At the coalface of seemingly cyclical conversations on the how, what, when and why of Brexit, the overwhelming detail can often seem unconquerable. The uncertainty and division this creates for business and communities is in danger of corroding our economy and society.
In Wales this is perhaps most stark. We are after all a nation so heavily reliant on the EU but chose to reject the political union. It is more critical than ever that a genuine Welsh voice is heard on the unique issues faced by us on the other side of Offa’s Dyke.
To make things manageable we can divide the Brexit debate into a three parts – the process, the politics and the economics.
The catchily titled Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations (JMC(EN)) is supposed to act as the link between the devolved administrations and the UK Government on all matters Brexit. Meetings bring together the great and the good of the UK Government with the relevant Ministers from each of the devolved parliaments.
They have however been roundly criticised as little more than an opportunity for Theresa May et al to go through the motions.
Constructive efforts have been made to engage through the JMC(EN). A Brexit white paper developed jointly by Plaid Cymru and Labour in Wales – the Official Opposition and Government in Cardiff Bay – was presented at a meeting, alongside an equivalent paper from the Scottish administration. However, there is little evidence that either of these comprehensive documents has weighed heavy on the UK Government’s mind.
Disquiet is growing in Wales with how the Brexit process is being handled. With the devolved administrations increasingly being side-lined despite their constructive efforts, May’s ‘UK – partnership of equals’ line is starting to wear very thin.
Divisions are aplenty in the current political climate. The simplistic and binary nature of the debate has obfuscated the multifaceted nature of what ‘leaving the EU’ means. Without clear direction and detailed explanations, these divisions will only be exacerbated.
One area where clear direction is needed imminently is devolution. There is increasing nervousness that Wales’ already underpowered parliament will face a power-grab form Westminster under the guise of the ‘repatriation of EU powers’.
There is widespread public support for the Welsh Assembly to have increasing control over Welsh matters. And if the vote to leave the European Union shows anything it is that power and politics must be closer to the people they affect.
The arguments over staying in the Single Market and Customs Union are now well rehearsed and the Government’s rejection of this position clear. But, the slash and burn dogmatism of the Government means that despite facts pointing to the contrary, they are willing to sacrifice economic gains for the political equivalent.
The damage that uncertainty around our trading relationship with the EU creates is particularly acute for Wales.
Unlike the UK as a whole, Wales exports more than it imports in goods each year – with just over 67% of Wales’ exports heading straight to the EU. Welsh exports to the EU totalled £1.2 billion in the second quarter of 2016 alone.
Structurally Wales also depends much more on production rather than service industries. The manufacturing sector is already fragile in Wales – last year’s Steel Crisis is still fresh in the mind and only this week we have heard that Ford is seeking to cut its South Wales workforce by over 1,000.
That is without mentioning our agricultural sector, which relies so heavily on the EU for its exports and sustains so many of our rural communities.
Without the imminent threat of secession from the UK or the complexities of an EU land border, Wales’s challenges can often fail to garner the attention of the political classes. However, if credence is not given to the issues facing Wales, our economy and our society will be bearing down on a perfect storm without the shelter it needs.
We will be working in Cardiff Bay, Westminster and Brussels to try and moderate the ideological extremes of this Government and make sure the red, white and green dimension is part of any Brexit agenda.
Measurement and evaluation