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.

How Labour abandoned its Brexit-supporting grassroots

By MARCUS STEAD

Me September 2019
Marcus Stead

AS THE MEDIA circus focussed on events at the Supreme Court, the Labour Party Conference in Brighton demonstrated the extent to which there is now an enormous disconnect between the Labour membership and the voters in its heartland constituencies.

By sitting through an hour of BBC Parliament’s uninterrupted coverage of the conference on Monday afternoon, it became clear that the demographic in the hall was far removed from a typical Labour constituency in the valleys of South Wales, the former mining towns of Yorkshire and the ex-mill towns of Lancashire.

This was an occasion for the middle class university student, the college lecturer and the white collar public sector worker, rather than the ex-miner, the self-employed plumber or the school leaver who can’t find a steady job.

The entryism in the period shortly before and after Jeremy Corbyn became leader that saw the Labour Party membership jump from below 200,000 to around half a million has changed the character of the grass roots party completely, and in ways that has resulted in an alarming detachment from its working class voters.

The atmosphere in the hall was frenzied and slightly unhinged. There was intense howling where there would once have been polite applause. The tradition of standing ovations and enthusiastic cheering was replaced by the chanting of aggressive slogans. These people had bought into the dangerous personality cult of Corbyn, and their behaviour was akin to that of a cranky fringe religious sect.

Few present at the conference would have been there a decade ago, when the dividing lines were between shades of social democracy. Back then, you were either ‘Old Labour’, in the mould of Neil Kinnock and John Smith, or you were a disciple of the ‘New Labour’ project, as either a Blairite or a Brownite.

This year, you were either on board with ‘Project Corbyn’, or you were someone to be scorned and despised. A very large number of backbench Labour MPs, legacies from the Labour party of the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, stayed away completely.

But most concerning of all was the way in which one speaker after another took to the stage to denounce the Brexit referendum result. Everyone, from prominent members of Corbyn’s front bench, to purple-haired students with rings through their noses took a similar tone: They believed that people in Labour constituencies had been conned and misled into voting Leave in 2016, though some went further and came very close indeed to saying on the stage what they’re probably saying in private, namely that working class voters were too stupid to understand Brexit, but that they, the enlightened ones, knew what was best for them.

The delegates in the hall had little idea how condescending they will have appeared in their party’s own heartlands, and it contrasted sharply with the Labour party of old, which was based around the principle of working class people using their collective power to improve their standard of living.

Indeed, the Labour Party of old-school patriotic socialists was, to a very large extent, ahead of the Conservatives in understanding the dangers of the EU project from its very earliest days.

Hugh_Gaitskell
Hugh Gaitskell

The greatest ever eurosceptic speech made in Britain was delivered by Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell in 1962. Tony Benn, long-time mentor to Jeremy Corbyn, was against the EU project from the outset, primarily because he understood the dangers of a lack of democracy and accountability at the heart of its institutions.

The underrated Peter Shore opposed EEC membership in the 1970s, and in the early 1990s accurately predicted that the Maastricht Treaty would lead to unelected bankers and officials imposing austerity and privatisation on EU member states.

Jeremy Corbyn himself had a forty year track record as a euroscpetic, and opposed every single EU treaty from the time he entered Parliament in 1983 until he became Labour leader in 2015. He almost certainly still is deep down, because whenever he tries to defend the EU or offers lukewarm support for Remain, he sounds like a hostage reading our his captor’s demands. On Brexit, Corbyn is very much at odds with those who elected him as leader, but by standing in the middle of the road he is repeatedly being knocked down by both sides and is pleasing nobody, something he doesn’t seem to have grasped despite doing this for four years.

Five million Labour voters backed Leave in 2016. According to Professor Chris Hanretty’s research, of the seats Labour held at the time of the referendum, 148 voted Leave and 84 Remain. Even allowing for a margin of error, the pattern is clear – a clear majority of Labour voters backed Brexit.

There isn’t a stand-out reason why those five million Labour voters supported Brexit. Yes, a small minority will fit the cliché painted by snobby Remainers that working class people voted Leave because they don’t like foreigners.

