We must start to ‘articulate the country to be after we have left the EU’

On Wednesday 11th January, the National Assembly debated a the upcoming negotiations for Britain to leave the European Union. You can read Jeremy’s contribution or watch his speech on the video below.

It’s maybe appropriate that we are here today standing a few 100 yards from the Norwegian church in Cardiff Bay, which was built in the nineteenth century when Norway had an enormous merchant fleet and had great a trading relationship with Wales. It was then a place of respite for Norwegian sailors in the second world war when they couldn’t return home to their country, which had been engulfed by fascism. So, to look to Norway for inspiration, it’s a very different society but in truth we see there the best available access you can get to the European single market without being a member and we see some greater control over immigration. We’ve heard, and we’ve talked in this Chamber before, about the version of freedom of movement in Norway being a slightly stricter version than we have had in the UK. There is one crucial difference that I think has been underexplored in the relationship between Norway and the EU and that’s this: the European Economic Area agreement doesn’t recognise EU citizenship in the same way, and it’s EU citizenship that gives rise to a number of those rights that people have had many concerns about in the course of the referendum debate. Some of those are social security rights and some of them are around the obligation to support students in the same way, whether they’re EU citizens or UK citizens. So, I think there is an opportunity to explore some of the differences there. We look to Norway for guidance, but we don’t in truth know, at this stage, what the ultimate settlement is going to look like. We may end up with more control over some aspects of immigration than Norway has.

But please let’s not fall into the trap of believing that the current version of freedom of movement is the only way that we can express and continue to express our internationalism as a country. We can look at countries like Canada, which has an open-minded liberal internationalist approach to the world, but has immigration controls that we don’t have for EU citizens. I believe passionately and campaigned passionately on the basis that EU membership is in the long-term interests of Wales and of the UK, and I still believe that, but that is not the same as equating the current freedom of movement rules with being internationalist or being compassionate or even being European.

We look in this Chamber at the process of leaving the EU—article 50, Supreme Court decisions and so on—all of them are vitally important to ensure that Wales has its voice heard in the process of leaving the EU. But, I feel that 2017 is the year that we need to move beyond the mechanics of Brexit and start to articulate the country we want Wales to be after we have left the EU.

The campaign for the referendum and the campaign to leave was run by very wealthy, right-wing businesspeople. It’s not the last word, it’s the first step in a much bigger project to change Wales and change the UK in a way that I do not want us to see happening. We saw that on the weekend with Theresa May talking about a vote for fundamental change. I fear that, as we are to some extent distracted by what are very important issues around the leaving of the EU, those who ran those campaigns are already planning the sorts of changes they want to bring in across the UK. We see that in the great repeal Bill. We have decided that actually most of the Bill is about preserving existing legislation, but the truth of it is, it’s the beginning of a political narrative about repealing a bedrock of protections and rights that we have obviously taken far too much for granted in Wales and in the UK.

I think one of the least inspiring aspects of the referendum debate was the almost total absence of the civic voice in the discussions, so we’ve ended up with a view of post-Brexit Wales as being economistic and partial. It was politicians arguing over money, so the distrusted arguing over the disbelieved, and as a result I think we now have to articulate the kind of vision we want to see for Wales after Brexit, to make alliances and to fight for that vision.