On 15th July, Wales for Europe launched our new campaign, Give Us What Was Promised. The premise is simple: we’ve technically left the EU but we still know next to nothing about the arrangements that will obtain from the end of this year. So much for the ‘oven-ready deal’.
Our campaign simply asks Conservative MPs in Wales to do all they can to keep the promises made in their 2019 manifesto and the Political Declaration that was agreed between the UK and the EU, focusing on ensuring that we end 2020 with a deal, maintaining standards and protections, and making sure that new arrangements do not erode the rights of devolved governments.
We’re not pretending these will protect us from all the negative effects of leaving the EU, but they should protect us from some of the very worst consequences. And they are, after all, commitments on which these MPs won their seats.
We launched the campaign with an open letter to Conservative MPs in Wales. If any of us were sat eagerly awaiting responses to ping into our inboxes, we would have been disappointed. Only one MP responded.
Actions speak louder than words, though. So have these MPs and their cabinet done anything to demonstrate their intention to keep these promises in the last fortnight?
The big news in Parliament last week was the Trade Bill. MPs voted on a number of amendments, including one which sought to ensure that agricultural goods can only be incorporated if they are produced to standards that are as high as or higher than those in the UK. Another clause was designed to protect the NHS and publicly-funded health and care services from any form of control from outside the UK.
All Welsh Conservative MPs voted against these amendments.
Then there was New Clause 4, proposed by a group of backbench Conservative MPs, led by Jonathan Djangoly, MP for Huntingdon. This sought to ensure parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, and would have obliged the UK government to consult with the devolved governments on the content of draft negotiating objectives and the text of proposed agreements.
Again, all Welsh Conservative MPs voted against the amendment.
What was that argument about ‘sovereignty’, again? Take back control? But take it where, exactly? Not to Parliament or to the Senedd, it seems.
Some Conservative MPs have taken the line that the Trade Bill was simply a continuity bill, designed to roll over existing EU third party trade agreements. Even so, why not take the opportunity to improve existing arrangements? (Isn’t that the argument for leaving the EU, after all?) Why not take this opportunity to turn commitments into law?
Some have justified these decisions not to turn commitments into legislation with a version of ‘it’s in our manifesto, what more do you need?’ After so many empty promises over the last few years, ‘take our word for it’ just won’t cut it.
What about negotiations with the EU, then? Is the timer about to ping on the oven-ready deal?
Apparently not. Dinner is taking much longer to cook than it said on the pack, and we may yet go hungry. The official line at the end of last week was that a deal was ‘some way off’. For the EU side, M. Barnier announced that a deal looks ‘unlikely at this point’.
The level playing field and fisheries remain the key obstacles. Whilst fisheries have become a totemic issue in the Brexit debate, a pragmatist could be forgiven for asking why our negotiating team is being instructed to hold on so tightly to an industry worth 0.1% of GDP. And if we can trust the commitment to maintain, at the very least, current standards and protections, a curious bystander may well ask why that level playing field is quite such a block, even with the state aid question.
As we said earlier, one Conservative MP responded to our open letter. That was David TC Davies, Monmouth. We’d like to thank him for engaging in discussion – we need more of that. He was keen to remind us of the time when he was ‘willing to support a soft Brexit as a compromise’, but told us that other MPs and our organisation rejected it. We gently remind him that we campaigned for the ‘softest possible Brexit’ until it was clear that this was not the objective of many in his party, and that even in 2019 we would have accepted a ‘soft Brexit compromise’ – had it been supported by the UK public in a confirmatory referendum. (We’ll leave the surprising description of May’s deal as ‘a soft Brexit compromise’ for another day.)
We need to deal with the problems that we face now and not just repeat old arguments, but we will not accept the story that the problem is intransigent pro-Europeans or a stubborn EU digging in its heels.
So where are we now?
There are still big decisions to be made about our future relationship with the EU. The UK government still has choices. Our MPs – above all, those who form part of the 80 seat majority – have the power to influence those decisions. In fact, it’s their job.
We desperately need those decisions to respond to where the UK is now. No one voted in December 2019 expecting that within months we’d be facing a global pandemic, national lockdowns and a major recession. The calls we are making in our Give Us What Was Promised campaign don’t offer a perfect solution, but they are a start.
We need our Conservative MPs to make good on the promises made about the UK-EU deal. That means speaking up to influence negotiations, so that Wales and the UK do not suffer needlessly from broken promises and unrealistic negotiating deadlines.
We also need other parties, and the Senedd, to keep putting on the pressure.
When Parliament returns in the autumn, we will be watching and we will be expecting much more.