all accommodation continues to meet people's needs, demands and aspirations, and, to support this, we are making record investment in housing of £1.7 billion, including providing affordable homes specifically for older people.
Thank you, leader of the house. Bron Afon community housing are currently consulting on the closure of three sheltered housing complexes in my constituency—Glanwern House, Pen-y-Bryn, and the Beeches. As you can appreciate, this is causing a huge amount of anxiety for the residents in those complexes and is a particular worry in the run-up to Christmas. Would you agree with me that, although housing associations have a duty to plan for future housing need, their paramount duty is to their current tenants? And what steps will you take to ensure that the needs of the older people affected by this consultation will be properly protected?
I understand the Member's concern. We do absolutely agree that tenant well-being and security is of paramount importance. I understand that that's your primary concern, as you've just said, and that was the reason for your meeting with Rebecca Evans, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration, about this issue last week. We are being assured by officials that the 73 potentially affected tenants are being kept at the heart of Bron Afon's process in consulting on the matter. I also am told that no final decision has yet been made by Bron Afon's board, but, if the preferred option of closure and redevelopment of the three sheltered schemes was to be opted for, for example, then a full tenant consultation would then continue to take place. I think the Member's absolutely right—we have to make sure that tenants are at the front and centre of any such consultation and that their needs continue to be robustly met throughout that process. We're advised that tenants will be rehoused within the local area, wherever possible, identifying suitable alternative accommodation, and so on, should that option go ahead, but I understand that no final decision has yet been made.
Cabinet Secretary, can I commend the Welsh Government for commissioning the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University to look at housing needs of older people and other general care needs? They found that 18 local authorities in Wales expect an increase in the general housing needs of older people; 16 local authorities expected an increase in demand for extra-care housing for older people; 14 local authorities expected an increase in demand for age-designated housing; and then eight local authorities expect an increase in demand for sheltered housing for older people. What we need is really good, deep data and a coherent housing strategy for older people. So, I commend you for doing the research; now we need to really see some sort of action plan for the future.
I don't disagree with the Member. Sheltered housing, as he says, is a well-established approach to older people's housing, but it is one of a suite of interventions and accommodations that are possible. One of the purposes of doing the research is to do just that. And, actually, more generally in the Government, we are looking across the piece at what our data sets are able to tell us in terms of using them for better service planning, and that is very much a part of the approach going forward.
Leader of the house, good-quality sheltered housing can play a vital role in ensuring older people remain independent and can help tackle loneliness and isolation. Providing good-quality sheltered housing can also help ensure that family homes become available as older people downsize. Recent studies have also found that utilising sensors in sheltered accommodation can help predict and avoid falls, reducing reliance on our NHS. So, leader of the house, what steps are your Government taking to ensure that we have sufficient sheltered housing to meet future demand and that such accommodation utilises the latest health technologies?
The Member makes a series of good points there. Since 2002, with the support of £187 million, 43 extra-care schemes have been completed, providing over 2,000 homes for older people, where they can maintain their independence and avoid the need to move to residential care or admission to hospital. We're also investing £105 million capital in the integrated care fund to develop accommodation-led solutions to health and social care. That will support older people to remain living independently in their communities, and, every year, we invest £106 million to support local authorities and housing associations to improve the quality of the social housing stock in Wales through the Welsh quality housing standard.
In particular, though, the Member mentions technological advances that are of interest. We have a number of schemes around Wales, which I've had the privilege to go and see, using something called LoRaWAN technology, which allows you—obviously, with the tenant's permission—to collect data around things like whether the lights have been turned on or whether a kettle has been boiled and so on, and allows you to be alerted to the fact that the person's pattern of movement has changed and, therefore, somebody can call much more speedily than if you were just doing that as a routine check. So, I'm very impressed so far with some of the schemes that we've looked at, and we've been supporting them from our digital budgets, actually, in taking forward such innovative schemes. We're looking forward to being able to mainstream some of that technology in the very foreseeable future.
Questions now from the party leaders. The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. Leader of the house, a month ago, you told us that a meaningful and binding vote on the 14-mile M4 relief road would be taken here this week. Yet, hiding behind the inspectors' report, which your Government received in September, you remain paralysed by division among your backbenchers, by the opposition of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and by the First Minister's seeming inability or unwillingness to make this call. Doesn't this prevarication over the biggest investment decision your Government has ever had to make typify the gridlock at the heart of your Government?
On the contrary, I think your question shows a complete lack of understanding of the seriousness of a quasi-judicial decision. Llywydd, I have outlined to this house the constitutional position on this matter several times. I'm more than happy to do it again. It is absolutely paramount that the legal advice received at the same time as the local inquiry is what any First Minister making that decision takes into account. That advice is not yet ready. It is important that the advice is prepared correctly. Speed is not of the essence; accuracy is of the essence. When that advice has been prepared, the First Minister will be able to take that preliminary decision on the traffic Orders and the acquisition of land Orders, and then, after that, we will be able to look at the affordability issues, and it will be at that point that a vote can take place in this place. This is not now going to happen under this particular administration, but I said only last week that I would be recommending to any successor of mine that that commitment should be honoured, and I've been assured by all three candidates that it will be.
Leader of the house, are you able to say now, if you feel comfortable, that the by-now £1.7 billion investment proposed for the relief road will largely benefit England? Let me quote you some statistics—they're contained in your own Government's wider economic impact assessment of the M4 corridor around Newport, published in 2016. It predicted that, by 2037, the relief road would have the biggest extra annual impact on GVA within Wales, as we might expect, in Newport and Monmouthshire—£12.3 million. However, for Somerset and south Gloucestershire, the impact was larger—£13.5 million. For Cardiff and the Vale it was only £1.3 million. Even for the Gwent Valleys it was only £1.3 million, and for the centre of the Valleys it was a paltry £0.8 million. Yet, for Bristol, it's £7 million—more than all of those put together. Are you proud that the biggest investment you will ever make, and for which Welsh taxpayers will be paying decades into the future for, by your own Government's admission, will benefit England more than Wales?
As I said, this is not the point in time at which the Assembly should make any of its opinions known on those or any other issues. There is a process that needs to be gone through. There is a very strict statutory process for what can be taken into account in making the Orders. I've outlined it, I think, ad nauseam, it's fair to say, Llywydd. I can do it again, if you want me to. This is not the time to discuss the issues that the Member raises. I don't know how I can make that any clearer.
The decision you're referring to is a planning decision. I was asking you simply whether you think it's right that we are saddling future generations in Wales not just with a huge massive negative legacy in terms of the environment, but whether we should actually be using our own money to give a competitive advantage to the nation next door. Now, leader of the house, can I suggest a rather neat and exceedingly cheap solution to the whole problem? That's simply to partially close the junction 26 High Cross interchange next to the Brynglas tunnels. This would mean closing the eastbound slip road and the westbound exit slip road. At one stroke, it's estimated this would reduce the traffic through the tunnels by as much as 40 per cent. At the same time, we could use some of the money saved to help Newport become a less car-dependent city. Do you agree that an up-to-date study into this idea, and, indeed, complementary changes to the road network south of Newport, and, crucially, investment in our public transport network would be a good way out of the M4 impasse in which you are clearly stuck?
So, again, I don't think we are at an impasse. We're at a particular point in a decision-making process that is extremely complex. The Member's pointing out some of the complexities. I have not seen the report of the local planning inspector. That report needs to be accompanied by the appropriate advice. That needs to be taken by the appropriate decision maker, and, at that point, I'm sure that Members will be able to put forward a number of points. He's raised some of them today. There are points from across the Chamber, I'm sure, that will come forward in the debate at the appropriate time. Now is not the appropriate time.
Leader of the opposition—Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. Leader of the house, is Wales building enough homes?
So, as you know, we have a large number of commitments on housing that the Government is extremely proud of. We've taken steps, for example, to prioritise social housing, support for the most vulnerable, and protecting our existing social stock. I, personally, am very proud that this is a Government that took steps to end the right to buy, ensuring we do not lose any more precious affordable housing in Wales. I come from a council estate in north Swansea that has largely turned from social housing into really very poor private sector housing. That is a step that I abhor, and which the Conservative Government foisted on Wales. I'm very proud we've been able to turn back that tide.
Well, clearly, Wales is not building enough homes, leader of the house. Let me remind you that your Government has been responsible for housing policies since 2006, yet what you have done so far is completely inadequate. The new housing completion rate consistently falls short of the targets set by the Welsh Government with just 6,000 homes being built in the last 12 months: 19 per cent fewer than the year before, as opposed to the target of 8,700. Now, according to Professor Holman, a leading expert on housing who your Government commissioned to look into this issue, Wales needs an additional 12,000 new homes per year between 2011 and 2031 to avoid people living in unsatisfactory housing.
Now, in 2015, the Federation of Master Builders argued that Wales needs 14,000 more homes a year to keep up with demand. Whatever projection you take, it is quite clear that the Welsh Government is falling very, very far behind anything like an adequate rate of house building. As a matter of fact, the last time any Government met the real demand for new homes in Wales was in the mid-1990s by a Conservative Government. You've been responsible for housing policy for the last 12 years. Do you agree that you are failing to build enough suitable homes to house our nation now and in the future?
Well, I couldn't disagree with him more. We've committed to deliver 20,000 affordable homes during this term of Government, and we're confident this will be delivered in partnership with the housing sector. That investment includes our support for Help to Buy, through which our £460 million investment has thus far helped over 17,800 applicants to access home ownership. We recognise the potential of the small and medium-sized enterprise sector to build more if they have access to the finance needed, and, therefore, the Development Bank of Wales provides £70 million for SMEs through our property development fund and stalled sites fund.
I will say to him this: if you think that the solution to building more homes is to have a bonfire of development control regulations across Wales, then I could not disagree with you more, and it's very obvious, if you look at the evidence, that your Tory colleagues on local planning authorities also agree with me and not you.
Leader of the house, you're not just failing on home building; your anti-aspirational policy to scrap the right to buy has removed a vital rung from the property ladder for many families here in Wales. Even for first-time buyers, very few will actually benefit from your land transaction tax relief policy because the average house price in Wales now is higher than the £180,000 threshold. You have failed to bring into use Wales's 27,000 or more empty homes, 4,057 of which are social homes, and you are failing to unlock the potential of Wales's small and medium-sized construction firms, with just five companies in Wales building 80 per cent of our new homes. Now, yesterday, my colleague David Melding put forward an ambitious plan for home building here in Wales: to see 100,000 homes built over the next 10 years in Wales, to give the housing crisis the priority it needs by creating a Cabinet Secretary for housing and planning, and to scrap the land transaction tax for first-time buyers on properties up to £250,000. Leader of the house, will you now endorse these proposals and work with us to truly reignite house building and home ownership here in Wales?
I read with interest the proposals. They seem to me to—. The red tape that was mentioned therein is, of course, the precious protection for our green belts around our cities, and protection for our beautiful countryside. I do not think that scrapping planning and development control is the way forward. I do think, as I said, that maximising the number of homes that can be built through investment means access to decent finance, which your Government, at UK level, has singularly failed to be able to deliver through any of the means that it's tried.
I do also think that—. You didn't mention anything about social or affordable housing—no surprises there. I can tell you now that the large majority of people who have bought their own homes, certainly in the area that I come from—those homes are now in the hands of private rented landlords. That is not a route onto the housing ladder; that is a route down into poor-quality housing, which this Government has fought very hard to maintain throughout the sectors. I don't think you're on good grounds here, because a Government, at UK level, that failed to say that houses should be fit for human habitation is not a good look for any party.
Leader of the UKIP group—Gareth Bennett.
Diolch, Llywydd. A few weeks ago, I tasked the First Minister with some questions on the issue of working from home. I think it's a valid issue for us to be talking about here in the Assembly, because there is the ever-increasing problem of congested roads, which, of course, is part of what Adam was talking about earlier. So, we do have to look at ways of getting traffic off the roads. Now, you have a personal input into this, leader of the house, in your role overseeing the digital broadband roll-out across Wales, although, of course, you're here in a different capacity today—I understand that. But, thinking about those things, are you optimistic that your digital broadband roll-out could lead to much greater numbers of people being able to work from home in the near future?
Yes, absolutely. We've got superfast broadband to over 733,000 premises across Wales—that's broadband at over 24 Mbps for around 60,000 of those and over 30 Mbps for the vast majority. The average speed in that roll-out is around 80.5 of fibre to cabinet and up in the three hundreds for fibre to the premises. Wales now has the largest penetration of fibre-to-the-premises properties anywhere in western Europe. We have a good strategy for getting to the remaining properties, including our excellent community strategies, one of which has just won a pan-European award for the community effort that they put in, backed by the Welsh Government's ultrafast voucher scheme. So, the simple answer to his question is: yes, I'm very pleased that the broadband roll-out is happening.
It needs to be accompanied with rather more than just the infrastructure, though, and we follow it with a business exploitation programme, which has been hugely successful in getting SMEs to exploit the connectivity that we've provided to them. A recent report by a well-known university of ours shows SMEs very startlingly the difference in their bottom line if they take full advantage of that new access and if they don't, and we have a business exploitation programme specifically to allow that. We've also been pushing, via the Fair Work Commission, a series of twenty-first century working practices based on outputs and not hours worked, and those will all contribute to people being able to work more frequently from home.
There are a range of other measures that can be put in place to assist people to work from home. I think the Llywydd is going to be impatient with me if I start to enumerate them here, as it would take me about an hour.
That sounds encouraging. I may give you another opportunity. Now, obviously, the point you made was, of course, not just infrastructure, so I was glad to hear about your business exploitation programme. Thinking specifically about the issue of getting companies to encourage more flexible working, and particularly working from home, are there ways in which you believe the Welsh Government could be offering incentives, such as financial incentives, for instance, to companies in Wales to encourage more working from home? Could the Government set targets for this and offer incentives to companies to reach those targets?
Yes, we've explored all of those options for twenty-first century working as part of our economic action plan, underneath our 'Prosperity for All' overarching strategy. We're in close communication with a large number of our anchor and regionally important companies around different working practices. I have to say, I've seen some excellent examples of that around Wales, and we have some real flag wavers for that kind of practice. We also have a scheme for the Welsh Government of distributed offices and working from home. We've invested a considerable amount of money in modern IT kit to enable that, and I'm very pleased that in this we're a very serious role model.
Thank you for the details of that initiative. Now, another thing I know that you have been involved with in the past is travel plan co-ordinators, who were supposed to be working with employers across Wales to encourage sustainable travel, and they were supposed to be encouraging things like car sharing and video-conferencing as well as flexible working and working from home. I have struggled to find much information on these travel plan co-ordinators. There does seem to be a lack of information in the public domain on the success, or otherwise, of this scheme so far. So, could you do anything to enlighten us on this, either today or, failing that, perhaps on a date in the near future?
Yes, we're looking at regional co-ordinators across Wales to work with clusters of companies to make sure that we get the best economic impact for Welsh Government spending, and indeed for the spending that the companies themselves put in place, and that has a range of items associated with it, including, for example, for some tourist industries, sharing back-office functions, because it's clear that an HR function is very difficult to sustain in a lifestyle company. So, we've had extensive conversations around Wales with different clusters of companies about taking forward twenty-first century working practices. I'm happy to provide the Member with more—if he wants to write in and tell me exactly what he wants, I'm happy to provide him with more information, but there is a very large range of initiatives in place.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the timetable for making a decision on the M4 relief road? OAQ53033
Yes. Consideration of the inquiry report is ongoing, to inform a decision as to whether to make the statutory Orders for the scheme. A final investment decision would follow on from any making of the statutory Orders.
