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Why Welsh independence must be on different terms to Brexit

Jonathan Edwards:

by Jonathan Edwards

THE BATTLE for political independence, as was Brexit, is inherently emotional for most people.

However, a referendum in a Welsh or Scottish context will not be won unless the economic attacks of unionists are neutralised, writes Jonathan Edwards MP.

Project fear will be in overdrive over the coming years and advocates of independence are going to have to convince the people of Wales that it can be delivered without friction on the Anglo-Welsh border.

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, nationalists like myself argued forcefully for optimal economic ties with the EU.

This was done for three reasons.

Firstly and most importantly it was the right economic policy for the Brexit era in terms of the Welsh economy.

Secondly, it was the only way to deal with the Northern Ireland question and avoid an economic border either on the island of Ireland or, as has transpired, the Irish sea.

Lastly, if the territories of the British State remained within the European Economic Area (EEA) it would lead to a more seamless economic transition post-Welsh independence.

As the argument is hypothetical due to the evolving nature of the economic relationship between the territories of Great Britain and the EEA, it is impossible to put forward a definitive policy platform at this stage.

However, despite the decision of the British Government to pursue the hardest form of Brexit, I don’t think unionists can carry the argument of economic borders on the island of Great Britain following Scottish and Welsh independence with any credibility.

The reality is that even post-independence it will be in the interests of Wales, Scotland and England (as is the case with the EEA) to maintain frictionless trade and economic activity.

Welsh nationalist economic theory has consistently argued that an independent Wales would benefit from being within larger commercial frameworks.

The key question has always been who controls decisions relating to those frameworks.

The starting point of an independent Wales would therefore not be friction, but interdependence and pooled sovereignty.

The priority would be to establish that relationship with the former territories of the British State, before looking outwards to Europe.

Whilst the British Government grandstand in splendid isolationism, economic and political gravity will increasingly drag the British Government back towards the European orbit.

A part of the British State, Northern Ireland is firmly planted in the EEA.

The Northern Ireland protocol, the technical framework constructed to deal with the economic relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland post-Brexit, has been beset with problems.

Reality will dawn that the only way to address those issues is closer alignment between Great Britain and the EEA, a fact that Northern Ireland’s unionists increasingly accept.

Furthermore, as time goes by even advocates of ‘Global Britain’ will quickly learn that trade goals are best served in working within larger economic blocks.

Great Britain is a medium-sized economic player and in the harsh reality of international trade is more likely to be dictated to than be able to dictate.

Already, plans to tax digital giants such as Google and Facebook by the British Government have been met with threats of retaliatory tariffs by the United States.

Noble policy goals such as a digital tax are best progressed via an economic entity that the US takes seriously when it involves targeting the big US multinationals, which for the UK will mean turning to Brussels in economic terms if not in political ones.

By the time we come to Welsh independence, I suspect the UK will, at least economically, be far closer aligned to Europe than today.

I hold out hope that common sense will eventually prevail at Westminster leading to the UK forming or joining structured agreements.

That would then pave the way for a Scandinavian-type economic relationship within the British Isles. Finland, Denmark and Sweden are all members of the EU.
Norway remains outside, however economic friction is minimised because Norway’s a part of the EEA.

Furthermore, once the people of Wales vote for independence, calm heads will prevail. Is it seriously the unionist argument that England would seek punitive retribution as a deliberate policy?

Is remaining a part of a union based on Westminster threats really something a confident Wales can accept?

There will be common interests to protect and advance. Trade and commerce is obviously one field where those interests will align.

Freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour across the British Isles would be a priority for all governments.

Perhaps one of the major consequences of Welsh and Scottish independence will be to drive England back towards a more rightful path as opposed to the imperial illusions which dominate Tory ideology.

In contrast to Brexit, Welsh independence will be a project which will build bridges.

In doing so, England will become a country much more at peace with itself, and Wales and Scotland will be able to grow as nations free from the dead hand of Westminster.