FROM March 30, Good Friday, the UK entered the final year of its membership of the European Union.
There have been recriminations on both sides of the EU debate since the UK voted by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union on June 23, 2016.
Leave side voters are divided by their victory over what type of Brexit they want, with a tiny rump of Conservative MPs apparently calling the Parliamentary tune, aided and abetted by a cavalier approach to the truth by government ministers and ever dissipating ‘red lines’. Never can so many on the victorious side have been so angry about winning or so unsure about what to do next.
On the Remain side, recriminations are even more intense. Some are sticking to the ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over’ line with increasing desperation, while there are claims of foul deeds committed by the Leave campaign. Some remainers have taken to striking the attitude of Violet Elizabeth Bott – who threatened to ‘thcweam and thcweam and thcweam’ until she was sick unless she got her way.
The refusal to acknowledge that crowding 17.5m voters were prepared to vote leave and meant it is, perhaps, the most revealing and troubling attitude of some dedicated remainers. The people were misled, lied to, duped; there were terrible lies told by the Leave campaign which swayed them; they did not know what they were voting for and had they known they would not have voted to Leave.; there is a need for a second referendum, the unspoken rationale for which is that Remain campaign won’t be as lazy and complacent next time around and voters will see sense.
On March 29, Jane Dodds, the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader said: “With the devastating consequences of Brexit now clearer than ever, it is right the public are asked whether they still want to continue down this path.”
The other side of the coin is the claim by Leave voters that those who voted to remain and are still fighting their corner are – in some way – unpatriotic and doing the UK down. That is an especially popular line from fringe Conservative MPs keen to wrap themselves in the Union Flag abandoned after UKIP’s implosion and plays well in newspapers whose owners reside overseas or in tax exile. Leavers say the argument is settled in a way that they would never have accepted had the vote gone the other way and by the same margin.
On March 29, Jacob Rees Mogg compared Remain campaigners to ‘the Japanese soldier [Hiroo Onada] who finally surrendered in 1974, having previously refused to believe that the Second World War had ended.”
With no end in sight to the sniping – and anyone who thinks that next March will be an end of it is sorely mistaken – it is perhaps worth looking at some numbers both relating to the Referendum result and which might have had an impact upon it.
THE VOTE AND THE POLLS
On June 23, 2016, 72.2% of just over 46.5m eligible voters cast their ballots in the Referendum. That means that almost 33.6m voters took part in the Referendum.
Of those 33.6m voters, 17.4m voted to leave the EU and 16.1m voted to remain.
27.8% voters – a fraction under 13m – did not vote one way or the other.
In percentage terms 52% voted to leave, 48% voted to remain.
In July 2017, ComRes reported:
- 63% of over-65s, but just 28% of 18-24s, voting Leave. Other age ranges were less divided; almost four in ten 25-44 year olds (37%) voted Leave.
- 78% of those with a degree voted Remain, while 69% of those whose highest educational attainment was a GSCE grade D-G voted Leave.
- Leave voters were least likely to trust either the Government or Parliament – almost two-thirds ‘distrust greatly’ both institutions.
- Leave voters are unconvinced of the merits of immigration. While 91% of Remain voters say it ‘enriches’ cultural life, only 9% of Leave voters think the same.
While the majority of the British public still think the government should press on with Brexit, they are far more finely balanced over what sort of Brexit it should be.
A further YouGov poll of just under 5,000 respondents carried out the same month as the ComRes poll showed that 61% of Leave voters think significant damage to the UK’s economy is a price worth paying for Brexit, while the remainder where divided almost equally between those who said it was not and those who ‘did not know’.
However, that poll revealed a significant shift when the same Leave voters were asked whether they thought either losing their own job or a family member losing theirs was a price worth paying. 39% of Leave voters were prepared to throw both themselves and family members under the bus, with 61% either saying no or don’t know to the same question.
That suggests that leave voters are prepared to react with equanimity to the thought of an abstract ‘someone else’ bearing any adverse consequences of Brexit, but less enthusiastic when it comes to bearing adverse consequences themselves.
