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

That is a very good point. We have examined the bilateral agreements that other countries have with the EU. The Brexit Select Committee, of which I am a member, recently had the Swiss ambassador to the EU and Swiss experts before it discussing these bilateral agreements, and they are extremely useful for Switzerland; they are less useful, apparently, in the eyes of the EU, but my hon. Friend’s point is that other devolved Governments and Administrations have taken these matters further. I sincerely wish that our own Government would do the same.

I am drifting a little from the central question, which is the matter of European citizenship, to which I will now return. Many people listening will be thinking, “Didn’t Wales vote to leave the EU—if by a narrow margin?” Like many hon. Members, I continue to receive angry messages from Brexit supporters. The only one repeatable here is: “We’re leaving—get on with it.” I have a vast collection of others that are slightly less polite. We are indeed leaving—unless, of course, there is a sudden outbreak of common sense on the Government Benches—but it is not as simple as that. We are learning—even the Secretary of State for International Trade, who famously said that negotiating new trade deals with the EU would be the simplest thing in the world, is learning—to our cost that it is not that simple, and today’s motion is just one part of our efforts to salvage something from the wreckage of this slow-motion disaster.

For the benefit of my Brexiteering interlocutors, and as a Back-Bench MP responsible to my Arfon constituents, I want to note that all four Plaid Cymru constituencies voted to remain. This is in marked contrast to other Welsh constituencies that share our socioeconomic characteristics—marginalisation, poverty, powerlessness and low wages—but which are represented in this place by parties whose policies on the EU are, at best, a little less clear. Being broadly in favour of the EU, even in our present poor economic condition, is my Arfon constituents’ consistent view, as I will illustrate with a couple of points. First, in the 2015 general election, at the peak of UKIP support, 39 of Wales’ 40 constituencies swung to UKIP—the exception was Arfon, which swung to Plaid Cymru; and secondly, Arfon, I am proud to say, voted in the referendum to remain in the EU by a margin of 60:40.

We have valued our membership of the EU, including the economic support it has given us, and one aspect of this is valuing our European citizenship. The Welsh philosopher J. R. Jones, writing in the early 1960s and commenting on the then apparent terminal decline of the Welsh language, said something like this—I paraphrase in English for the benefit of the House:

“Leaving your country is a common and sometimes sad experience. But I know of something which is much more heart rending, for you could always return to your native land. And that is, not that you are leaving your country, but rather that your country is leaving you, being finally drawn away into the hands of another people, of another culture.”

J. R. Jones and many others inspired the next generation, including me, to campaign for the language, and as a result it is not threatened with extinction, for now at least. His insight is particularly telling today, in that for many, particularly of the younger generation, leaving the EU is just such a heart-rending experience.