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I have had many opportunities to comment on Brexit in respect of Wales, the UK and the implications for our European partners, so today I wish to outline some concerns I have as a constituency MP that lead me to say that I will oppose the Prime Minister’s deal when I have the opportunity to vote on it.
Arfon is part of the West Wales and The Valleys region. We have a low GDP; it is on a par with that of Spain, Portugal and parts of former communist eastern Europe. As such, we receive EU cohesion funding and other European money, such as Interreg funding to promote links, for example, with Ireland. Agriculture is a significant part of the local economy and, again, it depends on some EU funding. The EU has had these regional and cohesion policies in place for many years, but there is much concern locally about the complete lack of detail as to the arrangements for the shared prosperity fund, which is going to replace the EU funding. That concern is sharpened further by an appreciation that time is very short. Bangor University and Ysbyty Gwynedd, the local district hospital, depend on having EU staff. Bangor University has also recruited many students of EU origin and has excellent EU research links. The university has received significant sums from EU sources.
Arfon also has a number of private sector employers who are headquartered in the EU27. Crucially for our own local economy, we have small exporting businesses, ranging from craft and music businesses to specialised exporters of live plants and a specialised steel forging company that produces equipment for the climbing world. It has already been considering what to do as a result of Brexit and is setting up a distribution centre, not in Llanberis in the heart of Snowdonia, but in the Netherlands–it is taking that step now.
EU employees at the university are worried about the potential future effects, both personally, and in respect of their work, careers and research interests. Terming them as “bargaining chips” and, outrageously, as “queue jumpers”, has only added to their worry and indeed their anger. Many EU staff came to the university because of particular aspects of their academic work in which Bangor excels. They worry that paths and possibilities will not be open to them in future.
We also have links with Ireland. Some time ago, I attended a scientific colloquium in Bangor and a member of staff from University College Cork said about Brexit: “The problem is, you see, Hywel, that the fish don’t know where the international boundary lines are. Bloody stupid fish.” Only, I do not think he was referring to fish at all.
Like other parts of the NHS, Ysbyty Gwynedd has difficulty recruiting staff, and EU staff work there, too.
Arfon is one of the most intensely Welsh speaking areas of Wales, with around 70% of adults speaking Welsh and 85% of young people speaking Welsh because of bilingual education. The Welsh language has received financial support from EU sources. Furthermore, it is intangible but important that the normality of EU multilingualism, at not only official but societal and cultural levels, is a significant source of confidence for the future of the Welsh language. Many of us feel Welsh and European as well, with nothing in the middle. Arfon is also a major centre of Welsh-language television production, with programmes produced not only by the BBC but, more significantly, by private sector producers that work closely with EU partners.
Those are just some of the real concerns about Arfon’s future outside the EU. Those concerns are reflected strongly in local political results. In the 2015 general election, every seat in Wales swung to the UK Independence party, save for Arfon, which swung strongly to Plaid Cymru. In the referendum on exiting the EU, and like most Welsh constituencies with similar socioeconomic characteristics, Arfon voted strongly in favour of remaining, by a margin of 60 to 40.
There is much else I could say, but I have restricted myself to a few examples of why, on the basis of purely constituency matters, I will certainly oppose the Government’s deal. Those constituency matters are strong enough in and of themselves for me to do that.