Those results underline the UK Government’s quandary over meeting voters’ expectations on Brexit and further highlight a significant factor that was, perhaps, lost in the Referendum campaign and upheaval afterwards; namely, voting leave did not decide the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU.
Voters were not electing Vote Leave – fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove; instead, voters were presented with a binary choice without any gloss.
The question on the ballot paper was:
‘Should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’
The question was solely about giving up (or not) membership of the European Union: there was no mention of free movement, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, or an end to European-style regulation. There was no option to vote leave but remain a member of the European Economic Area. There was no option to vote remain but renegotiate the bits of EU membership you didn’t like. There was not even a requirement that Parliament to treat the result as final and binding.
The public advised Parliament that it wanted to leave the European Union and it is up to Parliament – having decided to follow the Referendum result with action to depart the EU – to determine the terms of departure.
Former industrial areas were much more likely to vote leave than to vote remain. And a clue to why that is the case can be found in the UK Government’s own statistics.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
We looked at a UK Government Briefing Paper on the employment of EU Nationals in the UK.
Across all regions, EU workers are more likely to be working in lower-skilled roles than the workforce as a whole. The proportion of EU nationals employed in elementary occupations was lowest for those living in London and highest in the East Midlands.
EU workers were also less likely to be working in high-skilled managerial and professional occupations than the workforce as a whole.
Although a higher share of EU nationals than UK nationals work in low-skilled occupations, EU nationals are more likely to be “over-educated” for the job they are doing, meaning they hold a higher qualification than was typical for people working in that occupation.
But the Briefing Paper’s findings were, perhaps, most illuminating when it came to employment levels within certain sectors in the decade leading up the Referendum.
Overall, the number of people in employment in the UK increased by around 2.5 million between 2006 and 2016, but while employment grew in some sectors it decreased in others. Even when there were periods of economic growth, more EU nationals found employment than their UK counterparts.
Well over 700,000 UK nationals stopped working in manufacturing industry between 2006 and 2016. But the number of EU nationals employed in manufacturing soared by just under 200,000. In construction, almost 400,000 UK nationals stopped working in that sector in the decade before the Referendum, but around 100,000 EU nationals found work in construction. Around 300,000 UK nationals ceased working in the automotive industry – wholesale, retail, repair of vehicles – while just over 200,000 EU nationals found work within it. And while 100,000 UK nationals ceased working in transport and storage, 100,000 EU nationals found work in that sector.
Those figures – combined with the polling evidence – suggest that voters in former industrial areas did not only perceive a threat to their economic security from membership of the EU and EU immigration to the UK, but ACTUALLY experienced adverse economic consequences as the result of inward migration of EU nationals into their regions and the subsequent displacement to EU immigrants of traditional sources of employment opportunities.
Tellingly, in the service sectors centred upon the major urban areas which voted remain there were greater employment opportunities and fewer EU migrants took up posts in those sectors.
In light of those figures, it can hardly be a surprise that areas which voted Leave by the greatest margin – notably the North West and North East of England – are precisely those areas in which the greatest number of manufacturing jobs were lost.
That economic data also suggests that the idea that re-running the Referendum to get ‘the right result’ would only serve to underline the stark economic and social divisions between two entrenched classes of voter.
A QUESTION OF CLASS
The British Election Study, which provides independent analysis of voting patterns and voters’ decision-making, found that one of the defining features of Leave voters outside of cosmopolitan areas was a nostalgic view of Britain’s past and a desire to turn back the clock.
A sense of national decline was a defining feature of the divide between Leave and Remain voters. The Study asked its respondents (who were screened to represent the proportions of the actual result) how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement ‘things in Britain were better in the past’. Fewer than 15% of those who strongly disagreed that things in Britain were better in the past voted to leave the EU while nearly 80% of those who strongly agreed did so.
The Study established that those who viewed themselves with less control over their lives and destinies were more overwhelmingly more likely to vote leave on the basis that leaving the EU would permit them to establish greater control over their individual destinies.
Combined with the economic data, the Survey’s results support the proposition that social class was the battleground of Brexit and that attempts to overturn the Referendum result will only increase the sense that ‘the classes’ live in an entirely different world – with different expectations, a different world view, and with greater social capital – than ‘the masses’ – who feel forgotten, diminished, and left behind by shining metropolitan visions of what it means to be a UK citizen in the 21st century.