But consideration isn't ongoing by the First Minister. You refer to his following a strict statutory process, but where in that statutory process does it say that the inspector's report should be intercepted by lawyers and officials in Welsh Government, and withheld from the First Minister for a period, now, of two to three months? Doesn't that suggest there is something wrong with this process? The statute requires the First Minister to take the decision, and to do so on the basis of the inspector's report. Why has he not done so?
Because, as I have said ad nauseam in this Chamber, we are waiting on the legal advice to go with that, to ensure that we get that process accurate. Timing is not of the essence here; accuracy is. I really don't know how I can make this any clearer. I have repeated it until—. Well, I can't believe that anybody hasn't heard me saying it. So, there is a process we're in. We need the legal advice to go with the inspector's report. When that legal advice is correct and accurate to the satisfaction of the lawyers giving it, it will be put to the decision maker to take the decision, taking into account relevant considerations and not taking into account irrelevant decisions. I've said this—. I don't, Llywydd, know any other way of making it any plainer.
Given the fact that you feel that the Government doesn't have a role in making any comment on the delay, can you make any comment on the work that your officials can do behind the scenes, as it were, whilst there is this delay, in order to look at alternative solutions?
Well, I don't think there is a delay; I think they are going through the process. When the process is completed—. The process is what it is. People can use all kinds of emotive language around it, but in the end, we're in a very quasi-judicial process. It inexorably takes its time to get there. I just do not know what else I can say to make that more plain.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the regeneration of Pontypridd town centre? OAQ53051
Yes. The First Minister recently visited Pontypridd and witnessed the significant progress being made in regenerating the town. These are important town centre schemes, which continue to benefit from Welsh Government support and investment.
Well, thank you for that answer. Over the past few years, Welsh Government resources have enabled the Taff Vale precinct to be purchased, support for the business bid in Pontypridd town centre to allow the regeneration of businesses and give them a greater say in the operation of the town, the work with the European funding, the lido, the pedestrianisation, the bypass, and crucially, I think, the decision to move Transport for Wales in there—the town is now regenerating at a pace, and there are further plans for that regeneration. Now, it seems this is partly based on the actual partnership of Welsh Government, the local council and local representatives working together for regeneration. Bearing in mind the issue around the regeneration of our town centres, what lessons do you think there are that can be learned from the way in which Pontypridd is now regenerating and beginning to become a very vibrant, modern town with all sorts of new businesses and opportunities, for other towns in Wales?
Yes, I think it’s an excellent example. I had the privilege of being there when the first bulldozer arrived on site, with the Member himself, and we had one of those delightful photographs, Llywydd, where we're all wearing unsuitable personal protective equipment for the purposes of the photograph. The Member, I'm sure, looked lovely in it; it's not a good look for myself. [Laughter.] It’s been a phenomenal success since then. At that point in time there was an eyesore in the middle of the town, and it was a very poor-looking centre. But now, it’s completely different. I think that that's absolutely right.
And the Member's right to say that this is largely because we've had a targeted regeneration investment programme, which commenced earlier this year—a £100 million capital investment programme running for three years to support regionally prioritised regeneration projects such as this. Pontypridd is identified as a regional priority area, and officials are working very closely with the local authority on a number of projects. So, I think that collaborative approach is essential to understand the place, if you like, because one size certainly doesn't fit all, and you can see that in Pontypridd and other areas that have been successful.
I'm very fond myself of the BID initiative—Swansea was one of the first business improvement districts. It's been very successful in pulling small businesses together across the piece, and they're to be recommended for town centres that don't yet have them.
We've got a town centre loans fund of £27.595 million currently supporting town centre regeneration in 17 different areas of Wales. Rhondda Cynon Taf has got £1.8 million from the fund for the towns of Pontypridd and Aberdare. And we’re also supporting investment in public libraries via the museums, archives and libraries division’s capital programme. RCT got a transformation fund grant, for example, for the new Taff Vale library in Pontypridd.
What’s nice about that is that it’s a mixed development. So, you have some office buildings there, you've got some regeneration, you've got a nice feeling of buzz around the city, you've got some public services, you've got a nice feeling of life coming back into the town centre. So, I think the Member’s absolutely right: it is a very good project to show what can happen when you take into account the particular character with a place-based approach.
Leader of the house, in the Chancellor’s recent budget, he made available £900 million to alleviate business rates in England. In Pontypridd and other town centres across my electoral region, business rates come up time and time again as being an obstacle to regenerate those high streets and give confidence to people to invest in them. The Chancellor’s initiative of £900 million will see businesses with a rateable value of up to £51,000 benefit from this money over two years. What assessment has the Government taken here of the consequentials that will flow from that announcement, and will it make that money available to businesses here in Wales to alleviate the burden of business rates that are so cumbersome on the development of town centres the length and breadth of South Wales Central?
Well, we agree that business rates are one of the main levers that you can use as a Government to make sure that SMEs take their rightful place. We have a series of made-in-Wales schemes for that, which are very generous. And I don't think that one size fits all, so what we need to do is look in Wales, as I say, at a place-based approach, and we need to give local authorities the discretion to ensure that the rateable regime in their area fits the place that they're looking at. So, for example, what might be okay in the centre of Cardiff or Swansea will certainly not be okay in Taff Vale or Pontypridd, just to use two examples. And so, I'm very keen that we look to see what discretion we can have in the rates system in order to build the place-based approach that we know works.
5. What assessment has the First Minister made of successes in the health service in North Wales since 2009? OAQ53064
The First Minister continually assesses the performance, successes and challenges of delivering health services across Wales. In north Wales, we've made significant investment to deliver improvements and we are clear on the further work needed to deliver services fit for the future.
Well, I hope that you are clear as to what needs to be done, because the service is in special measures, and has been for some three and a half years now, under the direct control of the Cabinet Secretary. In that time, we have seen the Tawel Fan scandal and mental health services in north Wales. We have seen the C. difficile scandal and a number of people dying from that condition during that period. We have seen community hospitals closing. We have seen A&E on its knees across north Wales. We have also seen a crisis in GP services, and we've seen the Government taking far too long when it comes to training more doctors and nurses. With a record like that, why should the people of north Wales have confidence in the ability of this Government to plan the service that they deserve?
Well, under special measures we've provided significant investment and support, which has resulted in progress being made in a number of areas, including maternity services being de-escalated as a special measure concern in February. There's been continued investment to ensure improved access and healthcare for people across north Wales. These include, for example, £17.9 million for the SuRNICC that was opened in September 2018, following a recommendation from the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health that there should be one centralised site for neonatal intensive care in north Wales, and, for example also, the emergency and urgent care department at Ysbyty Gwynedd has received £163 million for significant refurbishment work. There are a number of investments made across the piece, and we've continued to support Betsi Cadwaladr as it comes out of special measures. We've made sure that the investment is there, and we've supported the board in order to ensure that we support the board in providing for the health of its population and in providing care closer to home where at all possible.
Despite years of warnings by the North Wales Local Medical Committee, general practice in Wales received the lowest percentage share of the NHS budget of any part of the UK last year. That's the key reason why so many practices in north Wales have closed. How will you address that share of funding gap, as opposed to funding gap, and divert provision to deliver services, bringing people who require care and support and the people who provide support closer together, to provide social, emotional and medical care for people at the point of need, such as the Quay to Well-being co-operative led by Dr Anthony Downes in Connah's Quay, and the Community Care Collaborative community in trust company hub in Wrexham led by Dr Karen Sankey?
Yes, the Member's right: there are good things happening, and as I've said, I've read out a few of the good things that are happening. For example, over £14 million has been provided to develop integrated health and social care centres at Flint, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Tywyn—sorry, Tywyn Memorial Hospital; I should have put my glasses on, Llywydd—providing a range of integrated, co-located health, social care and third sector facilities.
All local authorities in north Wales have seen increases in life expectancy between 2001-03 and 2014-16. For example, the number of full-time equivalent staff directly employed by Betsi Cadwaladr university health board has increased by 5 per cent since 2008, and medical and dental consultants increased by 17.1 per cent. Nurses, midwives and health visitors increased by 3.9 per cent. The most recent statistics show that, at the end of September 2018, there were 6,291 patient pathways over 36 weeks, which is a decrease of 1,000 or 14 per cent compared to August 2018, and a decrease of 2,691 or 30 per cent compared to September 2017. So, we're headed in the right direction and the support is clearly making a significant difference.
6. Will the First Minister outline how the Fair Work Commission will contribute to enhanced employment opportunities in Wales? OAQ53028
Yes, the Fair Work Commission is currently testing the evidence about fair work in Wales. Its recommendations will inform our thinking about how best to take forward our ambition for Wales to be a fair work nation.
Thank you. The Bevan Foundation has described the gig economy in Wales as a triple rip-off that hurts workers, drives up the benefit bill and deprives the state of tax revenues. I know that good-quality work is a key aim within the Welsh Government's economic strategy, and in particular I welcome the establishment of the Fair Work Commission. How will the work of the commission contribute to tackling the most harmful effects of the gig economy?
Yes, the report is an excellent one. The commission has been engaging with a large number and wide range of organisations and individuals as part of its evidence gathering, including the Bevan Foundation that Vikki Howells has highlighted there. We recognise the pernicious effects of the inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts. For those who earn a living through the gig economy, the uncertainty, instability and insecurity under which they work can weigh heavily on their lives. There was a terrible report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission recently around what can happen to people's mental health when they suffer from pernicious debt, and the campaign—I hope everyone in the Chamber has seen, Llywydd—about being careful about the cost of Christmas and telling people where to go for debt advice if they get into some of those difficulties is a very important one as people approach a festival season in which they might struggle to have even the basic necessities of life.
We've asked the commission to very seriously consider all aspects of unfair work and the use of zero-hours contracts, in particular for those very real reasons that the inability to plan or bank on any particular income can have really serious consequences in terms of mental health and debt and anyone's ability to just live their lives as they wish to do. We've asked the commission to report its recommendations in the spring next year, and we expect those to shape our thinking about how we encourage and drive the fair work agenda right across Wales.
Leader of the house, I've just heard your answer, but can you outline what is the working relationship between the Fair Work Commission and the Welsh Government's economic contract and calls to action?
Yes. We've asked the Fair Work Commission to take into account all Government strategy in their work, but they're acting on their own. They're taking evidence at the moment. They're supported by a small secretariat from the Welsh Government, but we've asked them to look across the piece and to say how best that piece can meld together with our current set of priorities and strategies, and what we need to do in order to make that jigsaw best fit.
7. Will the First Minister state what action he's taking to support economic development in Conwy? OAQ53063
Yes. Our 'Prosperity for All' national strategy and economic action plan set out the actions we are taking to support economic development across the whole of Wales.
Thank you. Leader of the house, it is an extremely sad fact that our 100-year-old historic Conwy mussel industry is now on the brink of collapse. Your Government and its decision to enforce the provisions of the Sea Fish Licensing Order 1992, requiring all vessels used to have a costly licence as of 1 September 2017 without any phasing in and without any notice, has now effectively placed those without licences out of employment immediately. And in doing so, there's a huge threat to our mussel industry.
Currently now, there are only two gatherers left and that's now making sure that the purification plant is very close to closure. Putting this into context, there were around 30 vessels in the 1960s and we do have the best beds in Wales in Conwy. Conwy Town Council, thankfully, have decided to offer some financial support, and in a special Conwy County Borough Council meeting last month, the cabinet resolved to explore and support an application by the Conwy Mussels company for a several order.
Leader of the house, this fishery is managed by your Government and is a historic industry. Can you please state what support you will provide to this struggling industry and will you give assurances that if an application for a several order is made, it will not take three to five years? That would be too late; the industry will go. So, please, will you work with your Cabinet and your Government and please save this fishing industry and support that several order for Conwy?
I'm not familiar with some of the statistics the Member has just set out, so if she wants to write in to the Cabinet Secretary, we'll make sure that you get a detailed answer to that.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the performance of the Welsh NHS during his time in office? OAQ53031
Yes. We have focused on the NHS as a priority at a time of austerity impacting on public services. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report, 'Reviews of Health Care Quality: United Kingdom 2016', found quality at the heart of the Welsh health system and highlighted that we prioritise high-quality and patient-centred care.
Leader of the house, many people will disagree with the statement that this particular Government has given sufficient priority to the national health service. Under the leadership of this particular First Minister, the number of individuals that are waiting longer than 36 weeks to receive treatment has increased from zero back in 2009 to 13,500. In that period, the four-hour target for emergency departments has never, ever been met, and the 12-hour target, the number of patients who are breaking that has increased by over 4,000 per cent.
This is not a record of which to be proud and, alongside that, the fact that this is a First Minister who has been the only First Minister or only leader of a Government anywhere in the UK to cut a health service budget is a lamentable performance. Can you, as the leader of the house, assure us that in the next First Minister's in-tray, there will be a note asking for investment in our NHS, not this sort of performance that we've seen in the past?
Well, I think that the Conservatives' ability to divorce their support for an austerity driven political choice at UK level from the effect on the budgets of the Welsh Government is absolutely extraordinary. Llywydd, in terms of our record on the NHS, we continue to see very high reported levels of satisfaction with the Welsh NHS. Our last fundamentals of care survey, for example, showed that 99 per cent of patients felt they were treated with dignity and respect, and 96 per cent were satisfied with the overall care they received. Ninety-three per cent of patients rated their overall care positively in the 2016 cancer patient experience survey, for example.
One of the most crucial outcomes when diagnosed with cancer is survival, and I for one am one of the people who have survived. I've just had my letter saying that I'm five years free of cancer. I'm extremely grateful to the doctors and nurses who worked with me, two of whom were not born in the United Kingdom, and I'm extremely grateful that they chose to come and live and work in Wales. I owe my continued survival to them. I'm pleased to note the continued improvements in one and five-year survival for all cancer patients in Wales. We're very proud of that, and rightly so.
We're leading the way internationally with the Welsh ambulance clinical response model. Ambulance services in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Australia and Canada have now replicated the clinical response model approach pioneered here in Wales. More people are starting the treatment they need within the target time. Over 86 per cent of patients have been waiting less than 26 weeks for treatment in September 2018—3.2 percentage points higher than in September 2017, for example. The number of patients waiting over 36 weeks on an RTT pathway was 31 per cent lower in September 2018, compared to September 2017, and 52 per cent lower than the high of August 2015. On its own measures, England is reporting its worst waiting time on record—18 weeks' performance in England in September 2018 was the worst on record.
Over the last three years, we've invested an additional £130 million, we've significantly cut waiting times across the country, we continue to lower our delayed transfers of care figures—they're lower than the historical levels ever seen in Wales—we've prioritised health spending to ensure the NHS in Wales and the wider care system have the resources necessary, while planning for a long-term and sustainable future. Investment in the NHS in Wales is at a record high. We spend more per head on health than England, with more staff than ever before providing high-quality healthcare across all parts of the NHS. Over the last year, more than 1 million patients attended accident and emergency departments across Wales. Despite pressures in October, eight out of 10 patients had been assessed, treated and discharged from A&E departments within four hours. The typical waiting time in October was two hours and 18 minutes from arrival until admission, transfer or discharge.
Llywydd, I think we have every right to be very proud both of our First Minister's record and of our record as a Welsh Labour Government here in the last nine years, and I look forward to the future Government with great pleasure.
