Brexit Negotiations – A Farce That Could Have Been Avoided

Marcus Stead
Marcus Stead

By MARCUS STEAD

AS THINGS stand, a so-called ‘no deal’ Brexit appears more likely than ever. Prime Minister Boris Johnson raised the stakes earlier today with his statement that referred to the need for the UK to prepare for an ‘Australian’ style deal with the EU, pronouncing: “For whatever reason it’s clear from the summit that after 45 years of membership, they are not willing – unless there’s some fundamental change of approach – to offer this country the same terms as Canada. And so with high hearts and complete confidence we will prepare to embrace the alternative.”

Boris Johnson’s ‘Australian’ comment was all to typical of a man whose professional life (not just his political career) has been characterised by a lack of clear thinking, and an inability to fully grasp the issues at hand or pay attention to detail.

Mr Johnson doesn’t have a political philosophy as such. As Ken Livingstone, his predecessor as Mayor of London put it, the only thing Boris Johnson believes in is ‘being there’. He was never a committed Brexiteer. Indeed, prior to the referendum, he wrote two articles for the Daily Mail, one supporting Remain, the other supporting Leave, and only decided at the last moment which was to be published and which was to be spiked. Mr Johnson was not a known Eurosceptic during his time as a journalist, nor during his tenure as Mayor. He made the calculation to support Leave based on his own political self-interest, and it was a decision that surprised the then-Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Due to his inability to grasp detail, Boris Johnson’s entire political career has been one based on haphazard, snap decision making, of leaving the hard work to others, before moving on to whatever comes into his head next. His ‘Australia’ comment was just the latest example of this. To compare the UK’s relationship with the EU to Australia’s relationship with the EU is ridiculous.

The EU comprises 11% of Australian goods trade and 19% of its services trade. Total EU-Australia trade amounted to around £111 billion in 2018/19 (at 2018 exchange rates).

For the UK, in 2018, the EU comprised 52% of its goods trade and 44% of its services trade. UK-EU trade is almost six times Australia-EU trade in terms of value, at £660 billion in 2018.

Australia’s main exports to the EU are raw materials, namely coal and gold, which make up two-fifths of its total exports to the bloc.

The UK exports a more varied range of mainly manufactured goods, such as cars, food products and pharmaceuticals. These latter are much more highly regulated industries and, although they would face tariffs in a no deal scenario, they would also encounter significant non-tariff, regulatory barriers.

And this is what’s at the heart of the problem. In the event of a so-called ‘no-deal’ Brexit, much of what goes on in this country would have no legal basis. For example, most of the world’s best Formula One teams are based near Silverstone racetrack. The agreement that allows them to move their cars and parts in and out of the country umpteen times per season would not exist. Nor would the agreement that allows racehorses in and out of the country with ease. There are numerous other similar examples, across many sectors.

On the other hand, I cannot think of a single item of food or drink that couldn’t be sourced from outside the EU if it was absolutely necessary. In terms of items on the supermarket shelf, a ‘no deal’ Brexit may well result in short-term disruption as supplies are rebalanced, but we should avoid talking in terms of an ‘apocalypse scenario’ and alarmism. Getting items in and out of the country would be a bureaucratic nuisance and would cause businesses all manner of problems, but it would not be the alarmist scenario predicted by some on the Remain side who still don’t accept the result of the 2016 referendum more than four years later.

Time is of the essence. The entire business community can handle bad news a LOT better than it can handle uncertainty. If you’ve received bad news, you can act accordingly. If there’s a poor deal coming, or no deal at all, business can use the time to adapt and adjust for that. It’s the not knowing that’s causing a lot of the angst and unrest, and with that in mind, clarity on what the situation will be come 01st January 2021 needs to be given by the end of October at the latest.

November is going to be a very difficult time for this country, as Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s furloughing scheme is scaled back. A large number of people are facing the very real possibility of redundancy. If we, personally don’t lose our jobs, there’s a very high chance we’ll have friends or family members who do lose their jobs. And for all of us, places we like, restaurants, pubs, cinemas, will be closing for good, and it won’t be pleasant. With that in mind, even the most committed Brexiteer would appreciate some clarity as to what the situation will be come January, which is why the end of this month is the realistic cut-off point for negotiations.

We also need a sense of perspective when ‘playing our hand’ in negotiations. Since entering what was then the EEC in 1973, the British fishing industry has been utterly decimated as a direct consequence. Fishing rights feel ‘emotionally important’ in negotiations as a result, but in terms of fishing’s economic importance, it is minuscule. In 2016, turnover for the entire UK fishing industry was £725 million. To put that into perspective, the turnover for Harrods department store alone was £2 billion.

Since the referendum of June 2016, a huge amount of time has been wasted. Theresa May became Prime Minister not long afterwards, and she was a Remain supporter during the referendum campaign, albeit a low-key one. She had a reputation throughout her political career as being dithery and indecisive, these were hardly qualities we needed when entering into tough negotiations with the EU. Furthermore, she had the mindset of treating Brexit as a damage limitation exercise rather than an opportunity to reshape the British economy and restore parliamentary democracy and accountability in a world that has changed enormously since Britain entered what was then called the EEC in 1973.

The most concerning aspect of both Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit is just how little they, or their inner circle of advisers knew about how the European Union and its institutions work.

So what could have been done differently? First of all, whoever succeeded David Cameron as Prime Minister should have put together a ‘Brexit advisory group’, a sort of ‘mini Cabinet’ consisting of people who actually understood how the EU works, and could therefore prepare a clear strategy for negotiations with Michel Barnier and his team.

Christopher Booker
Christopher Booker

Top of the list should have been the academic Richard North, whose understanding of the EU is second-to-none. Next should have been his regular working partner, the late journalist Christopher Booker, founder of Private Eye magazine who for decades had detailed the damaging impact of EU membership upon British life through his books, newspaper columns and public speeches.

Further members of the group should have been Conservative MPs Sir John Redwood and David Davis (the original Brexit Secretary), both of whom have decades of relevant experience. The final member should have been the then-Labour MP Gisela Stuart, who earned the respect of Leave supporters with her displays during the campaign in TV debates and public speeches. Her presence among the group would have not only added a fresh perspective, but would have acknowledged the reality that a very large number of Labour supporters voted Leave in the referendum, that Euroscepticism was by no means confined to the right wing of the political spectrum, and this was a ‘mini Cabinet’ of able people from across the political spectrum.

Instead, both Theresa May and Boris Johnson have lacked people with the relevant expertise needed to understand just how profoundly different in law, interpretation and character the European Union is to the United Kingdom. Their advisers consist largely of people of little relevant experience, and civil service mandarins who regard Brexit as a ‘negative’ and at best, like Mrs May, a damage limitation exercise, rather than an opportunity to be seized.