But for many, concerns over decades of uncontrolled mass immigration has nothing to do with a dislike of the immigrants themselves. The sheer volume of immigration has resulted in the suppression of wages and put huge strain on public services. Others feel they’ve been ignored by the political elite for decades. A significant number have seen their standard of living stagnate or go backwards over many years, with no tangible improvement in supposedly good economic times.

The one overriding factor as to why five million Labour voters backed Brexit is this: For these voters, life just isn’t very good. A vote for Brexit was their way of making their frustrations known.

Far from regretting their decision in 2016, many of the five million Labour Leave voters broke the habit of a lifetime and helped Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party to a resounding victory in May’s European Parliamentary elections.

The Brexit Party did best in the north east of England, followed by the valleys of south Wales, yet the Labour leadership still doesn’t get the message – they voted Leave in 2016, they meant Leave, and they haven’t changed their minds.

Unlike previous European Parliamentary elections, where working class communities leant their voted to UKIP, only to return to Labour at the following general election, there is strong evidence something more profound and permanent is happening this time.

In July, a YouGov poll in Wales showed that support for Labour had halved since the start of the year, and for the first time in more than a century, the Conservatives were in the lead. There had been a ‘Boris Bounce’ that had seen the Tories gain seven percentage points, but even then, they were only on 24%, with Labour on 22%, with the Brexit Party in third place on 18%.

In large parts of south Wales, as with much of northern England and the former industrial Midlands, the scars from the Thatcher era run too deep for many to vote Conservative, but there is every reason to believe these communities are willing to abandon a Labour Party that has this week made it abundantly clear that it has abandoned them.

What is less clear is which party these former Labour voters will lend their support to. Unlike European Parliamentary elections, general elections are contested using the ‘first past the post’ system, and this presents a danger of its own.

If the eurosceptic vote is split several ways in what were once ‘safe’ Labour seats, there is every possibility pro-Remain candidates will ‘come through the middle’ and win, which would lead to an even greater level of disconnect between working people and the political establishment.

Why Welsh nationalists fear a successful Brexit

By MARCUS STEAD

TO THE untrained eye, months of chaos and confusion at Westminster appear to have resulted in raised levels of interest in Welsh independence.

Crowds in the low thousands have attended ‘independence’ marches in Cardiff and Caernarfon. Labour’s Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and his predecessor Carwyn Jones have made noises that a badly-handled Brexit could lead to the breakup of the union.

But a closer look beyond the sympathetic reporting from an almost entirely anti-Brexit Welsh media, and it quickly becomes clear that these are the dying screams of a finished cause. Plaid Cymru and the wider Welsh nationalist movement fear a successful Brexit, because they know it will kill their movement stone dead.

Welsh nationalism has always been something of a niche cause. Opinion polls have for many years shown levels of support fluctuating between 9-15%. Plaid Cymru has around 8,000 members, compared to 125,000 for its Scottish equivalent, the SNP. The ‘Yes Cymru’ movement, while very noisy and aggressive on social media, only has around 1,200 members.

If Brexit goes ahead on October 31, or at any time in the months ahead, their vision of an ‘independent’ Wales within the European Union will quickly be exposed as absurd and completely unfeasible. There are four main reasons why this is the case.

First of all, an independent Wales would have to go through the process of joining the EU. This, in itself, would take many years, quite possibly a decade or more. How would an independent Wales manage in the meantime?

Wales would almost certainly fail the EU’s membership criteria, particularly with regards to the existence of a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU.

Tŷ_Admiral,_Cardiff
Tŷ Admiral, Cardiff. Picture by Seth Whales.

Wales has a lack of entrepreneurial zeal. It is heavily reliant on the public sector for employment and there is little in the way of a skilled private sector.  Just one of the FTSE top 100 companies is based in Wales (vehicle insurance firm Admiral), and even that was founded by an American.

Figures released last month by the Office for National Statistics showed public spending in Wales was £13.7 billion more than the total amount collected in taxes, which works out at a deficit of £4,376 per person.

At present, around 80% of the Welsh Government’s funding comes directly from Westminster (ie the English taxpayer) in the form of a block grant. Making up that shortfall in a post-independence Wales seems beyond comprehension in itself, but the problem is far worse than that.