With one health board in special measures and three health boards, including Abertawe Bro Morgannwg in my own region, in targeted intervention, the picture is not rosy, however. Despite talk of moving care into the community and of prudent healthcare over the past 10 years, do you not agree that your Government's workforce planning over the past 10 years has simply not been up to scratch?
No, I don't agree with that at all. I think that there's been a strong focus on recruitment and planning. Llywydd, I won't test your patience by reading out statistics yet again, but the statistics are plain for all to see. We are clearly doing very well indeed We've done extremely well with the recruitment of doctors, for example, this year. The health Secretary has made many statements to that effect and answered questions to that effect in the house on many occasions.
9. Will the First Minister provide an update on the future of local government in Wales? OAQ53027
Yes. The Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services set out the next steps for strengthening local government in his oral statement on 17 July.
Thank you for that answer. Leader of the house, in March, your Welsh Government proposed three options for the merger of local authorities. The Cabinet Secretary stated at the time that radical change is needed. Yet, he has failed to drive this forward due to pressure from the WLGA. Leader of the house, do you believe that radical change is needed, and if so, when?
I think it's clear that there's an appetite amongst local government to work well together and to collaborate. Members across the Chamber today have mentioned things where collaboration has worked extremely well. Unlike in England, we've protected local government in Wales from the worst of austerity imposed by the UK Government, and we've ensured that vital services can continue to be delivered. Our local authorities collaborate well together and should be very proud of their ability to withstand the onslaught of austerity.
Thank you, leader of the house.
The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Gareth Bennett, and amendments 2 and 3 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendments 2 and 3 will be deselected.
The next item, therefore, is the debate on the European Union withdrawal agreement and political declaration. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to move the motion—Mark Drakeford.
Motion NDM6889 Julie James
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Takes note of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU agreed by the European Council and the UK Government, but regrets that neither Wales or Scotland are mentioned in either document.
2. Notes in particular the arrangements for the protection of citizens’ rights and for a transition period for which the Welsh Government has consistently argued and which would avoid the catastrophic outcome of ‘no deal’ in March 2019.
3. Notes that the Assembly will have a further opportunity to debate the Withdrawal Agreement as it considers whether or not to give its legislative consent to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill which the UK Government intends to bring forward.
4. Believes that the future relationship as envisaged by the Political Declaration falls short of the model for the UK / EU future relationship set out in Securing Wales’ Future, which has been consistently supported by the Assembly and fails to provide robust guarantees in respect of future workers’ rights, human rights and equalities legislation.
5. Notes that the UK Government’s red lines have constrained the scope of the provisional deal reached with the EU and believes that the UK Government should instead be focused on securing a long-term relationship which provides for participation in the single market and a customs union, seeking to extend the Article 50 period if needs be.
6. Believes that the UK Government should declare now its intention to negotiate on that basis and that if it fails to do so, there should be either a general election or a public vote to decide the terms on which the UK leaves, or whether it wishes to remain.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Brexit is undoubtedly the most serious political challenge to face the United Kingdom since the creation of this Assembly and it is a challenge that has been turned into a full-blown crisis as a result of the inept and divisive way in which it has been managed by the current UK Government. The motion before the Assembly sets out the Welsh Government's position on the withdrawal agreement and political declaration, and why these do not deliver the sort of Brexit that can secure Wales's future.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me say right at the start that the deal that is before us is unacceptable to the Welsh Government, and one which we believe should be rejected. I hope that the National Assembly for Wales will agree that position, so that those who are ultimately responsible for passing a verdict on the two elements of the deal struck by the Prime Minister, the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, are left in no doubt of the views of this Assembly.
Llywydd, the UK Parliament is about to embark on its five-day debate. Our discussions this afternoon have been deliberately timed to ensure that the Assembly's consideration is able to influence the meaningful vote in which that debate culminates. And this Assembly also needs to influence what happens if, as now seems inevitable, the House of Commons rejects the Prime Minister's deal. The final part of the Government motion before the Assembly points ahead and sets out the options we believe ought to be considered if that proves to the case.
Llywydd, I want to be clear at the start as well that the advice that the Welsh Government gave to the people of Wales in the run-up to the referendum of 2016 would be unchanged if we were asked to provide advice today. On the basis of all the economic evidence, Wales would be better off remaining within the European Union, and our prosperity is neither so deep-rooted nor so widely shared that we can readily volunteer for an act of economic self-harm. Yet, it remains the fact that Wales and the UK as a whole voted to leave the European Union. And, Llywydd, no matter how strongly we may feel as individuals on either side of the Brexit debate, that is not the focus of this afternoon's consideration. Rather, we are asked to come to our conclusion on the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration.
I begin with the withdrawal agreement, because it is very obviously the more developed of the two, and also the closer of the two to the position of the Welsh Government. Indeed, if I contrast the withdrawal agreement with the content of 'Securing Wales' Future', jointly agreed with Plaid Cymru in January of 2017, and the Prime Minister's Lancaster House speech of the same month, it is striking just how much closer the agreement comes to our position than that of Mrs May. It contains a set of protections for citizenship rights. It provides for a transition period, so essential to avoid a massive dislocation of our economy, and allows for it to be extended if needed. It contains a commitment to pay our bills. It offers regulatory alignment for goods and agricultural products. It even, buried in the depths of obfuscatory language, provides for a customs union. But, Llywydd, part of the reason why we are unable to support the withdrawal agreement this afternoon is because of that very obfuscation, because the agreement demonstrates that even at this very last moment, the Prime Minister remains unwilling to spell out the realities of our situation. Instead, she tours the television studios repeating mantras that convince nobody and, rather, succeed in persuading people of entirely opposing views that they are united at least in this—that they will not support the Prime Minister.
So, the failure of the withdrawal agreement is political as well as practical, but the practical flaws are real as well. Here are just three ways in which the withdrawal agreement fails to deliver an outcome that the Welsh Government could support. Firstly, in terms of so many of the level playing field issues, a technocratic description of things that really matter to Welsh citizens, such as environmental standards and workers' rights, the UK is committed only to non-regression—not, in other words, to keeping pace with evolving European standards. We believe strongly, and have consistently argued, that where the EU moves ahead in such matters, the United Kingdom should do so too. We cannot and will not support anything less.
Secondly, the agreement fails to deal with issues of the services sector, the largest part of our economy, and the one in which the UK has a clear surplus in trade with the EU. It continues to declare a separation of the services sector from goods, with no guarantees that the access to the EU single market will not be seriously restricted. The withdrawal agreement perpetuates an unworkable distinction between goods and services that will damage Welsh businesses, and we cannot support it.
And thirdly, and practically, Llywydd, the prospect of a regulatory border in the Irish sea, with unknown consequences for the economic relationships of Great Britain with the island of Ireland, remains a sticking point for us. Now, we accept the absolute priority of ensuring that a hard border does not return to the island of Ireland, but the backstop as it has been constructed remains worrying and potentially injurious to Wales.
Llywydd, our anxieties about the backstop issue could have been allayed entirely through the political declaration to which I now turn, because the political declaration could have contained a firm commitment from both the EU and the UK to the combination of a permanent customs union and full participation in the single market, which would ensure that we needed no new barriers between any part of the UK and the EU-27, the solution, of course, advanced in 'Securing Wales' Future'. Instead, the political declaration manifestly fails to contain robust commitments from both sides to develop a future relationship that will provide the greatest possible continuity of our economic links with the EU, compatible with no longer being part of its political construction. Rather, it is a cobbled together, back-of-an-envelope document that tries to pay lip service to some of the language used by the UK Government in its White Paper, while moving not a jot from the EU's insistence that you cannot be part in and part out of the single market.
The UK Government has had to admit that it was not able to persuade the EU to make commitments to frictionless trade, and that salutary fact means that it is inevitable that the political declaration leaves us exposed to a dramatic reduction in access to markets compared to that enjoyed by Welsh businesses today.
I'm grateful to the Cabinet Secretary. I understand that the Cabinet Secretary's favoured means out of the current impasse would be a vote of no confidence passing and a general election following. If that general election happens, will the Labour Party be committing to offering a people's vote?
Llywydd, I plan to return to that set of issues at the end of what I say, and I'll do my best to respond to some of the points the Member has made at that point in time—
Will the Cabinet Secretary—?
I've answered the question in—
It's up to you whether to take the intervention or not, Cabinet Secretary.
Llywydd, thank you very much. I heard the question the first time; I don't need to hear it a second. [Laughter.] What sort of security does that provide—[Interruption.] What sort of security does the political declaration provide to Welsh employers and Welsh workers, particularly those in industries reliant on just-in-time supply chains or whose business model is based on embedding services in their offer, that, at the end of the transition period, their investment and their jobs are safe.
The political declaration contains less than a page on mobility, Llywydd—that fundamentally important issue to Welsh businesses, public services and our universities. It confirms that the current UK Government has unilaterally decided to end the current freedom of movement rights, simultaneously hobbling vital access to skills for our businesses and public services, removing rights for British citizens to live and work in other parts of Europe and dealing a fatal blow to full and unfettered access to the single market.
Llywydd, if the withdrawal agreement has serious flaws, the political declaration would need to be rewritten wholesale if we as a Government were to consider supporting its approval. Instead, the motion we have put in front of the Assembly this afternoon responds carefully and clearly to the rapidly changing circumstances in which we find ourselves. The second amendment, tabled by Plaid Cymru, basically covers the same ground as our own. There is little in it with which we might take issue, and we will not oppose it this afternoon.
Let me turn now to what should happen, if, as we believe it should, the House of Commons votes down the Prime Minister's deal. First of all, we entirely reject the Prime Minister's view that it is her deal or no deal. In our view, there are at least three credible ways in which such a position can be resolved. Firstly, it is still not impossible that this or an alternative Government could negotiate a very different deal, one which meets Labour's six tests and the prospectus set out in 'Securing Wales' Future'. Then, like others, from Nicola Sturgeon to Arlene Foster, we would consider lending our support to a renegotiated deal, based clearly on full participation in the single market and a customs union. This is a form of Brexit known today, in the shorthand, as Norway plus, which would provide the long-term certainty our businesses and people need.
Secondly, Llywydd, there remains the prospect of a general election, as Adam Price said. A general election would give a new Government a clear mandate to renegotiate, to stage a second public vote, or, if today's opinion of the EU's advocate general is confirmed, to withdraw the article 50 notification.
And, thirdly, of course, there is a new public vote itself. I want to repeat the First Minister's clear assurance that this Government would campaign vigorously for such a vote, should there be neither a general election nor a renegotiation, and that such a vote must have the option of remaining within the European Union on the ballot paper. But, Llywydd, we cannot support the third amendment in front of the Assembly, which seems to demand a people's vote in any circumstances, and which implies that it is the only future possibility, when, plainly, it is not.
So, Llywydd, to conclude, I hope this National Assembly will send a clear message this afternoon that the deal that has been negotiated by the Prime Minister is unacceptable. It fails to meet the fundamental interests of Wales and the United Kingdom as a whole, and it should be rejected.
I have selected the three amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendments 2 and 3 will be deselected. I call on Neil Hamilton to move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Gareth Bennett. Neil Hamilton.
Amendment 1—Gareth Bennett
Delete all and replace with:
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Recognises that the people voted by a majority on 23 June 2016 without any equivocation, or qualification, to leave the EU, and believes that the UK and Welsh Governments should honour both the spirit and the letter of that decision.
2. Believes that both the UK and Welsh Governments have frustrated the wishes of the 17.4 million people who voted leave.
3. Believes that the UK Government’s draft Withdrawal Agreement is a capitulation, which substantially negates the referendum result, by keeping the UK indefinitely in the EU customs union and, effectively, in the single market, whilst depriving us of any formal voice or vote in EU decisions.
4. Calls upon the UK and Welsh Governments to embrace the restoration of Britain's national sovereignty outside the EU and the global opportunities for trade with the rest of the world.
Amendment 1 moved.
Diolch, Llywydd. I agree, but from a completely different perspective, with much of what the Cabinet Secretary has just said. But we need to understand that the background to this is the result of the referendum that was held two and a half years ago. And, without any kind of qualification, the people voted to leave the EU. They didn't vote to give the UK Government a mandate to negotiate, nor, indeed, to bring back to them the terms of the results of that negotiation. What this agreement does not do is deliver on that vote. In fact, it is, in political terms, a national humiliation, a capitulation, which has given the EU everything, and, actually, given the UK nothing. It doesn't take back control of our laws, take back control of our money, or take back control of our borders. As I've said previously, there is no rational explanation to what Theresa May has achieved, except some kind of deliberate sabotage strategy on her part, whereby, in the two years allowed under article 50 to negotiate a deal with the EU, we do absolutely nothing to prepare for the failure of those negotiations, the result of which is we now have a dog's breakfast of an agreement, so-called, with the EU, and a gun placed at our head, saying 'Take it or leave it.' And the 'take it' proposal basically means that we don't leave the EU in anything other than a formal sense.
Everything that the EU wanted out of these negotiations it's got in the withdrawal agreement, which is legally binding. Everything that the UK might want is in the political declaration, which is not. And the transition period that has been agreed, under article 32, keeps us in the EU for an indefinite period, because article 32 says, in effect, that this agreement shall terminate in the year 20XX. So, there's no means by which we can extricate ourselves from this agreement without the EU's approval. It leaves us with no voice, no vote, and no veto in the EU. Theresa May has achieved what I think anybody would have thought at the start of this process was the impossible of producing an outcome that is even worse than staying in the EU itself. It consigns the United Kingdom to a period of purgatory, when we will have to try and expiate our anti-federalist sins at the EU's behest, whilst actually achieving nothing in practical terms from leaving the EU. This negotiation has been completely bungled, and the best outcome now that we can expect is that, on 29 March next year, I hope that this agreement will be rejected by the House of Commons and we leave the European Union, not without a deal, but on the same terms on which we deal with the rest of the world—the World Trade Organization's terms.
Once the protocol to this agreement is in force, it is quite clear that the UK cannot leave except by a joint decision of the UK and the EU. And why would the EU want to put us in a position where we can leave at that point? Because they will have locked us into a permanent arrangement with them, whereby they have free access to our markets—and, of course, the reciprocal is that we have free access to theirs, but the imbalance in trade is £95 billion a year in the EU's favour—but, on the other hand, we give up our right to negotiate trade agreements with the rest of the world, which is one of the great advantages of Brexit in the first place. Eighty-five per cent of the global economy is outside the European Union, and it's the rest of the world that is growing, whilst the EU is sclerotic. And with another euro crisis in prospect in the course of the next year or so, then the problems of the European economy are going to become even greater. All that the European Union has agreed to in these negotiations is to use its best endeavours to negotiate a permanent trade agreement with us. But why would they want to do so?
The transition agreement provides that any permanent trade arrangement that we have with the EU shall be based upon the existing single customs territory, so that, even if we were able to arrange a deal with the EU, that would in itself preclude us from doing deals with the rest of the world, because an essential element in any free trade agreement is that it provides for free trade between goods that are made, produced, in the two contracting parties' countries. And then there are rules of origin rules to apply to avoid third party countries getting around trade agreements by routing their goods through a territory that they are entering without the normal restrictions, if there isn't one. So, the consequence will be that, as article 24 of the GATT agreement requires rules of origin arrangements, where information is collected about the origin of the goods that are passing through, then we won't be able to satisfy any other country in the world about the origins of the goods that we are selling to them. And that undermines the very principle upon which free trade agreements are based.