The Norway Option

Have you ever been sitting in your living room on a summer’s day with your window open, when a bird flew in? The window is wide open, yet despite your best efforts, the bird seems to panic and fly everywhere except through that open window? Because that is what the last four-and-a-bit years have been like in terms of Brexit negotiations.

All along, there was a clear, well-defined roadmap out of the EU that would’ve give the UK a relatively straightforward, though, imperfect solution, and that’s the so-called Norway Option.

It’s effectively a ‘take it off the shelf and plug it in’ Brexit, but the UK Government foolishly ruled it out, both in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum and in the years since. It had the support of the likes of Booker and North, as well as of principled MPs like Stephen Kinnock, who supported a Remain vote but respected the verdict of the people, and saw this as a way forward that both implemented Brexit and ensured economic disruption was kept to a minimum.

Here’s how it works: Norway is not, nor never has been, a member of the European Union. It is, however, a member of the European Economic Area (EEA).

If the UK chose to stay in the EEA, we would be able to leave the EU, agree our own trade deals with non-EU countries (since we would NOT be in the Customs Union), and would stay in the Single Market.

Crucially, we would also be able to suspend ‘freedom of movement’ since EEA members are allowed to activate Article 112 of the EEA agreement, known as the ‘emergency brake’. This method has been used by Lichtenstein to suspend ‘freedom of movement’ indefinitely, and implement its own quota system. As a far larger country with much more clout, the UK could do the same with ease.

There are, inevitably, downsides to EEA membership. We would still have to pay some money every year, though nowhere near as much as at present. We’d also have to accept their regulations when we traded with them, but then again, we also have to accept the  rules of the USA, China, India or any other country we choose to trade with, which is reasonable.

But on the crucial matters – Parliamentary sovereignty, the supremacy of British courts, immigration controls, the ability to form trade deals with the wider world, and the ability to form a genuinely independent foreign policy, we would be winners on all counts.

Sadly, that window of opportunity has now passed. Boris Johnson is playing a reckless ‘high stakes’ game. It’s still entirely possible that the EU will return with a new, improved ‘counter offer’ next week. A ‘no deal’ Brexit would harm them as well, since they sell more to the UK than the other way around. But the game Mr Johnson is playing is cavalier and dangerous. The business community has enough to worry about right now without the problems and uncertainty a ‘no deal’ scenario would bring.

Even if the news is bad, Mr Johnson owes it to all importers and exporters to ensure clarity by the end of the month, so they can prepare for the reality of what the start of 2021 will bring.

Marcus Stead on Radio Sputnik: 08 October 2020

By MARCUS STEAD

Marcus Stead
Marcus Stead

EARLIER today, I appeared on Radio Sputnik to discuss the latest developments with Brexit negotiations.

It’s now October and there are two fundamental truths that we should focus our minds on at the moment.

The first is that time is short. The Brexit negotiations are NOT something that can be taken right up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Realistically, they are going to have to be concluded by the end of this month so that businesses and ports can prepare to implement whatever the reality will be from the start of January.

The second is that the entire business community can handle bad news a LOT better than it can handle uncertainty. If you’ve received bad news, you can act accordingly. If there’s a poor deal coming, or no deal at all, business can use the time to adapt and adjust for that. It’s the not knowing that’s causing a lot of the angst and unrest. The lingering uncertainty is doing nobody any good at all.

The British people voted for Brexit 52% to 48% in the referendum of 2016. In 2017, we had a General Election where both the Conservative and Labour parties made a firm commitment to implement the result of the referendum. And at the end of 2019, we had another General Election, where a Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson won a clear mandate from the British people, with an 80 seat majority, to implement the result of the referendum. And they won seats that had been Labour for living memory for even the oldest members of society.

The British people voted Leave, and they reaffirmed that decision in TWO General elections since the referendum.

However, even as recently as last December’s General Election, nobody could have predicted what a horrendous year 2020 would be not only for Britain, but for the world. The Covid pandemic has changed everything. We saw this week how Cineworld is going to mothball all 127 of its UK cinemas until at least March of next year. Will they ever reopen? Who knows? Just yesterday, pub chain Greene King announced it was cutting 800 jobs. 79 sites will be closed for the time being, some of those will close permanently.

Come the end of the month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s furloughing scheme is being rebranded, in real terms this means that it’s being scaled back quite considerably as employers are asked to take on more of the burden of paying staff for effectively not working. That’ll inevitably mean a huge number of redundancies in the retail and hospitality sectors.

Let’s not mince words on this – next month, November, is going to be a very difficult time for this country. A large number of people are facing the very real possibility of redundancy. If we, personally don’t lose our jobs, there’s a very high chance we’ll have friends or family members who do lose their jobs. And for all of us, places we like, restaurants, pubs, cinemas, will be closing for good, and it won’t be pleasant.

Even the most committed Brexiteer would appreciate some clarity as to what the situation will be come January, which is why the end of this month is really as far as we can push talks, with a more likely scenario being things really hot up next week.

Later in the interview, I was invited to comment on today’s news that the Information Commissioner has concluded that Cambridge Analytica was ‘not involved’ in the EU referendum following a three-year investigation.

I pointed out that neither official campaign was without blame during the 2016 referendum. Indeed, official Remain campaign used exactly the same spending tactics as Vote Leave, except far worse.

I concluded by saying that the British people gave their endorsement of Brexit in the referendum of 2016, again in the 2017 General Election, and again in last December’s General Election, which a Boris Johnson-led Conservative Party won with an 80 seat majority on the back of a key manifesto pledge to deliver Brexit.

A full and complete Brexit means:

  1. National sovereignty.
  2. The supremacy of British courts.
  3. The ability to set controls on immigration.
  4. The ability to form trade deals with the wider world.
  5. A truly independent foreign policy.

Anything less than this falls short of the Brexit the British people voted for.

 

When the lights go out – the REAL danger of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit

By MARCUS STEAD

Marcus Stead
Marcus Stead

HOW LIKELY is a so-called ‘No Deal’ Brexit at the moment? The deadline for extending transition period talks expired on 30 June, and, in theory, if no agreement is in place by 31 December, the United Kingdom will not have a trade deal in place with the European Union, so will trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms in future.

The Prime Minister has hinted that he wants to step up the intensity of talks and that he wants the outline of a deal to be agreed by the end of July. That seems highly unlikely to happen. The EU has said that October 31 is a more realistic deadline, but that would leave businesses with just two months to prepare for the changes that follow.

These deadlines were already very tight indeed even without the added complication of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although an extension to the transition phase is no longer possible, it does seem very likely that we’ll end up with an extension, but that it’ll be called something else.