In an independent Wales, the Welsh Government would have to assume responsibility for, and therefore fund, areas of policy that are not currently devolved, including foreign policy, defence, law and order, work and pensions, and broadcasting.

According to the Welsh Government, Wales currently receives £680 million per year in EU funds. In an independent Wales, with the Westminster block grant withdrawn, an EU already struggling to balance its books would have to plug the huge hole, a burden it’s hard to imagine Brussels bureaucrats being been on shouldering.

If an independent Wales could somehow overcome these hurdles (and it’s hard to see how), point two would present another tough obstacle – the country would be forced to adopt the euro, as all new EU members are. This would be a very hard sell to the people of Wales.

Nearly two decades after the euro launched, it is becoming increasingly clear that one currency, with one interest rate, and 19 finance ministers is not working out well.

The inability of the 19 member states to adjust interest rates to suit their circumstances, along with the fiscal spending rules, has led to mass unemployment, especially among young people, in vast swathes of southern Europe (currently an eye-watering 32% in Greece). It’s easy to imagine how an independent Wales inside the euro could well end up in a similar position.

Point three is the issue of the border with England. If you think the Northern Ireland border and the issue of the backstop is an enormous headache, you ain’t seen nothing yet! The border between England and Wales runs for a whopping 160 miles from the Dee estuary in the north to the Severn estuary in the south.

Severn Bridge Old.jpg
The older Severn Bridge, which opened in September 1966, seen from Aust Beach.

There are two well-known Severn bridges linking Wales with the South West, where vehicle tolls were removed in late 2018, more than 52 years after they were imposed when the first bridge opened. In addition, thousands of vehicles cross daily and seamlessly each day along the A48 between South Wales and the Midlands.

Then there is the situation in north east Wales. The reality is that a very large number of people in Denbighshire and Flintshire don’t think in terms of being in England or Wales. They are aligned economically and culturally to Cheshire, Merseyside and Lancashire. They use the many roads crossing between the two countries for work, leisure and recreation.

Then there are the numerous smaller road crossings between England and Wales along Offa’s Dyke, plus railway lines and footpaths. Managing a hard border between the two countries would prove logistically impossible, and would undoubtedly cause a farcical amount of inconvenience for commuters.

The fourth and final point relates to the huge amount of cross-border integration that exists between England and Wales, and the necessity for new bodies to be created after separation.

This takes many forms. For example, Welsh patients with serious liver problems are frequently treated at the Liver and HPB unit in Birmingham.

DVLA Swansea
The DVLA building in Swansea. Picture by Zweifel.

The DVLA’s base for the whole of the UK is in Swansea, and is one of the city’s largest employers, with more than 5,000 staff. After separation, this would have to be relocated elsewhere, and a separate body for vehicle registration created for Wales, at the Welsh taxpayer’s expense.

A similar situation would apply to Companies House, whose headquarters in Cardiff and Nantgarw employs more than 1,000 staff.

Welsh nationalism has always been a minority cause, but Brexit will render it beyond absurd and expose it as totally impractical.

The Single Market, the Customs Union and the European Economic Area: Some Clear Thinking

By MARCUS STEAD

FOR MANY years, I have held the view that a large number of political journalists, especially those working in the broadcast media, are more interested in gossip than issues.

A good political journalist, especially one working in the broadcast sphere where there is a regulatory requirement for impartiality, should include nothing other than facts and balanced analysis in their reports, with pictures to fit the story.

David Davis 1
Brexit Secretary David Davis

Since political reporters spend so much time in the Westminster bubble, they all too often lose sight of the fact that Mrs Jones, watching the evening news from her council house in Treherbert, isn’t especially interested in whether David Davis and Michel Barnier are getting along this week, but she does care about whether a ‘no deal’ Brexit will result in an increase in her weekly shopping bill.

With this in mind, virtually all political reporters working in TV and radio band about the terms ‘Single Market’ and ‘Customs Union’, but I cannot think of a single one who has made any serious attempt to explain what these terms actually mean, let alone what withdrawing from one or either would mean for the UK economy.