So, if there's a dispute that arises about the meaning of the agreements that the Government proposes, how is that going to be decided? Well, there's going to be an arbitration panel that is set up, but, under article 174 of the withdrawal agreement, the disputes are ultimately settled not by the arbitration panel itself, but by the European Court of Justice. And the consequence of that is, in effect, that the control of our laws will continue to be at the behest of the European Court of Justice. Carl Baudenbacher, who was the president of the court of justice to the European Free Trade Association, EFTA, says that this is not a real arbitration tribunal—behind it, the ECJ decides everything. And this is taken from the Ukraine agreement. It's absolutely unbelievable that a country like the UK, which was the first country to accept independent courts, would subject itself to this.
So, this is vassalage in its true sense, whereby we have to take the rules and regulations that are decided by the European Union and we just have to abide by them. We have no voice or vote in how they are made—[Interruption.] I didn't argue—[Interruption.] No, no, I said—I argued for a free and independent sovereign Britain, whereby our own elected representatives, like we are in this place, should make our laws, and we don't just become rule takers via the EU, which is not only able to direct the terms upon which we trade with them, but also the rules under which we trade with the rest of the world. That is the reverse of Brexit—that is the reverse of what the people voted for in June 2016.
When we went into the common market back in 1973, it was presented as purely a trade deal. It was not presented as part of a journey to a federal centralised European superstate, which is the journey that we are still on. Angela Merkel was talking only two weeks ago about a European army, and that's, of course, a very dangerous prospect indeed, and there is significant opposition within the federalists to NATO as an institution. They want to become a big player themselves on the world stage. That is something that could never be acceptable in my view to the United Kingdom Government, but, ultimately, we would have no control over it.
If we are to deliver on the result of the Brexit referendum, we are going to have to face now a prospect that is more difficult than we could have imagined two years ago, and indeed much more difficult than was absolutely necessary. Theresa May has abjectly failed to play the good cards that were in her hand, which are of, course, the massive trade deficit that we have with the EU, the £10 billion a year that we have contributed net to the EU budget for the last 40 years, and our ability to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world. If she were a bridge player, then she's deliberately chosen to be the dummy in these negotiations, laying out her cards on the table for others to see, whilst the EU has played its cards close to its chest. What she has done in this trade agreement is not to throw out the baby with the bath water, but actually to throw out the baby and keep the bath water.
I call on Steffan Lewis to move amendments 2 and 3 tabled in the name of Rhun ap iorwerth. Steffan Lewis.
Amendment 2—Rhun ap Iorwerth
Delete points 1 to 5 and replace with:
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Rejects the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the UK and EU agreed by the European Council and the UK Government.
Believes that the future relationship as envisaged by the Political Declaration falls short of the model for the UK – EU future relationship set out in Securing Wales’ Future, which provides robust guarantees in respect of workers’ rights, human rights, equalities legislation and citizens’ rights.
Notes that the UK Government’s long-term economic analysis projects the UK economy will be worse off by 3.9 per cent over 15 years under the current Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.
Calls on the UK Government to seek UK membership of both the European Single Market and Customs Union.
Calls for an extension to the Article 50 process.
Amendment 3—Rhun ap Iorwerth
Delete point 6 and replace with:
Calls for a people’s vote on the final agreement between the UK and EU, including an option for the UK to remain a member state of the European Union.
Amendments 2 and 3 moved.
Diolch, Llywydd. I only wish that the Cabinet Secretary's rhetoric in his opening remarks were reflected in the motion, because Plaid Cymru had hoped today to be in a position where it could support a Government motion on the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. But I'm disappointed therefore that the consensus between our two parties from the time of the publication of 'Securing Wales' Future' has not endured. 'Securing Wales' Future' set out Wales's terms and conditions, if you like, in terms of what a future withdrawal agreement would have to contain to be acceptable and, of course, it sets out in great detail a vision for a future relationship between Wales, the UK and the European Union. It called for continued participation in the EU single market and customs union and robust guarantees in respect of workers' rights, human rights, equalities legislation and citizens' rights. Theresa May's deal falls far short of these in every respect.
I'm especially disappointed though that the Government motion, as presented, does little more than note recent developments, rather than suggest a particular view that the Assembly should take on those developments themselves. The motion makes three statements: that the withdrawal agreement and political declaration exist; that a transition period forms a part of the deal and that this will prevent a 'no deal' scenario; and that the Assembly will, in future, decide on whether to give our final consent to the withdrawal agreement Bill. But the Government's claims that the transition period prevents a 'no deal' scenario are simply inaccurate; it's not true. What avoids a 'no deal' scenario is a deal or remaining in the European Union. I wonder was the motion meant to say that the transition period avoids a cliff-edge exit, which, of course, would be true. But can the Cabinet Secretary please clarify what the Government's thinking is on this point, because it's not clear to me, anyway?
The Government is also incorrect to note that there will be for certain another opportunity further down the line for the Assembly to vote on the withdrawal agreement. Whether or not there is an LCM depends on the nature of the withdrawal agreement Bill. So, there's nothing to say for certain that this won't be our one and only opportunity today, this afternoon, to vote and to take a firm view one way or another on the withdrawal agreement, and that is why I urge Members today to do more than simply note the existence of the withdrawal agreement and to say flatly that this National Assembly rejects it. Otherwise, Wales risks becoming the only legislature in the whole of the UK to offer implicit support to the withdrawal agreement, even though, as the Welsh Government motion explicitly points out, Wales is not mentioned once in the 585-page document. The Welsh Government motion then goes on to state that the political declaration falls short of the model future relationship set out in 'Securing Wales' Future'.
Although it's not clear, it appears to me from the wording that the Government would be willing, under some circumstances, to consent to the withdrawal agreement if changes are made to the political declaration, but, again, that didn't seem to tally with what the Cabinet Secretary said in his opening statements. So, can he clarify whether, again, I've misread the motion or whether there's been a change of view, or what exactly the position is? Are there circumstances where the withdrawal agreement would have the support of this Government, provided the political declaration is changed? There is no change as far as Plaid Cymru is concerned that can be made to the political declaration that would make the withdrawal agreement any more acceptable. The withdrawal agreement is what it is. It takes Wales out of the single market, it takes Wales out of the customs union, it takes Wales out of EU programmes, it doesn't guarantee workers' rights, and it has the potential to be hugely damaging to the Welsh economy.
Llywydd, Plaid Cymru's first amendment replaces the observance of facts—or perceived facts—and in their place provides for this Assembly an opportunity to take a clear position if it chooses to do so. It rejects both the political declaration and the withdrawal agreement because they fail to deliver on the commitments set out in 'Securing Wales' Future'. It also calls on the UK Government to seek membership of the EU single market and EU customs union, and it calls for the extension of article 50. Article 50 could be extended in order to negotiate a different Brexit arrangement whereby we stay in both the single market and customs union permanently, and if we were to do this, there would be no need to have a transition period where we'd be outside of the EU, needing to negotiate a new, long-term relationship from the outside.
I know that UK Labour's stance on the single market and customs union membership is that we should leave them both and negotiate a new deal, which, of course, is also the position of the Conservative party. So, I understand that some Members may be unable to support our first amendment on that basis, but I hope Members will seriously consider supporting our separate, second amendment, which replaces point 6 of the Government motion. Point 6 of the Government's motion calls for a general election or a public vote, while our amendment simply says that there should be a people's vote that should include the option to remain on the ballot paper. Last week, John McDonnell said that securing a general election would be very difficult, and I agree with him. It's impractical, and it wouldn't deliver a different outcome for people in Wales or across the United Kingdom because both the leading parties in that general election would be campaigning for UK withdrawal from the single market. So, we would still have the parliamentary impasse in Westminster that we have under this shoddy Government now. There is now growing support across the political divide for a people's vote, and much of that is because Parliament simply cannot sort this out. Only a fresh referendum can end the political impasse. So, I'm genuinely hoping an amendment for a people's vote will command a cross-party majority here today.
Llywydd, now and then, as parliamentarians, we are asked to search our consciences before casting votes on truly historic events and decisions. My conscience tells me that the deal on offer is so potentially damaging to the communities we're elected to represent that neither the withdrawal agreement nor the political declaration deserve the support of this Parliament, and that they should not simply be noted but that they should be rejected by this Parliament. I honestly believe that allowing the people to decide the way forward from here is democratically sound and also essential if the political gridlock is to end in Westminster. So, I ask Members to support Plaid Cymru's amendments so that our Parliament actually expresses a position on these fundamental matters and so that we can also clearly endorse the people's right to a final say. Diolch yn fawr.
Llywydd, the referendum on leaving the European Union saw passionate arguments and strongly held opinions on both sides. The decision to remain or leave saw families, communities, political parties, this Chamber and, indeed, the country sharing opposing views. Forty seven and a half per cent of the electorate voted to remain while 52.5 per cent voted to leave. And each individual will have had different reasons for voting the way they did. Healing these divisions and building a brighter future for Wales and the United Kingdom family will not be easy. Reaching an outcome in negotiations that has the approval of 27 EU countries and which satisfies the conflicting demands of the 33 million voters who took part in the referendum is surely nigh on impossible. But Theresa May's job is not about satisfying both sides—leavers and remainers; it's about honouring the result of the referendum and securing the best possible deal for Wales and the UK as we embark on a new future outside the European Union.
I believe the deal negotiated by the UK Government will honour the referendum result. It will bring back control over our borders and end free movement. It returns sovereignty to the parliaments of the United Kingdom. Iit will protect jobs, enable the UK to secure a free-trade deal with the EU and enable the UK to strike trade deals with countries around the world. It will enable the Governments of the UK to properly invest in our public services in the future as we will no longer be sending significant contributions to the EU. We will be able to continue to maintain close co-operation with our EU neighbours on the fight against crime and terrorism. And it is a deal that not only protects the integrity of the UK, but strengthens it with eventually more powers being transferred to the devolved governments, including here in Wales.
Now, like all negotiations, it is a compromise, so I appreciate that it will not at the same time satisfy hard-line Brexiteers and staunch remainers. But I believe it is a deal that those who respect the referendum result can unite around. As a compromise, the deal may not be perfect, but surely it is better than the alternatives of no deal or no Brexit at all. If we fail to secure a deal with the EU—
Will the Member give way?
In a minute. If we fail to secure a deal with the EU, we will crash out in March 2019, threatening chaos for our economy. Business leaders have already warned that the biggest barrier to economic growth right now is uncertainty due to Brexit. A 'no deal' scenario would only exacerbate that uncertainty, threatening investment, jobs and the household income of hard-working families. And it wouldn't be big business that would suffer most, it would be small and medium-sized businesses, the suppliers for larger firms, small manufacturers that export goods with skilled workers on average earnings; their jobs could be put at risk.
Holyhead is the UK's second busiest roll-on, roll-off freight port in the UK, and a 'no deal' could risk the free flow of traffic through the UK's airports and ports, including Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock.
I give way to the leader of Plaid Cymru.
I'm very grateful to him. Is it his view that Wales will be better off, compared to the current position, remaining in the European Union if the Government's deal carries the day?
It's important that we honour the referendum result, and I think that this deal will respect— [Interruption.] Llywydd, this deal will respect the referendum result, and, at the same time, it will enable our businesses to continue trading with the EU.
Now, the Welsh economy is more dependent than other parts of the UK on exports to the EU. These businesses need certainty to plan for the future. Farmers too need certainty on the future of their industry once we leave the EU. John Davies, NFU Cymru president, when he met the Prime Minister at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair, said this:
'I commended the fact that the deal she has agreed is as close as possible to the free and frictionless trade conditions for agricultural and food products that we have been lobbying for over the past couple of years.'
Indeed, Glyn Roberts, president of the FUW has also said, and I quote:
'The Withdrawal agreement agreed by the Cabinet and the EU contains almost 600 pages of details regarding what would happen during a 21 month period, and those pages contain many important assurances for agriculture and other industries.'
It is therefore clear that the farming unions welcome this deal as a step forward in protecting our agricultural industry.
The other alternative to this deal is no Brexit at all. Senior representatives of the EU have made it abundantly clear that this is the deal on the table and that no other agreement will be negotiated between now and the end of March next year. This is what—
Will you take an intervention?
No, I'm not.
Didn't think you would.
This is what the EU has said time and time again, and Brexit was, in many ways, a vote against the political establishment in Westminster and Cardiff Bay as much as in Brussels. For the establishment to respond to that vote by completely ignoring the will of the people would be a dangerous act, and, as we get closer to 29 March 2019, the clock is ticking and this is the only deal on the table.
Will you take an intervention?
No, I will not.
The only two alternatives: either gamble with the jobs of the people we represent or ignore their decision to leave.
Llywydd, this motion from the Welsh Government tells you all you need to know. You only really need to read the last five words:
'whether it wishes to remain'.
Wales was asked on 23 June 2016 whether it wishes to remain and the verdict of the people of Wales was clear. On a turnout of almost 72 per cent, at nearly double the turnout of past Assembly elections, over 850,000 Welsh voters voted to leave—the biggest popular vote for anything in over 20 years. Seventeen of the 22 Welsh council areas voted to leave and, apart from Members representing Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, every Labour Assembly Member represents a constituency or region that voted to leave. Over half the Plaid Cymru group represents an area that voted to leave. For our Liberal Democrat Member, Powys voted to leave. Yet, today, it seems to me that these Members are trying to undermine democracy by seeking—[Interruption.]
I can't hear the leader of the opposition.
You're not missing much.
I want to hear the leader of the opposition.
Thank you, Llywydd. The mandate for Brexit amongst the electorate is only surpassed by the Welsh popular vote for Tony Blair and New Labour in 1997. Of course, Members will not be surprised that I was extremely disappointed by that election result in 1997, but I respected the mandate of over 800,000 voters in Wales and certainly I did not call for that election to be re-run because I disagreed with the result. The irony, of course, is that Brexit has a greater legitimacy and a bigger mandate from the public than this Welsh Government, which, it seems to me, is trying to overturn it. Many 'leave' voters were motivated by a sense that they were being governed in part by a failing, distant, out-of-touch organisation that wasn't listening to them. Does that sound familiar to this Welsh Government? To seek another referendum to overturn the result of the first would not only take us back to square one, but would betray the 17 million who voted to leave. It would ignore the will of voters in Blaenau Gwwent, Bridgend, Carmarthenshire, Rhondda, Wrexham, Newport and Swansea. And, if a new referendum overturns the first, then should we have a best of three or even a best of five to make sure?
The Welsh Government's motion also says that it should instead be focused on securing a long-term relationship that provides for participation in the single market and a customs union. But, of course, the Welsh Government knows full well that negotiating our future relationship with the EU will take place after March next year and extending the article 50 period would harm our economy, bringing greater uncertainty and leaving businesses and employers in limbo.
To seek a general election now would be political self-indulgence at a time when our country needs its leadership to secure our country's future relationship with the rest of the world. Instead of trying to undermine the referendum result, the Welsh Government should be working with the UK Government to secure the best possible deal for Welsh farmers, to exploit potential investment and keep Wales at the forefront of research and development and to maximise the opportunities for Welsh businesses to help make Wales a more prosperous country.
Llywydd, the Brexit referendum was undoubtedly divisive. If this division and uncertainty goes on unchecked, it threatens our economy and public services; it risks distracting us from the bread-and-butter issues of public services that matter to the people whom we represent. The people have spoken—the people of Wales voted to leave. It is time now for politicians to unite on that instruction, to honour the result of the referendum, to bring back powers from Brussels to Westminster and to Cardiff, and to deliver on the promise and the potential of Brexit. We need to bring an end to the division and uncertainty, and we need to carve out a new, brighter future for Wales and for the United Kingdom.