The most obvious way of doing this would be to amend the end date of the transition period in the Withdrawal Agreement, but this would almost certainly require the European Court of Justice to give its legal opinion first.

An alternative option is to create a new transition period to begin on 1 January 2021. A third possibility is to create an implementation phase as part of the future relationship treaty. A fourth option is to create an implementation phase to prepare for a potential no-deal exit.

Since the referendum of June 2016, a huge amount of time has been wasted. Theresa May became Prime Minister not long afterwards, and she was a Remain supporter during the referendum campaign, albeit a low-key one. She had a reputation throughout her political career as being dithery and indecisive, these were hardly qualities we needed when entering into tough negotiations with the EU. Furthermore, she had the mindset of treating Brexit as a damage limitation exercise rather than an opportunity to reshape the British economy and restore parliamentary democracy and accountability in a world that has changed enormously since Britain entered what was then called the EEC in 1973.

As for Boris Johnson, it’s worth remembering that he hedged his bets – he had no real track record as a Eurosceptic until the time the referendum was called. The then-Prime Minister David Cameron was taken by surprise when Mr Johnson backed Leave rather than Remain. I suspect, as is so often the case with Mr Johnson, he was calculating what was the best option in terms of his political career. I see little evidence that it was based on principle.

The most concerning aspect of both Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit is just how little they, or their inner circle of advisers knows about how the European Union and its institutions work.

So what could have been done differently? First of all, whoever succeeded David Cameron as Prime Minister should have put together a ‘Brexit advisory group’, a sort of ‘mini Cabinet’ consisting of people who actually understood how the EU works, and could therefore prepare a clear strategy for negotiations with Michel Barnier and his team.

Christopher Booker
Much-missed: Christopher Booker

Top of the list should have been the academic Richard North, whose understanding of the EU is second-to-none. Next should have been his regular working partner, the late journalist Christopher Booker, founder of Private Eye magazine who for decades had detailed the damaging impact of EU membership upon British life through his books, newspaper columns and public speeches.

Further members of the group should have been Conservative MPs Sir John Redwood and David Davis (the original Brexit Secretary), both of whom have decades of relevant experience. The final member should have been the then-Labour MP Gisela Stuart, who earned the respect of Leave supporters with her displays during the campaign in TV debates and public speeches. Her presence among the group would have not only added a fresh perspective, but would have acknowledged the reality that a very large number of Labour supporters voted Leave in the referendum, that Euroscepticism was by no means confined to the right wing of the political spectrum, and this was a ‘mini Cabinet’ of able people from across the political spectrum.

Instead, both Theresa May and Boris Johnson have lacked people with the relevant expertise needed to understand just how profoundly different in law, interpretation and character the European Union is to the United Kingdom. Their advisers consist largely of people of little relevant experience, and civil service mandarins who regard Brexit as a ‘negative’ and at best, like Mrs May, a damage limitation exercise, rather than an opportunity to be seized.

Michael Gove
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove

Earlier this month, the Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove outlined a new £700 million package for new infrastructure, the hiring of staff and advanced technology at the border, ahead of whatever will follow the transition period deadline. The blueprint also outlined new regulations on trade and it made clear that the UK was leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union.

These developments were barely reported at all in the mainstream UK media. But are we sleepwalking towards problems? How many people, when they hear the terms ‘Single Market’ and ‘Customs Union’ banded about in the media have a clue what they actually mean and how it affects their lives? Most don’t. Very little effort has been made by the mainstream media to explain the meanings of these terms.

The Single Market has no specific legal definition. It essentially means ‘single regulatory regime’. It aims to break down all barriers to trading across the EU and even to non-EU member states by ensuring the ‘four freedoms’ – goods, services, capital and labour.

Free movement of goodsservices and capital means the elimination of tariffs and reduces costs and administrative burdens by applying the same set of rules (ie ‘single regulatory regime’) among all those states which are a member of it.

The free movement of labour is more controversial, for it effectively means accepting unlimited, indefinite levels of immigration from other EU states, regardless of their skill level. It explains why Theresa May failed to get immigration levels down to her target of ‘the tens of thousands’ in every single one of her six years as Home Secretary, and why we needed to build a city the size of Cardiff every single year to keep up with immigration rates.

The Customs Union ensures all member countries charge the same import duties to non-members. For Brexit to be a success, it is essential that the UK is not part of the Customs Union. It will prevent our country from being able to agree free trade deals with the wider world, or even set tariffs on our own terms to countries where no free trade deal exists. The importance of not being part of the Customs Union cannot be understated – if we remained in that, it would be very difficult indeed to form trade deals with the wider world, specifically in relation to goods rather than services.

With that in mind, what would the consequences be of a so-called ‘No Deal’ Brexit? First of all, the ‘apocalypse scenario’ in terms of the supermarket shelves being bare should be treated as an absurdity. There is not single item of food or drink that couldn’t be sourced from outside the EU if we absolutely had to, but it is also right to point out that there would be significant short-term disruption as supply chains were re balanced and sourced elsewhere, though these difficulties would be quickly resolved.

The dangers of a so-called ‘No Deal’ Brexit go well beyond the prospect of queues stretching down the motorway near Dover. The most pressing danger lies with the issue of energy supplies.

Didcot Power Station
Didcot Power Station

Leaving the European Economic Area would severely increase the risk of the lights going out. We’ve had years of needlessly closing down reliable fossil-fuel based sources of electricity, such as the Didcot A power station, an act of dogmatic self-harm in the name of meeting EU ‘climate change’ quotas implemented most enthusiastically by Ed Miliband when he was Energy Secretary in Gordon Brown’s Labour Government. To put this absurdity into context, the UK’s whole electrical generation capacity, in all forms of power, is 85 gigawatts. If we gave up using electricity entirely, it would make no difference to the impact of Chinese coal burning, fuelled by enormous new coal fields in Inner Mongolia.

This flawed dogma has led the UK to depend increasingly on unreliable wind and solar energy, the main problems being that it’s often just not very windy or very sunny. As a result, we rely on importing increasing levels of power from abroad via inter-connector cables.

Let us take just one evening as an example of how vulnerable UK energy supplies now are. On the evening of Wednesday 4 July 2018, roughly the same time of year as we’re in at the moment, only 1% of the UK’s energy needs was coming from wind, and none at all from solar. 60% was coming from gas and 26% from nuclear. As is often the case, to keep our grid functioning, we had to import 11% from France and the Netherlands.

According to the National Grid, over the next decade, we plan to more than quadruple the current 4 gigawatt capacity of our inter-connectors to 18.5 gigawatts via new cables from France, Belgium, Norway and Iceland. This is to keep the grid functioning when it’s planned that 68% of our generating capacity will derive from weather-dependant wind and solar, which can plummet to zero at any time under the wrong weather conditions.