It’s relatively common knowledge that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has performed a u-turn on the issue in the months since the General Election. That’s easy to explain: Corbyn has a long track record of euroscepticism going back four decades. Every bone in his body tells him that the EU is fundamentally a bad thing for the country. He reluctantly supported Remain last year in a bid to appease the Blairite and Brownite MPs who dominate his party’s back benches, yet they still tried to depose him in favour of the ultra-slippery Owen Smith later in the year. He would have been better off going down fighting, and would have won the subsequent leadership challenge regardless.

Stephen Doughty
Biding his time: Stephen Doughty MP

This latest policy shift is just another sop to try and buy their loyalty, but it is unlikely to work. They know they have to put up with Mr Corbyn for now because he fared far better than predicted at this year’s General Election, but given time, the Stephen Doughtys and Hilary Benns of this world will try to remove him as leader and replace him with a New Labour apparatchik.

But I digress. We know Mr Corbyn has changed Labour’s policy to favour continued membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union. We know it is Conservative Party policy to withdraw from both. But how many people, quite possibly including the political reporters who grace our screens every evening, can accurately define either?

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 goods, services 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 need to build a city the size of Cardiff every single year to keep up with immigration rates.

But there is a catch – free movement of labour is not an absolute condition of Single Market membership. More on that later.

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. Labour’s support for continued membership of the Customs Union is baffling, especially since they claim to support Brexit on principle.

Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill

I favour continued membership of the Single Market. Let me be clear, my priority is or the United Kingdom to get out and stay out of the European Union. My side won the referendum, and by a clear, though not overwhelming margin, but I take on board Sir Winston Churchill’s wise maxim, ‘In victory: Magnanimity’.

With that in mind, I wish to persuade as many Remain voters as possible of my arguments, and am the first to acknowledge that, if handled incorrectly, Brexit could go badly wrong.

By the same token, I am painfully aware that there are those among the political establishment, and indeed the media, who actively want Brexit to fail so that they can say ‘I told you so’. I’ll name two such individuals – ‘Sir’ Vince Cable (leader of the sarcastically-titled Liberal Democrats), and James O’Brien (a condescending creep who hosts a three-hour daily anti-Brexit radio programme on LBC, where he frequently lies, smears and twists the words of Brexit campaigners).

A ‘worst case scenario’ would see, on the day after Brexit, huge queues of lorries at Dover because of the endless bureaucratic procedures the EU must by international law impose on ‘third countries’, which the UK will have then become.

With jobs vanishing by the day, and the value of the pound plummeting, the government would fall. The arrogant Remainers are already waiting in the wings to take their revenge, from the aforementioned ‘Sir’ Vince Cable, to the Blairites and Brownites on the Labour back benches, to the likes of Anna Soubry and Kenneth Clarke among the Conservatives, to the SNP and Plaid Cymru, who seek to see Scotland and Wales ruled directly from Brussels, doing away with the Westminster ‘middle man’.

A new government (of ANY party) could then seek election pledging re-entry to the European Union on whatever terms they could get, meaning we would almost certainly be compelled to adopt the euro as part of our national humiliation. We could also forget controlling our borders, whether from a cheap influx of EU labour, or from the social unrest being brought about by the massive growth of Islamic populations across Mainland Europe.

I prefer a more cautious approach, based on precedents that have already been set. What is colloquially known as the ‘Norway Option’ would be far, far easier to achieve, because we would be following a path that has already been laid out, meaning years of monotonous negotiations would not be necessary.

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.

We would no longer be in a situation where EU law overrides British law. The highest courts in the land would sit in this country, our elected representatives in Parliament would have the power to set criteria to limit immigration levels, our armed forces personnel would never, ever have to swear an oath of allegiance to the EU flag (it’s coming, Mr Juncker has said as much), and we would be free from the protectionist EU regulations that currently prevent us from forming trade deals with the wider world, such as Brazil, India and Singapore – places with growing economies and populations, where people actually live.

This solution is remarkably straightforward and uncomplicated. The road map is already in place. Why is our political establishment so reluctant to embrace it?