Can I be clear at the outset that I will be voting in favour of amendment 3 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth, and have received dispensation from the Labour group to do so?
Llywydd, I will not be voting to endorse in any way Mrs May's Brexit. Like many in this Chamber, I represent some of the poorest people in Britain, and I won't vote for anything that makes them poorer, and that is what all of us know this or any other Brexit will do. It is an individual choice for every one of us, but at heart, it is a fundamentally moral decision. I don't think anyone here, even people I disagree with about so many things, came into politics and public life to make people worse off. But if we vote to endorse Brexit, that is exactly what we will be doing. Some Members may disagree. That is their right, and I respect them far more than anyone who says we have to vote for Brexit because of the previous referendum. No vote removes our moral culpability, and we should remember that and be brave—now more than ever.
Llywydd, the debate on Brexit has been dominated by false choices, false choices that are too often exposed when it is too late to do anything about the falsehood on which they are founded: falsehoods like, 'We should vote for Brexit to bring £350 million a week to the NHS'; falsehoods like the claim that staying in the EU would put our borders on the edge of Syria and Iraq; falsehoods like the idea that we held all the cards in the negotiations, and that getting a good deal would be the easiest thing ever. All of those were empty claims made by people who should have, and in many cases did know better. Today, we have another one, that we have to back the Prime Minister's deal, or else we are staring into the abyss of a 'no deal' Brexit. So, let me make it clear: if the choice ever was between Mrs May's Brexit and a 'no deal' Brexit, that moment has passed. The choice today is between whatever sort of miserable Brexit deal the UK Government, UKIP, the European research group ragtag and bobtail managed to unite behind, and, instead, staying as full members of the European Union: full members with all our rights; full members with a say, a vote and a veto; full members with the influence that a country like the United Kingdom can and should have, rather than being reduced to somewhere that has to beg for crumbs from Donald Trump's table. A people's vote is the way to settle this, and I believe it will come. Like a boulder that has been rolling down a great distance from the mountaintop, we still cannot see it, but now everyone can hear its rumble.
Would the Member care to remind the Assembly how her constituency voted?
Yes. I'm absolutely well aware of that, but I'm also well aware that democracy is not a finite thing that freezes in time, and my constituents are worried about the future that is facing them with this deal.
As a patriot, never afraid to be both Welsh and British, and intensely proud of both, I will be arguing in the campaign to come for the only option that is right for our people, whether in the Valleys of Gwent, the terraces of Cardiff or the farms of Ceredigion—to stay. To stay as a great country that is not afraid of its place in the world, to stay proud of our values of internationalism and openness, to stay true to our sense of self as a place where people matter more than ideology ever will. That is my Wales, my United Kingdom, and that is what I will be defending with my vote. I urge everyone in this Chamber to join together to make a stand with the people against this Brexit mess.
You know, I'm quite amazed by the way in which the leader of the Conservative Party is now dressing the clothes of his party up in the banners of the people, you know. This party that at almost every stage since the reform Act of the nineteenth century voted against the extension of the vote is now apparently—. They voted against the extension of suffrage to women, and indeed to adult men in 1918. Now, they are claiming they are the people's party. Well, I say the people certainly are not convinced by that any jot. Look, when the Chartists marched in favour of democracy, what was their sixth demand, the one that’s never been met? It was for an annual Parliament. Because, they said, the people have the right to change their mind. To quote the economist John Maynard Keynes, when he was asked about changing his mind:
‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do…?’
The people can see laid bare the economic and social consequences that are going to come from your policy if your Government is allowed to prevail. And I for one, and others in this place, will not allow that to happen. And this is the call to this place now, isn’t it? We were discussing moments ago, in the excellent speech by Lynne Neagle, the call for us to make a stand, you know? Parliaments are about binaries. We have to plant our flag and decide where we are. At this point, one of the greatest decisions, one of the most significant decisions that is going to be made in these islands, that will cast its shadow for decades, calls for us to be clear and unequivocal. It calls for us to make a stand for the people, and for them not to have this kind of economic dislocation thrust down their throats. What we’re asking for is for democracy, is for the people to make the decision, because none of them voted—[Interruption.] None of them voted for this policy that your Government are now proposing.
I give way to the Member.
The people voted to leave the European Union. The Member does not agree with what the people voted, so he's trying to reverse it, and unlike the Chartists, who expected the annual Parliament to be installed before they were overturned, he wants to ignore what the people decided.
I'm asking for the opposite of that. I’m asking for the people to cast their judgment on a policy that was never put before them, because there wasn’t even a scintilla of information put in front of them in terms of what you’re actually proposing. And what about those 16 and 17-year-olds then that didn’t have the vote, upon whom this decision will cast a greater future, because it’s their future that we're talking about? Don’t they have a right to vote? Aren’t they people as well? And will you deprive them of the opportunity to make their voice heard on the greatest decision that their generation has faced?
Now, I turn—[Interruption.] I will give way to the Member.
The Member is making an eloquent case for having a second referendum, but was he in favour of the first referendum? And if we have a second referendum, why shouldn't we have a third, a fourth, a fifth, et cetera on an annual basis?
Well, look, you know, I’ve always been of the view that this should have been a two-stage process. I called, within, I think, 36 hours, for a second referendum. So, I have been consistent about this, because it always should have been a two-stage process, because it was always going to be the case that the actual realities—not the unicorns of an impossible, undeliverable Brexit of fantasy, but the actual Brexit proposal, that would never have been laid out in the first referendum. It wasn’t a whole host of different possibilities. Now we have a definite proposal, or whatever emerges from the mess that is Westminster at the moment; that should then be put to the people. You yourself are against this deal as well. Surely, the way out of the impasse is to go back to the people and ask for their final say.
I appeal to Members on the Labour benches. We need clarity at this moment. The problem with the Government’s position is, to quote Jeremy Corbyn,
‘This is a vague menu of options, not a plan for the future.’
It’s commentary, not actually a policy. It’s not enough to say, ‘Well, if not a general election, if not a renegotiation, then maybe a public vote.’ That’s not what this moment is calling for. The Government needs to rise to the level of events. We have a historic opportunity. It is in our hands. It's not enough to say ‘either/or’. And I appeal to Labour Members on the backbenches, because, obviously, there’s not much hope; the Government’s position has been set in stone, unfortunately.
We tried, by the way, to get a cross-party agreement. I’ve been trying at Westminster. That kind of approach is what will lay the foundations for success, if we work together. That hasn’t been possible here, and that’s a great source of sadness. In the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government took a different approach. They went to the opposition parties, and they managed to create a cross-party coalition around this issue, including the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and the Greens. That’s the kind of approach that we need. That’s the kind of approach we’re trying to build at Westminster: a coalition against chaos. Unfortunately, we have a motion here that pleases no-one, and unfortunately we're not able to support the motion as it currently stands. But there is an opportunity here for Labour Members to back—the opportunity, the historic opportunity, to pull the emergency cord on the train that is hurtling and taking us over a cliff edge. Let's work together, demand a people's vote, stand up together and prove this Parliament's worth.
I do believe the PM's deal is a good one, and it reflects the situation produced by the referendum result, which was 52 per cent in favour of leave, 48 per cent for remain. It's a nuanced position we now find ourselves in: an ongoing relationship with Europe, but also removal from its political structures. I think that is a fair reflection of where we are as a people at the moment.
Above all things, the danger of a disorderly Brexit is removed. This is an important achievement, and it's to the credit of the UK Government and the EU that it's been produced. The business sector has welcomed the agreement and the political declaration. Dow Silicones UK wrote to me this week—I think they wrote to all Members. Many of us would have visited their plant in Barry; it employs 553 people. I quote from their letter:
‘The Government's publication of the long-term economic analysis of leaving the European Union rightly identifies the chemical sector as one of those most at risk of no deal.’
It goes on,
‘We recognise that the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration are not perfect. However, if secured they do ensure some much needed certainty through the transition period, enabling our business to plan investment decisions with a greater degree of confidence than has been the case for the past two and a half years. During that transition our industry will also work with the Government to help achieve the most appropriate future relationship with the EU.’
I think it's about time we had someone reading from the business sector what they think, and we should reflect very carefully on that.
If Mrs May's deal is rejected then two possibilities obviously come to the fore: a 'no deal' Brexit, greatly feared by business, as I've just referred to, or a second referendum that might cause deep damage to our democratic culture. It seems to me that a second referendum is not a reasonable course of action unless there is an overwhelming and visible demand for it, and whatever the likes of Adam Price think, there just isn't at the moment. Secondly, an expectation exists for a decisive outcome, and that means 60 plus per cent one way or the other, and that certainly doesn't exist at the moment. There seems to be hardly any movement from where we were two years ago.
Otherwise, I believe the most democratic thing for remainers like me is to accept Brexit, allow it an opportunity to reach a final agreement, and then start the work to rejoin the EU, because I do believe that is definitely in our long-term interests. It is essential to think strategically and for the long term. The project I've outlined, of remove and then return, will probably take a generation, just as our current plight has taken a generation to develop. We have to win over the leavers. That's the most essential thing for those that want us to have a future in the EU to achieve, and we're not going to do that by rubbing their noses in it and saying they got it wrong last time and we'd better have another vote until they realise what is good for them. We have to inspire them with a new vision for the EU, and the EU needs to reform itself as well. Let's not forget the importance of that type of democratic renewal. Are we all blind to the protests that are occurring in all sorts of European states at the moment? Come on. Let us read the signs of our times, because they are shouting very loud at us, and in the UK we also need to refresh our democratic culture.
I think probably this has been the most shocking part of the whole Brexit experience, to suddenly realise what a lot of our citizens think of us all in all the established political parties. We clearly need to be fairer to citizens for all sorts of reasons. The social contract developed after the second world war is weaker and, in parts, has broken down. We need to come up with a new version of that to win over all our citizens and to make them feel that they have a genuine place in our national life and prosperity.
We need to be fairer to the home nations of the union. This will be one of the biggest tests of Brexit—how we have inter-governmental relations within the UK and deal with those pressures. The situation in Scotland, where they voted so firmly to remain, ought to be a dire warning to all unionists who want to see the United Kingdom hold together. That is something that we as Conservatives need to remember—we are also a unionist party—and the various options that face us should be measured by how they affect the whole union as well as how they may affect various versions of purity on a particular policy.
We need a closer connection between citizens and politicians—that's clearly important throughout the western democratic world, but it's really pressing on us now. If we overturn Brexit by a small majority, we will be more deeply divided than we are today. Why? Well, unlike remainers today, leavers would lose all hope and confidence that the UK's political system can ever deliver their wishes on this most foundational issue. As least us remainers have a chance to return to this matter and work for an attempt to re-join the EU in the future.
Even that attempt to overturn the referendum result will shake the confidence many have in our democratic culture. I do warn Labour Members that you risk an axial shift away from you in the Valleys if you go back to them—and I found Lynne's comments very powerful. But just look at the Liberal Party between 1918 and 1923 to see what can happen and how quickly it can happen. In many western democracies those who are most deprived vote for centre-right parties. They always have in great numbers in the Irish Republic. Look what's happened in Ohio, Pennsylvania, the states of the south. How many Democrats are elected for West Virginia at the moment? This is the sort of thing that you could be facing.
And I say to fellow Conservatives who are not going to support Mrs May's deal that we would risk losing support on the right if we force through another referendum. And we would probably see some form of strident English nationalism develop that would eat away at much of our core vote as well.
Will the Member take an intervention?
I'm reaching the end, but I will take the—.
Very simply, would he agree that you don't beat the far right by pandering to it?
Well, as a liberal Conservative, I think that's been the mission of my life so far, so I certainly do agree with you. But I know that in a democracy, you've got to be able to accept a decision that you profoundly, bitterly disagree with—that's what a democracy is all about. It's not about just having it easy all the time or losing for five years then your party gets back in—it alternates. It means, sometimes, you have to accept a decision that you profoundly disagree with. It's as simple as that.
We had a vote. We knew the rules of the referendum. I believe they were quite flawed, but they had near unanimous support across all political parties, including the Liberal Democrats. Now is the time to accept the reality of our departure from the EU, however difficult it is for those of us who see Europe as so essential to our national prosperity. We need to move on, then we can get back in.
I'm pleased to take part in this debate as a member of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee for the past year and chair of the women in Europe network Wales. And you'll be aware of our committee's work preparing for Brexit, including the report published last week on the preparedness of the healthcare and medicines sector in Wales. Access to medicines is causing particular anxiety. Our report raised key issues of concern including the continuous supply of medicines, arrangements for reciprocal healthcare, and alarming prospects relating to the health and social care workforce after Brexit. This is just one example of independent evidence that we've taken revealing the concerns about the adverse impacts of Brexit. And as we recommended in the report, we need to maintain continued regulatory co-operation between the EU and the UK in terms of access to medicines and clinical research after Brexit. Would this be delivered by the withdrawal agreement? Patients and healthcare professionals need to know.
Cabinet Secretary, you've spoken about the economic impacts of all Brexit scenarios, as has HM Treasury and the Bank of England, making it quite clear that all Brexit scenarios involve self-inflicted economic damage with a 'no deal' being a lot more damaging than others. As Mark Carney has said, any form of Brexit is guaranteed to make the country poorer. I also received a letter, like David, from that major company in Barry with a large workforce, pointing to the sheer volume of activity—quoting from them—in terms of exports and imports, complexity of supply chains and multiple border crossings, with any disruption impacting on the potential for future trade and investment. I'm a strong backer of the 'Securing Wales' Future' Welsh Government White Paper, which makes it clear that we need full and unfettered access to the single market and participation in the customs union to protect companies like this one in my constituency. It's not clear that the withdrawal agreement would deliver this.
The Cabinet Secretary knows that I'm particularly concerned about the impact of the withdrawal agreement on equality and human rights. As the First Minister said in his written statement on 27 November, maintaining social and environmental protections, including workers' rights, has been one of the Welsh Government's six priorities, laid out in 'Securing Wales' Future'. In his statement last week, the First Minister pointed to the failure to commit the UK to progressive alignment rather than just non-regressive arrangements with EU standards and rights, as the Cabinet Secretary has said this afternoon, in terms of the environment and labour market. Non-regression obligations are not good enough. I know the Welsh Government believes strongly that the UK should commit to a dynamic relationship, to progress and not stand still, rather than simple non-regression when it comes to equalities and human rights. So, I fully support point 4 of the Welsh Government motion on the withdrawal agreement, which
'fails to provide robust guarantees in respect of future workers' rights, human rights and equalities legislation.'
In the summer, I brought together a group of equality and women's organisations to discuss the impact of Brexit on women in Wales. It's been widely supported as an informal network for women who want their voices to be heard in decision making around Brexit. That's why I continue to focus on equality impacts in the external affairs committee.
Finally, Llywydd, our constituents do want to know where we stand today on Brexit. They know I voted to remain. I'm ready for a general election if the vote fails next week, and I'm also ready for a second referendum. It would be the biggest test of our political lives, but we would fail the people we represent if we don't stand up for them and with them now. I do agree with David Melding that this is about a new vision that we would have to share and discuss with people on the doorstep, but I do believe that point 6 of the Welsh Government motion does encompass this.