But this system relies on the UK being in the ‘European Energy Market’ which sets complex rules that allow it to operate. As the European Commission’s Notice to Stakeholders on cross-border trade in electricity makes clear, once we become a ‘third country’, the EU could refuse to certify us as continuing participants.

The danger is clear, so what is the solution? Have you ever been sitting in your living room on a summer’s day with your window open, when a bird flew in? The window is wide open, yet despite your best efforts, the bird seems to panic and fly everywhere except through that open window?

That is effectively the situation the UK is in right now with the EU. There is a relatively straightforward, though imperfect solution, and that’s the so-called Norway Option. It’s effectively a ‘take it off the shelf and plug it in’ Brexit, but the UK Government has foolishly ruled it out, both in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum, and again in Michael Gove’s announcement earlier this month.

Here’s how it works: Norway is not, nor never has been, a member of the European Union. It is, however, a member of the European Economic Area (EEA).

If the UK chose to stay in the EEA, we would be able to leave the EU, agree our own trade deals with non-EU countries (since we would NOT be in the Customs Union), and will stay in the Single Market.

Crucially, we would also be able to suspend ‘freedom of movement’ since EEA members are allowed to activate Article 112 of the EEA agreement, known as the ‘emergency brake’. This method has been used by Lichtenstein to suspend ‘freedom of movement’ indefinitely, and implement its own quota system. As a far larger country with much more clout, the UK could do the same with ease.

There are, inevitably, downsides to EEA membership. We would still have to pay some money every year, though nowhere near as much as at present. We’d also have to accept their regulations when we traded with them, but then again, we also have to accept the  rules of the USA, China, India or any other country we choose to trade with, which is reasonable.

But on the crucial matters – Parliamentary sovereignty, the supremacy of British courts, immigration controls, the ability to form trade deals with the wider world, and the ability to form a genuinely independent foreign policy, we would be winners on all counts.

The business community has enough to worry about at the moment – it doesn’t need to have the hassle of endless red tape and delays at customs hanging over it.

More importantly still, the last thing UK citizens need in the months and years ahead are worries about power cuts becoming a regular part of life.

Years of foolish obedience to EU and ‘climate change’ dogma have left national energy supplies dangerously vulnerable. That situation was entirely avoidable. Now, before it is too late, our Government and EU negotiators need to appreciate the scale and danger of what is at stake in terms of energy supplies in the event of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit.

Whatever Happened to Brexit?

By MARCUS STEAD

Marcus Stead
Marcus Stead

Brexit has been on the back burner over the last four months as Britain and the world’s attention was focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But Brexit will return to the limelight next week. Here’s what to expect:

It does appear as though we’re on the track to a ‘No Deal’. The end of June is the last possible date by which an extension to the December 31st deadline can be agreed, and the UK Government has made it clear that they’re not going to apply for one, and the EU appears to have accepted that as fact, so where does that leave us?

Next Monday (22 June), Boris Johnson and and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are expected to announce a timetable of intensified negotiations this summer, including some face-to-face meetings to try and break the deadlock.

And this is a case of competing visions: The EU wants a comprehensive deal covering all areas, whereas the UK wants a sector by sector deal on the various components. That’s a fundamental difference in what the starting point of negotiations should be, and it does look as though there’s not much appetite for the UK’s preferred approach at EU level.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the December 31 deadline was already incredibly tight. Once it’s been agreed, it will require ratification from 38 different legislative bodies across the EU, which isn’t an easy task by any means.

It’s very unlikely indeed that there’ll be a deal in place before the autumn. Nobody seriously expects it. The EU insists the 31 October is the latest date a deal can be reached if it is to be ratified by December 31st. Meeting that October deadline is also going to be a tough ask.

So, apart from the competing visions as to whether we have a catch-all deal, or a sector-by-sector deal, what are the main sticking points?

The fishing industry, which actually makes up only 0.1% of GDP in the UK, is a big sticking point. The UK’s fishing industry has been utterly decimated in the 47 years since Edward Heath signed away control of Britain’s fishing waters to Brussels.

The EU coastal nations have a dream of keeping the same quotas they had to fish in UK waters as they had when the UK was an EU member. Whereas for the UK, as small as the fishing industry now is, there’s a lot of emotion attached to the issue, and it’s a case of the EU respecting the UK’s post-Brexit sovereignty. Is there a compromise to be found there? I don’t know. Is there even the appetite to compromise?

The other is on EU competition rules. The EU fears that the UK will create a low-regulation society in respect of labour and environmental standards. The EU wants the UK to mirror its evolving state aid, labour and environmental standards forevermore.

Is there a way through this? Well, a possible compromise is that the UK will agree not to lower labour and environmental laws below the current standards, BUT the catch there is that it limits the UK’s flexibility, and that might well have consequences in forming trade deals with the wider world as well as in attracting inward investment.

A ‘No Deal’ is a very real possibility. I’m not one of these people that is predicting the apocalypse if we end up in that situation, but I’m certainly not saying it would be plain sailing by any means. What concerns me is that MPs, even advisers who are flippant about a ‘no deal’ don’t seem to understand how the EU works.

In  ‘no deal’ scenario,  there are so many things that happen in this country that would have no legal basis, for example; most of the world’s best Formula One teams are based near Silverstone and the agreement that allows racing cars to get in and out of the country around 20 times per season would not be in place ,and there are many other examples like this.

The other side to the coin is that I cannot think of a single item of food or drink that couldn’t be sourced from elsewhere in the world if we had to, now that would mean in the short term that there could be disruption on the supermarket shelves as supply chains are re-balanced, but I don’t believe the apocalypse scenario at all.

We would be looking at short-term disruption and a significant degree of inconvenience? Yes? Would it be the end of the world? No. Would everything eventually be sorted out? Yes

Something that’s also entirely possible is that come the latter part of the year, the EU and the UK would find a way of fudging an extension, we’d get what is in reality an extension, but they won’t call it that, they’ll put a different label on it to save face.

The clock is ticking!

Brexit and COVID-19: How challenging times provide a chance to change Britain for the better

By MARCUS STEAD

Marcus Stead
Marcus Stead

DID THE good old days ever really exist? If we are honest with ourselves, every generation is a trade-off between a range of good things lost and good things gained.

I’m 36, and I’m guessing almost everyone who is roughly my age heard stories from their grandparents about how they grew up in an era where there was a much stronger community spirit and everyone left their front doors open.

There probably was a lot of truth in those stories. But they were told with rose-tinted spectacles on. These happy qualities were combined with World War II between 1939 and 1945, and rationing that went on for years after the war ended. Healthcare wasn’t anything like as well-developed as it is now, people worked long, grim hours in heavy industry, television was in its infancy, there was limited choice with radio programming, washing was done by hand, using soapy water and a mangle, the iron had to be warmed up on the fireplace, which in turn had to be lit manually and topped up with coal. A heavenly utopia this certainly was not.

