My Lords, as the Government begin to make their arrangements for the UK’s potential exit from the EU, I want to make a few comments on and pose a few questions about issues important to Wales: Welsh agriculture, Welsh industry, particularly in north Wales, and the port of Holyhead.
However, at the outset, I repeat a question that I and others have asked before in these debates. West Wales and the Valleys have qualified for and benefited from Objective 1 funding for almost 20 years and have seen many improvements in road and community infrastructure and connectivity. Have the Government planned for similar funding to continue if Brexit happens? I ask for probably the third time: will it be allocated on the EU’s basis of need or on the outdated and by now infamous Barnett formula, which relies on crude population counts?
I turn to agriculture and place on record some of the findings of the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place in its report Brexit: Priorities for Welsh Agriculture, published earlier this month. Those of us who live in rural north Wales already know and appreciate the contribution and value of agriculture, its central role in community life and its essential role in maintaining the Welsh language. Fewer people might be aware of its impact on the Welsh economy, where it accounts for a higher proportion of jobs and economic value than in the rest of the UK. Because over 80% of Welsh food and animal exports are to the EU, the report repeats the overwhelming view of witnesses and Welsh Members on this side of the Chamber that barrier-free access to current markets is essential for Welsh agricultural products, and could be best achieved by retaining membership of the single market and customs union.
If a post-Brexit Britain is to become a reality, Wales needs its fair share of agricultural funding. It needs clarity on the formula to be used in any replacement agricultural funding scheme, as with the structural funding that I mentioned earlier. We are told that funding will be broadly the same over the next few years, but the Welsh Affairs Committee’s report recommends that,
“before Committee stage of the Agriculture Bill in the House of Commons—the UK Government agree with the devolved administrations a mechanism for future allocations of funding for agricultural support”.
We cannot tolerate a repetition of the earlier stages of the withdrawal Bill, where UK Ministers sought to take decisions regarding EU laws in Wales into their own hands. There is no place for a similar colonialist attitude now—the voice of the devolved Administrations must be heard.
The situation facing Airbus and other manufacturers that rely on the highly efficient and highly cost-effective just-in-time supply system is now surely beyond parody. After initially welcoming the Chequers White Paper as going “in the right direction”, Airbus’s CEO, Tom Enders, expressed his concern at the Government’s decision to accept the European Research Group’s hard-line amendments to the customs Bill and sees the Government’s strategy for leaving the EU as “unravelling”.
Consequently, the company has taken measures to activate its contingency plans and begin stockpiling parts to mitigate the effects of this change in government policy. Have the Government made an assessment of the long-term impact of funding these contingency plans on future investment in companies such as this? The ERG’s small group of about 40 MPs appears to revel in holding the Government to ransom. I recognise that they will have scant regard for the potential loss of Airbus’s 6,000 jobs in Broughton in north-east Wales, but these full-time, well-paid jobs are vital to our economy. While millionaires manipulate the situation for their own benefit, secure in the knowledge that their fortunes and pensions protect them, workers in places such as Airbus are beginning to understand the potential impact of a hard or no-deal Brexit on them, their jobs and their families.
In north-west Wales, if there is a hard or no-deal Brexit, the port of Holyhead faces the same problems as Dover in terms of customs checks, leading to delays, but infrastructure problems could make the situation there even worse. Now that the new Brexit Secretary appears to be preparing us for a no-deal Brexit, can we assume that the Government will publish contingency plans for the port? Whatever happens, whether there is a soft, or hard, or red, white and blue, or no-deal Brexit—or even no Brexit—Holyhead faces a reduction in trade and probably a reduction in employment. Ireland, and the shipping industry, have been incredibly proactive in the face of Brexit and have sought ways to avoid the land bridge between Ireland and the EU. Now the world’s largest short sea roll-on roll-off ship has begun running between Dublin and the continent. Officially, it is called the MV “Celine” but, unofficially, it is the “Brexit Buster”. Sadly, only about 20% or 30% of Ireland’s trade is with the EU. A massive 70% is with the UK. With chaos on the horizon, a situation that has been an act of national self-harm risks harming our closest neighbours, and the remaining EU 26 as well.
Finally, this weekend I was horrified yet strangely satisfied to see the leader of the European Research Group being forced finally to admit that it will probably take some 50 years for the country to know whether Brexit has been a success or not. By then my eldest grandchild will be 60 years old. What will her life have been like if Brexit is a failure?