Like other AMs, I've received a number of messages over the past few days, and many have raised their deep concerns about the future Brexit will bring, calling for a second referendum. A deeply worried constituent wrote that she was alarmed at the position of the country, with a divided UK Government and industry and the whole of society in a state of uncertainty. Another, an 87-year-old grandmother was profoundly alarmed at the prospect of the catastrophic future that Brexit will bring. Llywydd, the current agreement doesn't meet the six priorities of 'Securing Wales' Future'; it doesn't go far enough and I oppose it. The UK Government should embrace the future relationship with the EU as we laid out in 'Securing Wales' Future'. We must take responsibility in this Senedd as events unfold to play our part to safeguard Wales, our economy and our people.
At this crucial time in our history, we all here have a duty to show leadership. From my point of view, and on these benches, that means to reject Theresa May's withdrawal agreement; it means to extend article 50; it means to stay in the single market; it means to stay in the customs union; and it means to push for a people's vote, including the option of remaining in the European Union. That's what the Plaid Cymru amendments are about and I exhort you all to vote for those, because what a mess we're in.
Two years since the Brexit referendum, now the reality of what Brexit actually means is starting to become clearer. Brexit means Brexit—or breakfast, notably, at one time. But, actually, Brexit means the economy taking a big hit. Brexit means businesses under pressure. Brexit means the future of key international business in Wales is in huge doubt. Brexit means prices on the high street are increasing. Brexit means stockpiling goods, stockpiling medicines. Brexit means, 'What future for farming in Wales?' Brexit means universities losing research funding. Brexit means students cannot access Erasmus+, Horizon 2020 and other innovative European learning. That's what Brexit means.
And, in addition, the leave campaign is under investigation for potential illegality of funding, constituting electoral fraud. The proposed deal is worse than being in the European Union. 'No deal' is worse than being in the European Union. There are no sunlit Brexit uplands. People were lied to in 2016. There is no scenario where the economy is going to get better. There is no—[Interruption.]
You were saying people were lied to in 2016. What about the lies that took us into Europe? Are they nothing to them? We would never surrender our parliamentary sovereignty. We would keep full rights over all our fishing. We would never be asked to go into a single currency. There would be the supremacy of British courts. They are the lies that took us into Europe, David, and I fell for them because I voted for a free trading agreement with the European Union. It's morphed into something entirely different to that. We were never told that that was what was going to happen. So, who's told the lies? Not the people trying to get people to come out of Europe; it was those who told the lies to get us into Europe.
I can remember a big red bus: £350 million a week for the NHS. That is one massive lie, admitted to by Nigel Farage on the day of the vote. What shocking campaigning. David Cameron will go down as one of the UK's worst Prime Ministers ever. Mind you, it's a crowded field. [Laughter.] There is no deal that is better than the one we currently have as members of the European Union. Labour's vote of no confidence and trigger of a general election is also a completely irrelevant distraction as well, as Labour are equally divided on Europe.
In this Chamber two weeks ago, in trumpeting ditching what I still call the continuity Act, and conceding powers by way of a non-statutory inter-governmental agreement, Labour here said they had full trust and respect in the Westminster Government, and said Wales was trusted and respected too, despite all evidence to the contrary, and the Cabinet Secretary's own experience in being sidelined. Now, if the bad deal from Theresa May is rejected, Labour want a vote of no confidence in a Government that, only two weeks ago, they had full trust and confidence in, with Wales's fledgling powers gleefully conceded without a second thought.
So, we face a choice between a bad deal, a 'no deal' or a pointless general election. The people spoke in 2016—yes, they did. The people were lied to in 2016. The people deserve a second chance to vote when the full gravity of the mess that the UK has got itself into has become crystal clear to everybody. And it is obvious that it is beyond the wit of politics to sort this mess out. Vote for a people's vote, and the option—[Interruption.] Mandy, so polite.
A lot of you ask for a people's vote when you know Wales voted to leave. How can you go for a second vote—a people's vote—when the first vote has not been implemented yet? Secondly, if you did get a second referendum—a people's vote—and it produced Wales voting leave again, would you honour that result?
The facts have become clear. We honour results. David Melding was saying we've stood in elections, some of us, we've lost in elections—I've lost more elections than I've won. Of course, I respect the result and no wittering on about what a sad failure I am—I just get up, dust myself down, and stand again—much like David Melding would do, no doubt. But in terms of a people's vote, the facts have changed. The facts, in fact, have become clear. People were lied to. They deserve to have a vote on the facts as now presented, and the fact that Westminster cannot sort this out. There is not a better deal in leaving. It is obvious that any deal from Westminster is worse than being a member of the European Union. So, that's why I exhort people to vote for a people's vote and the option of remaining in the European Union. Diolch yn fawr.
The Prime Minister has the horrendous task of reconciling many conflicting opinions and priorities, whilst also seeking to honour the referendum result, deliver a new comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement, protect people's jobs and security, and maintain the integrity of our United Kingdom. As the UK international trade Secretary said this summer, there had to be compromises, but Brexit had been backed by 17.4 million, and legislation implementing that decision had been approved by MPs. It is regrettable that some on both sides of the debate are now promoting worse-case scenarios only, rather than reflecting upon the potential of the withdrawal agreement to deliver the referendum result and take back control of our borders, laws, money and bilateral trade, whilst also delivering a mutually beneficial future relationship with the EU.
Almost two years ago, Brexiteers and remainers on the Assembly External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee united in calling for a post-exit transition period after having taken detailed evidence. Quoting Mr Drakeford himself, our January 2017 report said:
'There must be no cliff edge to UK membership of the EU. The complexity of Article 50 negotiations means they will inevitably focus on how the UK will extricate itself from current arrangements. Future relationships with the EU and the rest of the world will have to be developed and agreed over a far longer period. Transitional arrangements which remain as close as possible to the existing position will provide the most stable platform for future negotiations',
exactly as this agreement does.
Our August 2017 report included: the Road Haulage Association told us that transitional arrangements may be necessary to ensure supply chain efficiency for the UK and EU; the Freight Transport Association drew a comparison with the phased way in which the tariffs were harmonised when the UK entered the European Economic Community, and argued that a similar phased process may need to be agreed for Brexit. In a similar vein, the Road Haulage Association warned that the absence of transitional arrangements, or an outcome that results in no deal, could have serious negative consequences for Welsh ports. So, negotiations have followed a staged process that was known and understood and agreed from the outset, but some choose to misrepresent this as time wasted.
Future negotiations have to fit into the political clock, with EU elections in 2019. And even when the detailed future relationship is then agreed, time will be needed to put the new trade and customs arrangements in place. Last December, the European Council agreed that sufficient progress had been achieved in phase 1 of the Brexit negotiations. On that basis, they adopted draft guidelines to move to the second phase of negotiations, where both parties started discussions on a transition period and the framework for the future relationship. The UK and the EU agreed the transition period that will lead to the orderly withdrawal of the UK in March. In May, UK Ministers accepted that once the future relationship with the EU has then been agreed, there would have to be an extended period of customs union membership for the whole of the UK, while technology was developed to monitor the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland without imposing more permanent structures.
Some are therefore choosing to use what was agreed and accepted seven and eight months ago as an excuse for opposing the withdrawal agreement now. The legal text is clear: that both parties want to avoid the use of the backstop and that article 50 cannot establish a permanent relationship. And the EU themselves have made it very clear that they do not want a post-Brexit UK to remain in extended customs union and single market membership. However, we now see the grotesque chaos of Labour MPs in north Wales saying that they will vote against the withdrawal agreement because the UK would remain subject to EU rules for a period beyond our membership, when, from the outset, Welsh Labour's joint Brexit White Paper with Plaid Cymru called for the UK to remain subject to these rules forever. So, even within Wales, the Labour Party seems unable to sing from the same song sheet.
Wales voted to leave the European Union, not the United Kingdom, yet Plaid Cymru tries to keep Wales in the EU, and drag it out of the UK, despite the UK being Wales's biggest single market, by many, many multiples. Plaid Cymru complains that Wales is not mentioned in the withdrawal agreement, but neither is Scotland, and nor, except in the Bank of England, England either. The only EU referendums to be rerun are those treaty referendums in both Denmark and Ireland, which went against the EU. They severely damaged public confidence, they severely damaged the reputation of the EU. We don't want to see that sort of activity repeated here. UK funding to the EU is double the funding it receives back. This will in future be retained in the UK, and we all recognise that Wales should then receive the same quantum of funding as now.
As Paul Davies said, when the NFU Cymru president met the Prime Minister at last week's Royal Welsh Show's winter fair, he said:
'During this positive meeting, I commended the fact that the deal she has agreed is as close as possible to the free and frictionless trade conditions for agricultural and food products that we have been lobbying for over the past couple of years.'
And the UK can also negotiate trade agreements with third countries, ready for implementation after the transition period. At the G20 summit last week, the Prime Minister discussed trade with a number of countries—with Japan looking forward to being able to discuss the UK's possible membership of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for a trans-Pacific partnership. No small players there.
So, instead of rejecting this deal, creating uncertainty and damaging jobs and investment, let us be big enough to build towards an outward-looking Wales, within a global UK, by acknowledging the arguments made by Paul Davies, and recognising that this is a compromise for us all. I was a leaver, David was a remainer, but we recognise that, without compromise, the whole of the United Kingdom—Wales, not least of all—will be severely damaged. Thank you.
This afternoon, I'll put my contribution into two parts, and the first part will be based upon my role as Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee. And I'm pleased that we've already had comments from Jane Hutt and Mark Isherwood, reflecting upon some of the work we've done since we were established, following the 2016 referendum, with the purpose of considering the implications for Wales of leaving the European Union. Since that time, we've attempted to consider the implications across a wide range of sectors, and where we've considered it necessary, we've sought to influence the Brexit process, both in London and in Brussels, having the Welsh voice heard as much as possible. And I will try and consider this bit of my contribution balanced as much as possible, reflecting the committee's work.
We've spent two and a half years gathering this evidence—we haven't just done this over a short period of time—so we were able to respond quickly to the withdrawal agreement, and the political declaration, and the analysis of that, and we came across seven broad areas. And we've published a report, which I hope Members have had a chance to look at. Seven areas: economy and trade with the EU; ports and transport; agriculture, food and fisheries; energy and environment; healthcare; equality and human rights; institutional arrangements—all critical to the future of Wales. And we also, in that short space of time, managed to get the expertise of an external adviser—Dr Tobias Lock from Edinburgh Law School—who provided a legal analysis of the withdrawal agreement and its implications. That's why that paper is so important for you to read—it is not our view, it is an external's view, without any bias whatsoever, and it is crucial to this debate. I also want to put on record, Llywydd, the excellent work of the Assembly Commission staff, in turning around, in such a short space of time, the work that we've been able to read. Because you've had 10 days since the publication of the draft agreement and draft political declaration, and this work has been produced by the staff, and it's tremendous work. So, please, I think they should be credited for that work.
Llywydd, referring to the seven areas of policy, our analysis suggests that, in the short-term at least, the agreement will offer some much-needed stability for the Welsh economy—it's been reflected in some of the comments—due to the arrangements of the transition period, which we've all accepted and acknowledged. However, Mark Isherwodd also highlighted the timescales that are facing us during that transition period—European Parliament re-elections, a new Commission to be appointed, and if we want an extension—to be done by 1 July. So, the reality is you won't start negotiations until around about October, and you have to, by 1 July, come to a situation on an FTA of whether you want to extend the transition period or not. Everyone knows that you will not get an agreement in 10 months. So, the reality is we will be either seeking an extension or going into the backstop. That's the truth. Now, we'll have to accept that, and whereas Neil Hamilton marked 'XX', we all know it's 2020 or 2022—those are the dates we've been quoted. So, those are the dates that we've been quoted, and those are the dates that we know, because it says one or two years, and it says 2020. We will continue to operate under existing laws. So, businesses do have that reassurance. They will work as they are today. We can offer the Welsh economy a far less disruptive outcome than if the UK had failed to reach any form of agreement. However, let's not forget something else: during that transition period, we've lost all our formal routes of influence over EU law and our democratic representation in the EU. Our MEPs will be gone. We'll no longer have control over any of these aspects. We'll have lost our position on the Committee of the Regions, we'll have lost our position on other committees—we are losing our influence.
And the backstop—let's not forget the backstop coming to force, and that's part of the agreement, to prevent a hard border. We all don't want a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, but it will possibly, and probably, come in if we can't get an agreement by 1 January 2021, and then it looks less good for Wales, because then we will probably have a regulatory alignment down the Irish sea and we'll have to address that. We've always highlighted the issues on ports and freight movement as a consequence of that. And the asymmetry of the devolution settlements will also become more pronounced raising questions about the power dynamics between the nations of the UK when it comes to managing the UK common market. By the way, we've had no reference to the UK common market post Brexit either, so where will our position be? They've just focused on the political declaration of the EU. So, what is the political declaration for the future of the UK and the nations within that?
So, moving on to the political declaration, it's clear the Government aspires to a position where we will be outside the single market and customs union but no certainty. You're talking about certainty for 2020, for the transition period—there is no certainty post 2020. We do not know where we will be, we do not know whether the cliff edge will actually occur on 31 December 2020, or not. It's just disastrous.
Llywydd, I did say I wanted to put my backbencher's position on this, because I think it's important that I have an opportunity to speak, not just as a Chair, but as a Member of this Assembly. And my remaining contribution will be in that position. I respect the loyalty of Paul Davies, Mark Isherwood and David Melding to their party. But we are in a position of debating a poor deal because this Tory UK Government cannot agree on what it actually wants to achieve. It started with the term 'Brexit means Brexit'. Anyone yet worked it out? [Laughter.] I haven't. And it ends up with the shambolic position of 'Brexit means staying in the customs union with no voice'. That's where we are—a total failure after two years of abysmal negotiating.
Now, the Cabinet Secretary has actually voiced already the strong reflection on the withdrawal agreement, so I won't repeat that. But on the political declaration, it's also clear that this has actually been an afterthought. Mark Isherwood said they were in a position back in December last year to start talking about the future, because they'd already agreed certain parts. May came, they were in an able position. It's an afterthought, it is not a future relationship with the EU. The initial six pages were a wish list. It's been beefed up in a week to 26 pages, and it doesn't give us any confidence that it will secure the economy or the future of businesses in Wales.
The Cabinet Secretary also highlighted the weaknesses to have equivalence in workers' rights—I use the word 'equivalence', because the UK Government here likes the word 'equivalence' a lot—equality legislation and human rights. It's not there, just 'no regression'. That's what is says. It doesn't say, 'We will keep pace with what's going on with our colleagues in Europe.'
Llywydd, I think it's important, since we have a deal on the table, to reflect upon one thing: the PM has embarked on a charm offensive. She's going around the country trying to persuade the public to convince her rebellious MPs to support it. Well, if she wants the public to support it, she should go to the public. Simple as that. She should go to the public and ask the public whether they agree with this deal or not. Now, is that a people's vote? Is that a public vote? Go to the public. Is it a general election? Go to the public. Now, I actually acknowledge the wording of amendment 3 by Plaid Cymru, but whilst that will delete point 6 of the Government's motion I think it offers the same principle: go to the public one way or another—a general election or people's vote. That's what it offers. And that's what we want to do.
Will the Member give way?
Of course, I was waiting for it. Yes, of course I will.
I respect the seriousness with which the Member is approaching this issue, but would he not accept that the reason we're having this debate is that we want to send the message to that other Parliament, which, in a matter of days, will be voting on a series of subject-specific amendments? The amendment that will be laid down will not say 'either/or'—either a general election or a people's vote. There will be an amendment just on the people's vote, and it's not clear, based on the Government's motion, what position this Parliament is taking, unless it supports Plaid Cymru's amendment.