I suspect I am in danger of falling into the same trap when I talk to today’s children and teenagers about the not-so-distant past. I started school in an era where BBC computers were the standard. Over time, we progressed to the RM Nimbus, the CD Rom, and then, a couple of years into secondary school, dial-up internet became commonplace. Most people didn’t have a mobile phone until the early 2000s, and even then, it was just for calls and texts, both of which were very expensive by modern standards.

Gimme 5
Gimme 5, with Jenny Powell, Nobby the Sheep and Lewis MacLeod

But what about the rose-tinted bits? As a product of my generation, what did I experience that today’s youngsters will never get to know? I’m thinking of the ‘proper’ Saturday morning children’s telly that existed until around the mid-1990s (Going Live, Ghost Train, Motormouth, Live & Kicking, Gimme 5 etc), the likelihood of having a gloriously musty community cinema within walking distance of your house, snooker clubs, now largely closed, Sunday League cricket on BBC Two, free-to-air top flight football live on ITV every week, ‘proper’ independent local radio stations that felt like part of the community, local high streets that had family-run butchers and bakers.

I turned 18 in 2001, and entered an adult world of pubs where a pint cost less than £2, and of night clubs that were far bigger in size and greater in number than those that still exist today – there was somewhere to cater for all tastes, and you could dance the night away with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

The world that my grandparents’ generation looked back upon nostalgically – the sense of community, families that were undoubtedly closer, was lost, but what was gained were huge improvements in medicine, diet, technology, personal choice, and a loosening of sexual morals which redefined over time what most members of society regarded as acceptable. Did we have to ‘lose the good to gain the good’? Probably not. But it demonstrates that all generations are a trade-off between good things lost and good things gained.

Mark Drakeford Woke
Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford displays his ‘woke’ credentials at the Pride Cymru march in August 2019

Would I swap my experiences for those of today’s teenagers? No. I don’t really wish I was a teenager in today’s era. I find the music mostly dull and uninspiring (a lot of younger people seem to agree with me). Today’s pop music doesn’t seem all that ‘popular’ on the whole. I wouldn’t swap my experiences for ones where I’m constantly staring into my phone or getting permanently offended and outraged by non-‘woke’ opinions, the main hobby of so many of today’s university students. Social life for young people strikes me as quite boring on the whole, and somewhat sterile compared to what my generation had on offer. But they may well see things differently.

That said, there are some undeniable truths about how things were better once-upon-a-time. Maybe, just maybe, my parents’ generation, the ‘baby boomers’, had the best of all worlds. They grew up at a time when rationing was coming to an end, enjoyed the music and liberation of the 1960s, and there was a sort of unwritten social contract in place that was assumed to still exist even when I was growing up 30 years later, but that in reality broke down long ago. Let me explain:

There has long been a general undercurrent to schooling that if you work hard, pass your exams, and go on to university, you would get your rewards with a much higher standard of living as an adult than those who made very little effort and left school with no skills.

George Cole
George Cole starred in a series of memorable Leeds Building Society adverts, where interest rates were in double figures

Those that did well at school from my parents’ generation and went to university during, say, the late 1960s or early 70s, could quite reasonably expect certain things in return: To receive a grant for going to university; to get a stable, well-paid job upon graduation, which included a company pension; to be able to save money in a building society account which paid a steady rate of interest; to be able to buy a nice house in one of the better districts of the town or city, on a mortgage worth two-and-a-half times their salary; to be able to afford to keep one parent (usually the mother) at home during the children’s pre-school years; and to be able to retire in their late 50s and early 60s.

I graduated in 2005, and the reality for my generation, and those that has followed, is proving entirely different. There are no grants for going to university, instead, you will be saddled with debt, in the forms of both tuition fees and living costs. It is entirely possible that if one recent graduate marries another, they will have a combined student debt of more than £60,000 before they even begin their life’s journey together; A well-paid job upon graduation? Forget it. This is a world of short-term contracts, low job security and stagnant wages; Company pensions? Forget it. You’re now on your own when it comes to private pensions, and you’re going to have to be prepared to take a significant amount of risk with any money you save; Likewise, building society interest rates on savings have more-or-less disappeared – now you’ll have to sign up to risky portfolios linked to the stock market; You want to buy a nice house in one of the nicer areas of town? You might be able to get a box-like house on a soulless new estate at a push, but large sections of the city will be out of reach for you, and even that will be on a mortgage of five or six times your salary. You want to keep one parent at home while the children are young? You can forget that as well – there are no incentives for that, so a lot of it will be left to grandparents and taxpayer-subsidised ‘childcare’, where you had your very young children over to paid strangers. And as for retirement? That won’t come until your late 60s at the very earliest.

The ‘winners’ in modern society aren’t the graduates, the teachers, the doctors, the nurses, or in many cases even the lawyers (most of whom don’t make anything like the amount of money the cliché implies). Those making the serious money are the Premier League footballers and airhead reality TV ‘stars’.

The ‘unwritten contract’ that if you work hard at school and get a degree, you’ll be able to enjoy a good standard of living, is largely false in modern Britain.

Right now, I do feel nostalgic for a past, but a very recent past, a past we can all remember. I’m referring to the past of a few months ago, where the main topics of debate were nearly always Brexit and VAR. Ah, those really were ‘the good old days’, weren’t they?

Ah, Brexit. Whatever happened to that? Well, it’s still enshrined in both UK and EU law that the transition period ends on 31 December this year, and there have been signs this week that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, attempts to resume discussions are underway. Whether that proves realistic is another matter. It now seems likely talks will take place by videoconference in the weeks beginning 20 April, 11 May and 01 June.

People from across the social spectrum voted for Brexit for a variety of reasons – concerns over loss of sovereignty, concerns over the social impact of uncontrolled mass immigration, the suppression of wages caused by high levels of immigration, the lack of accountability at the EU, the impact of EU regulation on small and medium-sized businesses, and many more reasons besides. But at the root cause of it was a feeling that life in modern Britain just isn’t very good, and the deal today’s young and early middle-aged people are getting, as outlined above, graduates and non-graduates, is a good demonstration as to why.

The pandemic isn’t going to go away any time soon, and when we re-emerge, there will be a great deal of rebuilding and reconstructing to be done in various forms. Every penny the Government has borrowed to subsidise those unable to work at the moment will have to be paid back in tax rises and cuts to other areas of public expenditure. It will take a long time to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

We are facing stark reminders of those who are doing the really important work in society: Doctors, nurses, cleaners, supermarket shelf-stackers, lorry drivers, postmen and women, the armed forces, the emergency services and care workers.

