European Union Citizenship

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 7th March 2018.

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Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Brexit), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade) 2:15 pm, 7th March 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was going to go on to say that this is more than just a matter of self-ascribed identity. It is about the real practical matters of the rights to travel and work—the European rights that have benefited people in Wales and throughout the UK. There is an argument about identity, and I will talk about that in a moment, but I do not think that it has the force that Paul Masterton seemed to imply.

I was talking about Gwynfor Evans, who would often remind us of three pillars of Owain Glyndŵr’s policy during the 15th-century war of independence, as related to the King of France in the Pennal letter, which some people will have seen when it was on a visit to Aberystwyth some years ago. He said to the King of France that one of the central pillars was the need for a direct relationship with Rome for the Church in Wales—it was a very long time ago, and that was important then. It was about a direct relationship with the overarching European institution, rather than an indirect link mediated through Canterbury—some people will hear the echoes of the current situation in that policy.

By the way, the other two pillars of Glyndŵr’s policy were for Welsh to be the state language and for two universities to be established at a time when they were first being established across Europe by ambitious leaders. Some 600 years later, we have excellent universities in Wales. We are nearly there on the language issue, but on the European issue we are taking a serious step back.

From the start, my party took inspiration from continental developments of economic and social co-operation, as exemplified in the writings of D. J. Davies. We found European multilingualism far more congenial than the stifling monolingualism of so much of the UK’s public life. I say in passing that right hon. and hon. Members may not know that the most recent meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee was held here in Westminster with simultaneous translation. Half those who spoke did so partly or wholly in Welsh. No one was hurt. Revolution did not break out. Hansard published what I think is its very first wholly bilingual record—I should mention that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Stuart Andrew spoke in Welsh, and I congratulate him sincerely on his efforts—but that reflection of the actual linguistic condition common in these islands is still very much the remarked-upon exception, rather than the rule. That is not so over much of the rest of our continent.

Turning to present times, given our radical political stance, Plaid Cymru has always supported the growth and development of European policies beyond the narrow confines of the common market, which we initially joined. Ordinary people across the UK have derived so much benefit from those social, workforce and environmental policies, and EU citizenship is, for me, in that category. Importantly for our country, the EU has an overt regional economic cohesion policy, from which Wales has derived substantial additional funding. Of course, it is a cruel irony that we benefit thus only because of our poverty and our economy performing so badly, on a par with regions of the former Soviet bloc at the eastern end of the European Union.

In passing, I must also refer to other EU measures such as Interreg Europe, which promotes inter-regional contact between Wales and Ireland. Wales faces west as well as east, although many people, including Government Ministers, sometimes do not realise that. My colleague, Albert Owen, used to say occasionally that Holyhead was east Dublin rather than north-west Anglesey. We have also benefited from the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the Erasmus programme on student exchange, to name just three from which Wales along with other parts of the UK has benefited, and in respect of which, I say to the Minister, there is much concern, not least at our universities, and I mention my own, Bangor University.