I accept the point he's trying to make—you know, do you want to make a specific point or do you want to actually say, 'Well, actually, there are options available to get a public perception on this', and I think point 6 makes those options available. However, I am going to share colleagues' view that I doubt very much whether the Prime Minister will accept any of the options, because she knows that she will lose that as well.
Llywydd, I'll finish by saying this: the deal is shoddy; it fails to protect the Welsh economy; it will see a decline in our economy of 3.9 per cent—even the UK Government's figures say that—and that's if we do not consider the impact upon Wales being worse because of our manufacturing and cultural sectors; and it does not give long-term assurance to businesses or our citizens. We must leave all our MPs who will be making that vote clear that we do not accept this deal.
It is a pleasure to speak today to the Plaid Cymru amendments and in favour of those amendments, of course, and I do so on behalf of the Arfon constituency, one of the constituencies that was most robust in its support for remaining within the European Union, with over 60 per cent having voted to remain. And, according to a recent opinion poll, 71 per cent of the people of Arfon would now vote to remain, should there be a second vote—and the only way out of this mess is a second vote, a people's vote. There is no purpose in having a general election. Jeremy Corbyn would not campaign to remain in the single market. Therefore, you would have more confusion, more uncertainty, if he were to win a general election. So, I urge you on the Labour benches who know that in your own hearts—do support amendment 3 in the name of Plaid Cymru. That's why we have tabled it here today.
The people of Arfon have come to the conclusion that remaining in the single market and customs union is the best possible solution for everyone living there. Therefore, on their behalf this afternoon, I state that I am rejecting the Theresa May withdrawal agreement. The economic argument is clear. The Arfon constituency is part of west Wales and the Valleys, and gross domestic product is low, and as a result it receives funding from the European Union—similar to southern Spain, Portugal and the former communist states within Europe. Arfon also receives INTERREG funding to promote connections with the Republic of Ireland, and there is some concern locally about the lack of detail, the shocking lack of detail, as to what will replace those funding sources for the future.
Bangor University and Ysbyty Gwynedd are in the Arfon constituency, and both institutions have a high number of staff from other EU nations, as well as students at Bangor University, of course. One of the largest private sector employers in Arfon is a German company working in medical technologies. Arfon is a tv production centre that works with other broadcasters within the European Union, and Arfon is one of the areas where the Welsh language is strongest, with 85 per cent of young people having benefited from bilingual education provision. Speaking two, three, four languages is normal within the European Union at an official, social and cultural level, which gives us confidence that the Welsh language will survive within that European context. Outwith that union, the future is less hopeful. That partially explains the substantial support in Arfon for remaining within the EU. Sustaining people's rights and equality legislation is crucial to that too.
Turning now to the second part of my comments this afternoon, it's a privilege for me to work with the MP for Arfon, Hywel Williams, who is part of an active and very effective Plaid Cymru team in London. Wales is fortunate in the four who are battling for our nation in the corridors of power in London. Hywel has taken a full part in the discussion on Brexit, has introduced numerous amendments to the EU withdrawal Bill, and has contributed eagerly as a member of the EU withdrawal select committee. He and Plaid Cymru have been entirely consistent in opposing withdrawal before the referendum, and we are in favour of remaining within the single market and the customs union. That is why Hywel, along with others, took part in a case in the European Court recently.
Today, there was confirmation of what Plaid Cymru has been arguing. The senior adviser of the European Court of Justice has stated today that he is of the view that the UK could abolish article 50 and remain within the European Union without the need for the consent of the other nations of the union. This is contrary to what Mrs May has been saying. This, in my view, is a game changer, and enables the Government—not the Westminster Parliament—to scrap the process if they want to avoid a 'no deal' Brexit, or if a people's vote demonstrates that public opinion has shifted since 2016. We're expecting confirmation of this decision in the European Court of Justice before Christmas and, believe you me, this could be of huge significance for my constituents in Arfon, for the people of Wales, and for the future of our nation. So, today, I do urge you to join us on these benches in sending an unambiguous message from our national Senedd, and I therefore ask you to support the Plaid Cymru amendments.
The Cabinet Secretary opened this debate by saying we were voting before the House of Commons, that he wanted to influence MPs, that Welsh Government believes the House of Commons should vote down the withdrawal agreement, and he concluded by saying he hopes this National Assembly will send a clear message that the withdrawal agreement is unacceptable and should be rejected. Inspiring words, but they aren't reflected in his motion, and Steffan Lewis drew attention to this, and I must admit I'm equally perplexed. I just don't understand what you, Cabinet Secretary, or your team of Welsh Ministers or—aside from sort of venting their fury with the electorate for not agreeing with them—what backbenchers on the Labour side want to achieve through this motion today. It merely takes note of the withdrawal agreement. It notes a couple of particular, less controversial parts of it; it then notes that we'll have a further opportunity to debate the withdrawal agreement, apparently, when we're to give legislative consent to the withdrawal agreement Bill, yet the Cabinet Secretary then goes on to say that it's inevitable that the House of Commons is going to vote down the withdrawal agreement, and I think we all know in this debate, which makes it slightly surreal, that the House of Commons is going to vote down this withdrawal agreement and is going to do so by a very substantial majority.
So, what next? It seems that, for the Labour Party, and I think for Welsh Government, there is a sort of gamble that, by voting against the withdrawal agreement—at least in the House of Commons, while we merely take note of it here—that will somehow lead to a general election or to a so-called people's vote, notwithstanding that we've had a people's vote that they don't want to implement. What I don't see is how that's going to happen. John McDonnell says that there's not going to be a general election and that isn't going to work, and then how are they going to get this so-called people's vote? You need legislation for a referendum, and legislation needs (a) Government time and (b) a money motion, which only the Government can put down. So, how, given that they're not going to get this general election, are they then going to get this so-called people's vote? And I don't know the answer to that. It may be that Jeremy Corbyn is happy to take that gamble, because he is content to leave the European Union without a deal. That may well be.
I first met Jeremy Corbyn in the 'no' lobby; we were one of 13 MPs voting against the establishment of the European External Action Service, and I met him on numerous occasions thereafter on various EU matters where we were of the same view. I hope he still is of the same view, because I think, once this withdrawal agreement is voted down in the Commons, I don't accept that the alternative is no deal. Yes, there will be WTO trade rules, but I wouldn't put an overemphasis on that; I accept they don't fully allow for frictionless trade, and there are some problems and issues with them, but a hard border in Northern Ireland is not one of them. But what there will be is a series of sectoral deals to mitigate particular issues that arise and to smooth our exit from the European Union in the interests of both sides. They may not be called withdrawal agreements, it's not clear that they can pass the vote in the House of Commons, but there will be agreements of some sort, and we will, I trust, then leave the European Union.
Now, I think in some areas of this withdrawal agreement—and I don't want to take a different approach from the relatively consensual debate we've had at least on these benches so far, and I have huge respect for the position articulated by David Melding, who spoke with great passion in favour of the European Union, but understands that, when you have a referendum, and when you promise to implement the result, when the vast majority of MPs, including the vast majority of Labour MPs, voted to trigger article 50, and neither that motion nor the referendum itself said, 'subject to there being a particular deal that we later like with the European Union', then what you have to do is you have to implement that result. It's all very well to say, 'You have another election', but, before you have another election, the people who are elected at that election go to the legislature and legislate for a term; the result of the election is thus respected. The result of this referendum was to leave, and we need to leave. I would prefer it was with a deal; I would prefer it was with a better deal than this one. But, in some areas, this deal delivers on things that at least some 'leave' voters wanted: broadly, on freedom of movement—it does provide for the end of freedom of movement—and also, after the transition period, which, unfortunately, might be extended, it would then provide for at least less money, and probably not great sums of money, continuing to go to the European Union. So, in that sense, there are some positives, but, for me, the negatives are overriding, and they are, first and foremost, that we can't get out of it. At least with the European Union, there is article 50. With this, we cannot get out of it without the agreement of some other body, and I do not think that, as a sovereign United Kingdom, we should be putting ourselves in that position.
And also in terms of trade. Now, there was some debate in the referendum as to whether we should leave the single market, and I think the 'leave' campaigners were clear that we should, and particularly Michael Gove. There was not the same debate about the customs union, because it was taken as a given we were leaving the customs union—the customs union was the founding project of the European Union. The arguments for the customs union are much weaker than the arguments around the single market. We pay much more in customs duty than other EU countries because we import more from outside, and, broadly, those customs duties hurt the poor, both in other countries who can't sell to us as well, and here because the poor, proportionately, spend more of their income on the goods to which the tariffs are applied. If we stay in a customs union, as proposed in this withdrawal agreement, and certainly within the backstop, then the European Union will decide our trade policy without our having any say in it. They will be able to use our UK market and go to third countries and say, 'Hey, give us a reduction in your tariffs for EU exporters, and, if you do, as a bonus, we'll give you access to the UK market on better terms.' Yet, in return, those markets will not have to open up their countries to UK exporters. It is that unfairness that just makes no sense. It is a hugely unattractive thing to do, and I'm just perplexed that Labour Members in the House of Commons, or potentially here, do not seem to understand that.
The single market versus the customs union—people here may take a different view, but, in Westminster, perhaps they just don't like the sound of it being a market and they like the sound of it being a union. But, actually, if you think about it, from first principles, the idea of being in a customs union, where you have absolutely no power there and can be used by others in their trade negotiations, is a deeply unattractive one. It is what we're offered in the backstop and we can't get out of it without someone else's agreement. So, for those reasons, I oppose this withdrawal agreement, but I welcome the tone of the debate we have had on the Conservative benches, and because, for reasons I don't entirely understand, the Welsh Government say it's terribly important to send a message that we're against the withdrawal agreement, while not actually offering us an opportunity in the motion to do that, I look forward to opposing their motion, as well as the amendments.
It is right that this Chamber represents the very passionate and strongly held views of the people we represent. They deserve no less, but they also deserve far more, as we approach the most pivotal point for our citizens and our economy.
The deal negotiated by Theresa May is bad for Britain, it is bad for Wales and it is bad for Islwyn. It is often repeated these days that contemporary politics is so unpredictable, well, let me give the Chamber two facts that are clear. The Welsh public are fed up with Brexit and the way that the UK Tory Government have ineptly handled the matter, from Cameron to Boris and to May. The majority of Members of Parliament from across all sides of the Palace of Westminster oppose Theresa May's Brexit plans. So, how did the UK Tory Government end up with a deal that pleases no-one and nobody? It is not often that I quote Tory politicians in this place, and I'm sure Mark Isherwood AM will forgive me if I get shouty, but I must accurately quote Michael Heseltine, who is the boy from Swansea who became, as you know, the Tory UK Deputy Prime Minister, interviewed on the Sunday Politics Wales show this weekend. When asked what advice he would give the strong and stable Prime Minister, he stated
You can't expect to change your mind on the most important issue of peacetime politics in my lifetime and have credibility talking about unifying the country.
Michael Heseltine, the man who brought down Thatcher, goes to the the heart of the matter, I think.
Do you remember Theresa May's contribution, as Home Secretary, to the 2016 Brexit referendum, because I, frankly, don't? We know that Theresa May was nominally campaigning for 'remain', and I suppose we know from the 2017 general election that the Prime Minister is, even if she has had her chips, no natural campaigner, so, is it any wonder we are where we are with May in charge? Even after Cameron and Osborne's rapid nosedives from their listing ship, I do almost feel sorry for her, but I don't.
In contrast, the Labour Party have been clear throughout the negotiations that the deal must meet our test for a jobs-first Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer actually have been very, very clear that any deal would have to include a permanent customs union, with the UK having a say over future trade agreements, a strong single market deal and guarantees on workers' rights and consumer and environmental protections.
I, as a democrat, respect the decision of the people in 2016, and that is why I have supported the process of negotiation with the European Union. However, I will not stand idle and allow the people of Islwyn to suffer further economically, through the Tories in England, who have a Victorian utopian fantasy of creating a low-tax, low-regulation economy, even after the last crash, ably supported by Osborne's Mansion House speech. For the working class people I represent, I know what that type of economy means—misery as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, as they continue to give tax breaks to the rich and prosecute and persecute the poor. Ask the UN.
So, the message from the communities of Islwyn is loud and clear to the Prime Minister, 'If the House of Commons votes down your so-called deal on 11 December, do the honourable thing: dissolve Parliament and call a general election.' Michael Heseltine summed it up succinctly when asked what practical advice he would offer the Prime Minister, and I quote,
You have to move over, it's all over.
And I support the motion proposed by Julie James AM. Diolch.
Thanks to the Minister for bringing us today's debate on Brexit. Thanks also to David Melding, who I thought made many pertinent points—he often does. Now, if I can look first at the wording of the Government's motion, it states that the Welsh Government
'regrets that neither Wales or Scotland are mentioned'
in either the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. End quote. Now, why do Wales and Scotland need to be mentioned? They are both regions of the UK. The vote was a vote of the UK as a whole, and, as we know, the UK voted to leave. Whatever we think—[Interruption.] Whatever we think about the proposed Brexit deal, surely we can agree that it is the UK that is the nation state that is rightfully negotiated with in these circumstances. Foreign policy is not a devolved matter. In constitutional terms, therefore, Brexit is nothing to do with Wales or Scotland. In any event, if the Government really wants to—[Interruption.] No, I won't. If the Government really wants to push this point, then it is faced by the rather large, inconvenient fact that Wales voted to leave—the same as the UK as a whole did.
The Government motion then talks about citizens' rights, by which what is largely meant is EU citizens' rights. I would pose the following question: is the UK Government running the UK for the benefit of British citizens or for the benefit of non-British EU citizens? Obviously, the rights of the British people are paramount here. The rights of foreigners are well down the list, and the vote to leave was itself, in part, a declaration of that very fact by the British people.
Now, can I look at the issue of workers' rights? By leaving the EU without a deal, and at the same time ending the free movement of cheap labour from the EU into the UK, you would actually strike the biggest blow in favour of workers' rights in Wales for 30 years. So, you would expect Labour to be in favour of that, but no; Welsh Labour want to allow big business to continue to flood the job market with imported cheap labour from the EU. The overall effect of this is to push down wages, to lower working conditions, and to disincentivise industry from investing in workers' training and development. This would increase productivity, because the real problem of British industry lies in the productivity gap, which could be at least partially addressed by ending the free movement of people. But, of course, the Welsh Labour Government have wedded themselves to big business and to cheap foreign labour, and still Welsh Labour—or should I call them 'cheap Labour'?—has the audacity to talk in this useless motion today about workers' rights. Message to the cheap Labour Party from the Welsh working class: get real.
A final phrase from Labour's motion:
'either a general election or a public vote'.
A general election fought on what basis? What did the UK Labour manifesto say last time we had a general election? It was in favour of respecting the referendum result and leaving the European Union. Has the UK Labour Party policy changed since then? Well, who can say? Of course, the tragicomical element in all this is that we have a First Minister here—although he's not here today—who berates the leavers for having no plan, and he suggests that he does, but his own party leader in Westminster, Jeremy Corbyn, has a policy position on Brexit that nobody even understands. What is Corbyn's position? Has it changed? Nobody knows. What an absolute joke Labour is on Brexit.