Yes, it’s quite right that those who have spent years studying and passing exams earn a higher wage than those who have not, but all of those listed above are doing vital work, and deserve a dignified standard of living.

I don’t begrudge Premier League footballers a good wage – they are entertainers with a short career that could be cut short through injury at any time, but when the top Premier League stars earn in a week what it would take a nurse 15 years to earn, something has gone very wrong with the way in which our society is structured. And I say this as a ‘responsible capitalist’.

As for reality TV stars who are famous for nothing more than having sex on television, what do they really offer to society that’s of any worth? Why do so many young people, especially teenage and twentysomething women, so often look up to and idolise them? They can earn millions of pounds in what are short, shallow careers, with no discernible talent whatsoever.

Brexit provides a chance to reshape British society. The coronavirus pandemic is reminding us of who and what is actually important. Let us not squander the opportunities that will follow to transform society for the better.

Coronavirus: Radio Sputnik Interview with Marcus Stead

By MARCUS STEAD

ON Monday 16 March, I gave an interview to Radio Sputnik where I shared my thoughts on various aspects of the coronavirus pandemic.

What will it mean for the US Presidential election? How will the UK and US be able to compensate those who lose their jobs due to the Coronavirus? How could the Coronavirus impact on the UK’s post-Brexit trade negotiations with the EU and US? What can we all to do minimise the risk to ourselves, our families, and to wider society?

 

INTERVIEW PRECIS TRANSCRIPT:

Sputnik: How could the Coronavirus impact the US Presidential election?

Marcus Stead: It’s far too early to say that the US Presidential Election will be postponed, we’ll have to see what the situation is by the time we get into the late summer, but in terms of Donald Trump’s reaction to this, it all seems very haphazard.

Trump was speaking off the cuff the other day, saying that it’s all going to be fine and that we were all going to get through this, don’t stockpile, it’s not Christmas, you don’t need to buy lots of stuff from supermarkets, it’s all very haphazard.

I think all of us, whether we are in the media or politicians; need to be very careful with the words we use at the moment, because there is a very fine line to tread between making people aware of the sheer seriousness of the situation, and at the same time not causing unnecessary panic.

In the case of Donald Trump; it all seems a little bit too haphazard, and a little bit too flippant the way he was speaking, but I will say this much for Donald Trump, at least he was appearing on television over the weekend, whereas Boris Johnson hasn’t appeared since last Thursday, although that is likely to change by the end of the day, but least we are seeing some leadership on this from Trump.

As for Joe Biden; the way he was speaking the other day, it was as though he was already the President, the way he was reacting towards the end of last week, and in reality, the sheer logistics now of the Democrats selecting a candidate for the Presidential Election may prove difficult in the weeks and months ahead, but will it actually impact the election itself? We’ll have to see what the situation is later this summer.

Sputnik: How will the UK and US be able to compensate those who lose their jobs due to the Coronavirus?

Marcus Stead: I think in terms of the welfare state and the government situation there, it’s going to be very expensive for the government, and they are going to have to prioritise, because if people are not in work; because they’ve been told to self-isolate, therefore they are not going to be paying as much, or any income tax, also if they’ve not got a regular salary coming in, they are not going to be able to go out and about and to buy products that have got VAT on them, and it’s likely that shops and bars will be closed anyway, so even if you wanted to go out, you probably couldn’t for a period of time.

The government will, therefore, lose out on income tax revenue and VAT revenue, and we’ve also got a third factor, and that is that if parents have to stay at home and look after children because of the schools being shut if we get to that stage; then if they are off work for an extended period of time for child care, then they become recipients of welfare payments as a result.

The government is being hit insofar as a lack of money coming in, in terms of tax revenue, and there is more money going out because more people would be entitled to benefits under those circumstances, and I think that there will be some very stark choices that will have to be made.

Things that we don’t necessarily need, but that would be nice to have will have to go on the backburner, maybe even the amount of money that local councils get to fix potholes, that sort of thing, will have to go on the back burner, because very tough choices will need to be made in terms of prioritising what needs to be done right now, and things that will have to wait for some considerable time.

Even if the Coronavirus was to disappear tomorrow; and I’m afraid that is not going to happen, the economic impact in terms of government spending is already absolutely enormous, and if there wasn’t a budget scheduled for last week, then Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak would have had to have had an emergency budget anyway, such is the magnitude of the situation.

Sputnik: How could the Coronavirus impact on the UK’s post-Brexit trade negotiations with the EU and US?

Marcus Stead: The best thing we could do now is take a moment for a sobering reality check. We know that the over the seventies are more likely to become critically ill due to the Coronavirus, as they could have underlying health conditions, but that’s not the reason they are more likely to die from the virus.

This is the brutal honest truth, and it’s this; healthcare is going to have to be rationed, and when that happens, people over the age of sixty-five are going to be at the bottom of the list, not those who are very frail and very old, I mean anyone over sixty-five.

There is not going to be any scenario when the NHS has enough beds and staffs to save everyone, and when thousands of people are critically ill, doctors have to decide who lives and who dies, and this is already happening in Italy.

The over sixty fives will not be given respiratory aid if there are younger people who need that lifesaving equipment, and many younger people will, right now most people in Britain and elsewhere have still not grasped the seriousness of the situation.

You may be young or middle-aged, you may not be very worried at all about the Coronavirus, because it’s quite likely that you’ll fight it off, indeed you probably will recover, but during the incubation period of we think around twenty-one days, when you are visiting elderly parents and grandparents, and standing behind an elderly person in a queue, or sitting next to them on a bus, you are passing the virus on to them, and it’s going to be far more deadly for them, for the reasons that I have outlined.

Do not visit people over sixty-five for the next few months, do not allow your children to have physical contact with people over sixty-five for the next few months, your children are a risk to them, and to be clear; the government knows that around eighty per cent of us are going to get the virus.

Boris Johnson and his government are buying time with their strategy, they are trying to push it until the end of April onwards, when the normal winter pressures on the NHS will have been alleviated, enabling them to treat more people suffering from the Coronavirus.

Life in this country is going to be very difficult for us all over the next two to three months, quite possibly longer, now as for the economy; the economic impact of the Coronavirus is already absolutely enormous, the FTSE lost ten per cent of its value in a single day last week, and that was the second-worst day on record after the nineteenth of October 1987.

It’s very bad news indeed for anyone planning on retiring with a private pension at any time over the next ten years, but it goes well beyond that as well. I can think of a coffee shop where I live in the Welsh Valleys, where the owner has spent the last few weeks recovering from Storm Dennis, they’ve cleared up, they’ve refurbished, it’s open again, only for people to stay at home because of the Coronavirus.