Now, what do Plaid say in their amendments? Well, they explicitly call for a people's vote—that strange phrase, 'the people's vote'. What does it mean? What do they think we had in 2016—a monkeys' vote? What's the point of having another people's vote—so called—if you aren't going to take a blind bit of notice of what happened in the first one? So, can we just take Plaid's amendments and put them where they belong, which is also in the bin? [Interruption.] No. What motivates Plaid here is their own sectarian—[Interruption.] All right, Mark, go on.
I wonder if he might also just address his own amendment, which says that the UK will effectively stay in the single market. Isn't it actually Northern Ireland that that would happen to? And he then says that the UK Government has frustrated Brexit. Actually, to date, we're to leave on 29 March, and I hope and believe that will still happen, and doesn't he agree with that?
Thank you, Mark, and thanks for your contribution earlier, but I find it difficult to agree that the Government is preparing to leave when we don't any longer have a leave date. We have 29 December 20XX—we have no leave date at all now. We're in an even worse position than when we started. [Interruption.] I'm sorry, no, you've had your chance now, thank you.
Can we just take—? I've done that bit; I've lost my place now. What motivates Plaid here is their own sectarian objectives. Plaid want Welsh independence—[Interruption.] I was using your joke from two weeks ago. Plaid want Welsh independence within the comfort blanket of the EU. So the UK leaving the EU does nothing to help their cause. There is no point in Labour and Plaid Cymru calling for another referendum, because they don't want to respect the result of the first one. Paul Davies was right on this point. The people of the UK have spoken. The people of Wales have already spoken. Today, both Labour and Plaid Cymru are showing their utter contempt for democracy, and their contempt for the intelligence of the British people. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Holyhead is closer to Dublin than it is to Liverpool. There's only half a mile or so in it, but in terms of trade, it's far more important, of course, and when I grew up, I felt that I grew up in a European frontier. I remember popping over to Dún Laoghaire for a curry on a Saturday night, and many weekends spent in Dublin. That was so much fun but, of course, the advantages of having that close link run far deeper than those evenings I spent on the emerald isle.
Now, what we're discussing today, this withdrawal agreement, is very different to what was promised back in 2016, and the fact that we have arrived at this point now shows to me the mistake—if you want to be kind—or the fraud, as I would see it, of not having proposed a plan for people before the referendum, because now we're discovering the reality of trying to withdraw from a relationship that has worked so favourably for us throughout my life. Now, I'm a proud European. I always have been because, as a nationalist and an internationalist from Wales, I want Wales to be part of wider networks. So, I'm happy to confirm what Gareth Bennett said: small, independent nations such as Wales do benefit from being part of international networks. I want an independent Wales to be part of British and European networks in future, for my children and for their children.
They're not intangible networks. They're genuine, real networks that do have a real impact. I've mentioned Holyhead already. I don't have to talk about the importance of that port in the context of the economy of Anglesey but, of course, it is a vital crossing in terms of the relationship between Britain and the European Union: the second busiest roll-on, roll-off port in the British isles, second to Dover. The trade traffic through Holyhead has increased by 694 per cent since the single European market was created. Now, easy movement throughout Holyhead is vital to the economic health of the port and that town, and we don’t have to imagine the impact that a hard withdrawal from the European Union would have. We have no certainty under what is being proposed in the agreement at present. Yes, there's mention made of a backstop agreement, and that there will be no change for now and so forth, but I'm not happy to take a risk with that kind of uncertainty. We know that a hard border would be very damaging, but we know that there are ferries—not ideas and threats—but ferries that are being built to make that direct crossing from Holyhead to the European continent.
If I can turn to agriculture, it's so important to Anglesey economically, socially, culturally and linguistically. We already see the impact of Brexit before we withdraw in the 'Brexit and our land' consultation, which does lay the foundation for eradicating direct payments to family farms, and to farms in general. And, there's the threat to markets used by our farmers. The farming unions say that, perhaps, yes, this agreement is better than no agreement at all, and the total uncertainty that that would cause. But, there is room to halt this entire process, and that's the only thing that can provide some certainty for farmers.
Then, there's the whole Brexit narrative. Undermining Europe is not the only aim here—I have no doubt about that—but making Wales more British and less Welsh. We saw it in the Royal Welsh Show, with Welsh food being branded as British food. This week, I saw pictures of lamb from Wales being sold in Morrisons with the union jack stamped on it—that's not something that's happened before. The chief executive of Hybu Cig Cymru has referred to a study that shows that the Welsh brand is a far more effective and stronger brand than the British brand when selling to markets such as France and Germany, and Italy as well, I think.
And, it's not just meat that I'm talking about here. Ninety-seven per cent of mussels from the Menai straits go to EU markets, and they have to arrive within that golden hour of being harvested. That's the threat to them. And salt: Halen Môn—the best salt in the world, without a doubt—is very proud of being a Welsh and European product, and has benefited significantly from having that European protected status.
There's so much more that we could refer to in terms of Anglesey's relationship with the EU. SEACAMS, the department at Bangor University that innovates in the field of technology with regard to the sea, which has contributed much on marine energy, has benefited greatly from European funding. Orbital, a company from Scotland, has this week signed an agreement with the Morlais energy park, and Orbital has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020.
I will draw this to a conclusion—time is against me. Young people in Anglesey are the cohort that I'm concerned about. The opportunities that are lost to them: the opportunities in education; opportunities to work. This pride in shutting off the free movement of people once and for all is something that is alien to me as a father of three children, who sees the world as their oyster and sees the opportunities in that regard. And do you know what? Young people understand. We know that as many as 70 per cent of young people, if not more, between 18 and 24 voted to remain in the European Union. We are sacrificing their futures in the name of some kind of perverse democracy that rejects giving people a second vote.
There are two reasons why I give my support to a people's vote: one, isn't it a worth making a decision on the basis of genuine evidence, and therefore looking at what the barriers are? Secondly, isn't it important that democracy is something that is as contemporary as possible? That's why elections are held every few years, because people do change their minds. The reason that people lose faith in one idea, one party, is that they see new evidence and they change their minds. The evidence has changed. The evidence is clear to us. Let us take a contemporary vote and show that we, as the National Assembly for Wales, are serious about democracy here today—not democracy based on the lies of a few years ago.
I rise to speak with a dispensation from members of my group in recognition of my consistent call for a People's Vote, and I will, therefore, be supporting amendment 3.
And what I want to say here is—. I'm going to quote a politician that I would normally be loath to quote, and that politician talked about the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. And that, I think, is where we are today with this whole Brexit scenario. We have more unknown unknowns than ever before. And we all know that the next few days and weeks are critical, but the legal, the political, and the constitutional permutations are all unknown. So, I think it's incumbent upon politicians to make known their views and their intentions and to be honest about what they believe is best for Britain and best for Wales. And that is why I will be supporting amendment 3. I will call for a people's vote on the final agreement between the UK and the EU, including an option for the UK to remain a member state of the European Union. I will also be supporting that on behalf of the young people who never had a chance to vote because they weren't yet of voting age, yet they expressed their view and their wish for their futures to become secure without that power.
I think and I understand full well and do respect the vote that was returned, but let's be absolutely clear about the vote that was returned. First of all, we had a referendum, and this was supposed to be the referendum that was brought about by a party to actually quell and finally put to bed their internal argument about being members of the European Union. So confident was the then Prime Minister that he was going to get a vote to remain in the European Union, he actually didn't bother to do any work whatsoever to promote that idea. When he finally woke up, it was too late. When he lost the biggest gamble that this country has ever had, he left. He left the country to its own devices. And when the lies that are now coming out persuaded people to vote to leave, exactly the same happened the other side. Farage has left the country. Where did he go? Germany. That's where he's gone.
So, let's be clear about what's happened here. Let's be clear about what people really thought they were voting for—and those buses. We've all seen the lies emblazoned on those buses. None of them will be delivered. None of them will be delivered. So, when we know what it is that people have really voted for, when we know what that is, then let's go back to the people if you've got such confidence—I can hear you shouting over there. If you've got such confidence that people are going to support what the reality is, then give them a chance to do that. Because that is what people do. [Interruption.] No, I will not give way. I've heard enough from you, because you were part of that process that led us to where we are today.
We're all going to be better off, are we? You tell that to the young people who might not be able to take part in knowledge exchange for the future, to learn what is out there beyond the boundaries of the UK. You take that to the people that I was talking to who are very proud—and Wales is extremely proud of being a leading partner in the innovation in medicines. You tell that to the doctors who were pleading with me when I was at an event the other day that we don't throw all that away. You tell that to the workers whose rights were not given to them in this country. I don't know how many of you actually understand that part-time workers had no entitlement whatsoever to paid holiday pay—I don't know how many of you know that—but I know one thing: my mother knew it, until she managed to get that when the Labour Government decided to implement that change here. So, you need to wake up when you're talking about the rights. You need to wake up when you think about the consequences.
And what about human rights? We hear it from the side over there, 'Don't let them have rights', but I'll tell you one thing now, when you remove rights from people, you remove your own rights, and you don't know what rights you need until you need them. You don't know what protection you need until you're in that position. I am a little bit fed up also of hearing about removing human rights as though you can somehow allow them for some people and not for others. I hear it all the time. If anybody really believes that there aren't gaps between the current status that we have now and the bill of rights, what I suggest is that they mind the gap, because I'm really concerned that people are going to fall through that.
So, I clearly want to put it back to the people. I want them to have an opportunity, so that when they fully understand what this is going to mean to them—not the lies and the innuendos that we've heard, but the real choice of what they will be letting themselves in for—then I think that we can all get on and move forward, and at least give people a real chance to say, 'Now we know what we voted for, now we've made our choice.'
After listening to so many good speeches, I don't think I will have much to say, but the fact is, I will say a few things.
When the first election happened—devolution for this Chamber in 1997—there was only a 6,721 majority and we are here, and the majority for the UK to leave Europe was 1,269,501. So, actually, there was a clear majority for people to leave Europe. There is no quarrel. I met a lot of people before May 2016, and met so many constituents, including from farming communities. I can't explain in this Chamber the language they used when I went to Raglan market to meet so many farmers, and there were so many that were anti-Europe. I met so many teachers, so many doctors, so many taxi drivers, so many shopkeepers—there's a long list, Presiding Officer. They were, actually, totally against Europe. I do not know why, but I can blame one or two people—one on that side of the Chamber and the other is our media.
You've probably forgotten what happened on the BBC and ITV, the channels that people watched, saw and agreed upon. We are not talking about those areas where people were guided in a different direction. Brexit means that in that referendum in 2016, people voted to bring our EU membership to an end and to create a new role for our country in the world. We need to deliver Brexit now that respects the decision of the British people; a Brexit that takes back control of our own borders, our law and our money; and a Brexit that sets us on course for a better future outside the EU as a globally trading nation in charge of our own destiny, seizing the opportunity of trade with some of the fastest growing and most dynamic economies across the world. Don't underestimate Great Britain. We were before 1973, without Europe, a great Britain, and we have the name. There are more than 200 countries around the globe, and 27—[Interruption.] Mike, go on.
If things were so good in 1973, why did Prime Ministers in 1959 and 1973 all attempt to join the European Union?
Mike, you forgot the swinging 1960s. You probably didn't enjoy the time when Great Britain was actually in the lead in everything, and they were leading the world in all walks of life. [Interruption.] Wait a minute. We will control, after Brexit, Presiding Officer, we will control our own borders and free movement, once and for all. That isn't Brexit. We protect our jobs in this country, whether in Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland or England. We will control all of it. We will no longer send vast—. Money has been mentioned—£300 million a week will be stopped. And we'll probably use that money for our social services here, or the different areas. Our Government will use it, and we will be able to trade freely around the world with TWA. The thing is: Europeans are only 27 countries, not 200 countries. So, remember: we will be growing bigger. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Llywydd. Can I—
I've just given way.
Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I thought that was your flourish and your finish. I am sorry, Mohammad Asghar. Giving way to Steffan Lewis.
Thank you, Llywydd. I think we were all getting rather excited that maybe the Member had reached his climax at that point. It certainly looked like that from where I was sitting. [Laughter.] The Member has just said that the UK will be free to trade with the rest of the world. At the moment, I keep hearing Brexiteers on the radio telling me that our biggest trading nation is the United States of America. How on earth does being in the European Union prevent us from trading with the rest of the world?
Listen: wait till Brexit on 29 March next year. We will be trading with China and other nations—Japan and others, Brazil. Don't forget—you're talking about Welsh lamb. We have the best commodities—Welsh water, even, we can sell to Arabs. You forget these areas. Look—[Interruption.] Go on.
As a journalist, I once accompanied a former First Minister on a trade mission to China, because Welsh businesses are already doing business with countries the length and breadth of the world, as well as being part of a single totally open and transparent market of over 0.5 billion people.
I'm glad to know that, but when I went there 10 years ago, I and Plaid Cymru leader at that time, Ieuan—ask him—do you know what the Chinese told us? 'What is Wales? Where is Wales?' I'm glad this Chamber has promoted our part of the world. London has promoted Wales, and now we are—. And don't forget there is over a billion population there, and we are like a little village for them, and the trading they will do with the United Kingdom, not Wales alone. Remember this. And Wales has an opportunity—don't forget that. We will keep ourselves safe—[Interruption.] We will be safe against crime and terrorism, don't forget, after this Brexit. People are staying in France and everywhere, crossing all of Europe to come into this country. Why? Because—[Interruption.] No, no, no, no. Because there are people like you—'Come over, do nothing, and we'll still pay you.' That is not the right way to do things. All the right people must come in. The people must come the right way here. And also the referendum means—in our language we say—[Interruption.] In our language—I'll translate in a minute: Zaban-e-khalk ko nikara khuda samjho. It means, in Indian: 'When people speak, it's the word of God.' So, remember this: when people decided Brexit, you must, must agree it—. We are all here as elected Members because, whether we won it by one vote or 1,000 votes, you are elected. You must respect Brexit. There is no way out.
And listen—[Interruption.] And listen to what your leader is saying. He—Mr Corbyn—[Interruption.] Mr Corbyn—he himself—do you know what he said? He's not acting in the interest of Brexit. He said he was opposed to the deal before he even read it. That is your leader. And also Jeremy Corbyn promised to respect the country's decision to leave, but has now opened the door to rerunning the referendum, which will take all of us back to square one. So, there is uncertainty and also uncertainty and division if we listen to Jeremy Corbyn. That is, Presiding Officer—. Our Prime Minister is actually—I wish her long life, and everything—she's virtually as equal to or better than Joan of Arc. She will be doing a better job for the United Kingdom, and she's doing it, and you're forgetting it.
We have achieved a deal. We have achieved a deal with the European Union to deliver the referendum, a deal the nation can unite behind. One Parliament should be back. Also, we will control our own everything—every political area and businesses the British will control. The economy—I'll come to this. We have delivered—[Interruption.] We have delivered a commitment to provide appropriate analysis to Parliament through robust objective assessment how exiting the EU may affect the economy of the UK sector by nation and region in the long run. This analysis shows that our deal is the best deal available for jobs, our economy, while allowing us to honour the referendum and realise the opportunity of Brexit.
Presiding Officer, our unemployment, our wages, our—[Interruption.]
No. The Member is already out of time. He's not taking an intervention.
Basically—. I'm on the last few lines now. This economy is going to grow. Brexit is only the answer. What Theresa May has put in black and white—please read. That is in the interest of the nation and the interest of our next generation. This people's vote I think is a nonsense and a non-starter, because we already had one, so there is no need for that to be had and to endorse another one. It would never end. So, I'd be grateful if you—. We will, anyway, be opposing this whole lot, but thank you very much for listening.