There will be lots more stories like that. Ireland is ordering all pubs to shut down until at least the twenty-ninth of March, and the UK may well do likewise before too much longer, the same will apply to restaurants, theatres, cinemas and more, and that’s without mentioning wedding venues, conference venues, bed and breakfasts, the list goes on.

How many of them can afford to stay shut for any length of time? We are all going to have to find new ways of working wherever possible, yes that business report still needs to be done, but surely you can work from home? Maybe that team meeting you are thinking of having this week really does need to take place, but come on; let’s use Skype or another platform, we don’t need offices in the way we used to, and we need to take responsibility and grit our teeth for the next few months.

It seemed likely to me even before the Coronavirus took place, that getting a Canada style deal which the UK’s Chief Brexit negotiator David Frost was saying we should aim for, seemed highly ambitious to me, because the actual Canada deal has been negotiated since about 2004, and has not yet been completed.

It not only has to be agreed by the European Parliament, but all the different administrations, and I don’t just mean national parliaments, I mean devolved institutions like the Scottish Parliament, and that process even before the whole Coronavirus took place, was still far from complete.

Whilst I think Brexit negotiations can continue; vis Skype or other platforms, they are very much on the backburner now for obvious reasons, but I always thought that the overall transition period was always likely to take far longer than the end of this year.

I welcome the news that the British government is now going to give daily televised press briefings. We saw at the weekend how information was being leaked out, and another concerning aspect of this is the impact that devolution is having in response to the crisis.

Twenty-five years ago, there was no Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly, there would have been one UK Health Minister dealing with a co-ordinated response across the UK, and now that is not the case, and that’s without mentioning the situation in Northern Ireland.

Britain is a small island, and it’s important that the containment strategy is the same across the whole of this island, as Coronavirus does not respect Hadrian’s Wall or Offa’s Dyke, and this is one particularly disappointing aspect for me right now.

Podcast: The Great Brexiteers

By MARCUS STEAD

TO CELEBRATE the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, Greg Lance-Watkins and I recorded a special edition of our ‘Twenty Minute Topic’ series of podcasts titled ‘The Great Brexiteers’.

The Great Brexiteers posterGreg and I pay tribute to those eurosceptics who campaigned for Brexit, but sadly did not live long enough to see it delivered.

Among those we pay tribute to are Norris McWhirter, perhaps best known for his role on long-running children’s TV programme Record Breakers, Labour politicians Peter Shore and Tony Benn, as well as Greg’s friend Christopher Booker, the campaigning journalist who died last year.

We could not possibly pay tribute to everyone who did their bit, but this podcast gives a brief insight into just some of the great characters who helped make Brexit happen.

Marcus Stead Talks Brexit

By MARCUS STEAD

ON 19 February, I spoke to Radio Sputnik about the Government’s proposals for a points-based immigration system centred on skill once the Brexit transition period is over.

I argued that an enormous cultural shift will need to take place in Britain. A large number of young British people think they’re above picking fruit in the fields of Lincolnshire, wiping tables in the coffee shops of London, and cleaning toilets in hospitals up and down the country.

Under the proposals announced today, uncontrolled mass immigration will come to end. An oversupply of cheap labour has led to a suppression of wages in low-skilled jobs. While that suppression of wages will cease, a new attitude and work ethic will need to emerge to do the jobs currently carried out by cheap foreign labour, and that has to be accompanied by radical welfare reform.

I go on to discuss the feasibility of a Canada-style trade agreement with the EU. I outline why the timetable for such a deal is ludicrously short, and that the process of agreeing and implementing such a deal would take years, not months. Furthermore, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, appears to be ruling out a Canada-style deal for the UK.

You can listen to the interview in full by clicking below.

UK Independence Day

By MARCUS STEAD

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 33 PosterTO CELEBRATE the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins bring you a ‘triple dose’ of Twenty Minute Topic.

Marcus and Greg reflect on the moment last Friday night at 11pm when the UK left the EU and became an independent country again after 47 years.

They assess what this means for the UK, what happens next, and what being free from the shackles of the EU will mean for the country.

Later in the podcast, they discuss the latest developments with the coronavirus outbreak, as a follow-up to the special podcast recorded in the middle of last week.

Finally, they discuss the absurd sacking of veteran newscaster Alastair Stewart for quoting Shakespeare, and why this, along with Katie Hopkins’s censorship by Twitter, are extremely disturbing developments for lovers of free speech.

How Wales punished Labour’s betrayal

By MARCUS STEAD

THE PEOPLE of Wales have finally said ‘enough is enough’. For years, the Labour Party, in both London and Cardiff Bay, has treated its heartland voters with contempt, dismissing them as stupid, racist and xenophobic.

Wales at the 2019 general electionThe election saw the Conservatives win their highest vote share in Wales since 1900, their best ever total in the era of universal suffrage. Blinded by smug arrogance, Labour’s reaction to the political earthquake in Wales was give their once-loyal voters a good telling off, rather than to take time to listen and reflect on what went wrong.

Wales’s First Minister, the ultra-Corbynista Mark Drakeford, even said that the next national Labour leader should ‘keep the same basic message’. He just doesn’t get it.

The disconnect between the Labour Party membership and its heartland voters is now blatantly obvious. The membership base, changed beyond all recognition by the entryism of the last four years, now consists of middle class students, their lecturers, and white collar public sector workers, preoccupied with the dogma of the woke agenda, a mythical ‘Climate Emergency’ and stopping Brexit at all costs. This puts them at odds with the party’s traditional heartlands, who have routinely backed the party for a century.

In 2017, the Welsh electorate gave Jeremy Corbyn the benefit of the doubt. They took him at his word when he said that he respected the result of the previous year’s referendum and was committed to implementing Brexit. This, combined with Theresa May’s lacklustre campaign, saw Labour gain three seats, taking their total to 28 out of 40 in the Principality. What followed in the next two-and-a-half years was a complete betrayal of the trust the Welsh electorate gave to the Corbyn project.

In December 2018, Drakeford became Wales’s First Minister. Drakeford, a dry, academic man approaching retirement age, who spent his entire career before entering politics working in the public and charity sectors, hardly seemed in touch with the post-industrial Labour heartlands of the south Wales valleys or the weathered seaside towns of the north Wales coast.

Drakeford didn’t grow into the job, nor does he behave like a leader. He still seldom does up the top button on his shirt, nor is his tie straight. Many people in Wales have no idea who he is – his personal Twitter account has just 14,000 followers, while the official ‘First Minister’ account has fewer than 49,000. By contrast, his Scottish counterpart Nicola Sturgeon has more than one million.

A year of Drakeford’s insipid leadership in policy areas that are devolved gave the people of Wales a taster of what a Jeremy Corbyn government would be like. Under Drakeford’s socialist Government, Wales has the worst school attainment levels and A&E waiting times in Britain. Betsi Cadwaladr health board has been in special measures for more than four years, with little sign of that status being removed any time soon.

Severn Bridge Old
The original Severn Bridge

But perhaps Drakeford’s flagship cockup of the last 12 months was his decision in June to break a key Welsh Labour manifesto pledge by scrapping plans to build a much-needed M4 relief road in the Newport area, after more than a decade of planning, during which time £114 million had been wasted.

Drakeford, keen to boost his woke credentials, said it was Wales’s way of doing its bit to tackle the ‘Climate Emergency’. The decision came just six months after the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, removed tolls on both Severn bridges, designed to improve economic links between South Wales and the West of England.

As a result of Drakeford’s decision, a Cardiffian employed in Bristol, or vice versa, now faces no end to the tedious daily dawdles in traffic around the Brynglas Tunnels, which are enough to deter many people taking jobs on the opposite side of the bridge, thereby massively diluting the economic benefits of removing the tolls.

The irritation and anger that followed this decision was huge. £114 million had been squandered. The ‘Climate Emergency’ is only a theory, and a very wobbly theory at that, but even if it was indisputably true, any benefits of not building the relief road will rapidly be offset by China, whose coal use since 2011 has been greater than the rest of the world combined. Drakeford’s decision was a pointless act of virtue signalling that will have serious implications for the Welsh economy.

Mark Drakeford Woke
First Minister Mark Drakeford and Hannah Blethyn AM at the Cardiff ‘Pride’ march in August 2019

Drakeford’s pandering to the woke agenda goes much further. At last summer’s ‘Pride Cymru’ carnival in the centre of Cardiff, Drakeford marched in the front row, wearing a rainbow tie and waving a rainbow flag, before delivering a speech to the crowd.

Drakeford’s wokeness played well to the Cardiff hipster community, no more than a few thousand in number, but it did nothing to endear him to the Labour heartlands ten miles up the A470. It’s not that the people of the valleys are rabidly anti-gay or anti-trans, but the country’s First Minister seldom showed as much enthusiasm for their concerns, such as delivering the Brexit they voted for, or for meaningful measures to bring good, well-paid, stable jobs to areas that decades ago lost their main source of employment.

It was Labour’s policy on Brexit that was regarded as the biggest betrayal in the Welsh heartlands. They voted Leave in 2016, and they meant Leave. They believed Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 when he said he was committed to implementing the referendum result.

But in the two years since, Corbyn and Drakeford changed the party’s policy in both London and Cardiff Bay from one of implementing Brexit, to the farcical position of renegotiating a deal that would look like Brexit in name only, after which they would hold a second referendum in which both Corbyn and Drakeford would be neutral, with only Labour’s deal or remaining in the EU on the ballot paper.

Welsh Labour voters saw this policy for the fob-off it was. So what of the natural alternatives of the left and centre left? Few in Wales were taken in by Jo Swinson’s metropolitan elitism and policy of ‘let’s cancel Brexit because I know what’s best for plebs like you.’ The party held four seats in Wales until 2010, but since 2017 they’ve had none. Their sole Assembly Member, Kirsty Williams, is the country’s education minister, who has overseen the worst attainment levels in Britain.

And what of Plaid Cymru, who ditched Leanne Wood as leader and replaced her with Adam Price following disappointing election results in 2017?

Plaid Cymru has long been perceived as a party for rural Welsh speakers living in west and north west Wales. Outside these areas, there is little appetite for siphoning Wales off from the rest of the UK. What’s more, the party is firmly pro-EU, even entering into an electoral pact in selected seats with the Lib Dems and Greens.

The pundits heaped much praise on Price’s performances in the TV debates, but the party’s vote share dropped for the third general election in a row, and they failed to build on the four seats they’ve held since 2017. Plaid failed to finish second in any of the other seats it contested.

Plaid Cymru votesWith Labour in disarray and the Lib Dems an unviable alternative, Plaid Cymru actually went backwards. 28,439 people who voted for the party in 2015 did not do so this time. A small minority will have died or emigrated, but what about the rest?

And what about the young ‘activists’ who have come onto electoral roll in the years since, and make a lot of noise on social media?
The reality is that under the leadership of Wood and Price, Plaid Cymru has become increasingly cult-like and obsessed with woke issues.

It’s now those forces that are firmly in control of the party, which only has around 10,000 members. It’s even threatening their support base in the four seats they hold, where people usually have the sort of socially conservative attitudes that are despised by those now in charge of Plaid.

The party has an electronic army on social media of fascist-hunters, climate change crusaders, EU fanatics and trans lobbyists who hurl vile abuse at anyone who dares to question their agenda. They exist within their own echo chamber, but it looks very ugly from the outside, and it’s easy to see why the party has been unable to expand its appeal.

So where did that leave the voters of Wrexham, Ynys Mon and Bridgend?  Labour had betrayed them, and neither the Lib Dems nor Plaid Cymru had any intention of honouring their decision to vote for Brexit in 2016.

In many respects, the Conservatives were the ‘least worst’ option. Many Welsh voters put a cross next to the Conservative candidate knowing their grandfathers would be turning in their graves. Many don’t exactly ‘trust’ Boris Johnson, but they were willing to give him a chance. He was promising to honour the result of the referendum by delivering Brexit within a matter of weeks of the election, and offered them an optimistic vision of how he wants to reshape Britain. For that, the voters broke the habit of a century and backed him.

Wales 2019 election mapThe electorate in these areas support Brexit for a plethora of reasons, from uncontrolled mass immigration leading to a suppression of wages, to concerns about the lack of democratic accountability in the EU. But the overriding factor was that for them, life just isn’t very good, and they firmly believe that radical change, namely a departure from the clutches of Brussels is needed.

The voters in these parts of Wales know that Boris Johnson is not ‘one of them’ – he doesn’t look or sound like them, but he does appear to respect them.

The election in Wales could have been far worse for the Labour Party. They still hold 22 of the 40 seats. In truth, the presence of the Brexit Party almost certainly cost the Conservatives at least an extra four seats in Wales, possibly more.

Wales has given Boris Johnson a chance. With Labour and Plaid Cymru in disarray and unlikely to get their act together any time soon, the onus is on him to honour his pledges. Get this right, and the Conservatives could end up the largest party in the Assembly elections of May 2021 (by which time it will have been renamed the Welsh Parliament).

By the time of the next general election, highly likely to be at least four years away, the Brexit issue and the Brexit Party will be a distant memory, and as a result the Conservatives will have the opportunity to win yet more seats in Wales if the people can see tangible improvements to their lives.

If the Conservatives seize this opportunity, the general election of 2019 could go down in history as merely the opening chapter of a political revolution in Wales.