Liberal Democrat Conference review
THE WELSH LIBERAL DEMOCRATS gathered at The Village Hotel, Cardiff over the weekend, vowing to foster ‘a fair, free and liberal Wales’ and to campaign to bring about a Ratification Referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal.
While the party has had a punishing time in the most recent round of elections, retaining only a single AM in the 2016 National Assembly Election and losing their final Welsh MP in Theresa May’s snap General Election, the prevailing mood at this weekend’s conference was upbeat.
A PARTY ON THE WAY BACK?
There was an appeal for traditional, Welsh Liberal values by Party President, Cllr William Powell, Mid and West Wales AM between 2011 – 16. Cllr Powell also paid an emotional tribute to his friend, party stalwart and former Preseli Parliamentary Candidate Nick Tregoning, leading to a short silence and round of applause. The former Swansea Council Cabinet Member and Presiding Officer, who died recently, represented the best in the Welsh Liberal tradition, and ‘thought and fought more for others than for himself.’
A keynote speech by new Welsh Lib Dem leader, Jane Dodds, who was elected in November last year, replacing Mark Williams, former Ceredigion MP, was particularly well received. Not shying away from the party’s recent challenges, Ms Dodds said: “There’s no denying we’ve had a difficult few years. While the wounds of the last few years are still visible, we are still fighting.”
Ms Dodds emphasised that the party’s top priorities must be to battle homelessness and poverty, as ‘The nasty party in Westminster doggedly pursues deeper cuts in public finances, vulnerable people scraping by to survive, without access to public services, with no hope for their future”
Turning to the Party’s signature policy on Brexit, the new leader continued: “We have to be clear in our opposition to the UK government’s disastrous handling of the biggest decision our country has faced in a generation… Whether we like it or not, Wales voted to leave the EU. But – and it’s a big but – it was not on the basis that we would leave under any circumstances.”
Concluding, she said: “We need to make sure we have the ideas in place that address the needs of communities and people living in Wales, and we have to translate these ideas into winning votes. Not power for the sake of power, but power so we can change people’s lives for the better, putting us back at the heart of Welsh politics, where we belong.”
A FREE AND FAIR WALES
Ms Dodds also presented a motion calling for the creation of ‘a fair, free and liberal Wales’, emphasising that the party’s mission for the immediate future should be to develop new policies to work towards this goal.
“We need to make sure we have an economy and a society which offers opportunities to all… A Wales of hope and optimism.”
Cardiff Councillor Rhys Taylor was amongst those to speak in favour of the motion, stating: “We know what we stand for, but we’re not always very clear about articulating that. It’s an aspirational vision for Wales and our society.’
Veteran Ynys Mon Councillor and former Cabinet Member, Aled Morris Jones, also spoke in favour of the motion, saying: “Never has there been a time when there has been a greater need for liberalism. We must stand up for moderation because it is under threat, both here and across the world.”
Summating the motion, Party President William Powell said: “It is ambitious, it will need a lot of work and I sense that people in this room and in our local parties are up for that. It is central to rebuilding our party and to our resurgence.”
The motion was supported unanimously.
Party Members and supporters also had the opportunity to quiz Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams AM, and to debate motions on plans to bury radioactive waste off the coast of Wales. There was also a passionate appeal for legal clarity over access to waterways for water sports enthusiasts from Welsh Paralympian and first time conference speaker, Frances Bateman.
BREXIT, SYRIA, EQUALITY DEBATED
The weekend also included an expert panel discussion on Brexit with Ms Dodds, Ms Williams, Liberal Democrat Federal President, Baroness Sal Brinton and former MEP Peter Price, chaired by Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire Lib Dem activist and Newbie Hilton Marlton. During the session, members agreed to keep battling Brexit, working across party lines with all Remain supporters, which was confirmed by an explicit #ExitFromBrexit motion on the Sunday morning.
Baroness Sal Brinton also gave a keynote speech, in which she criticised Theresa May for not giving MPs a vote on military action against Syria, saying that to do so was “further diminishing the standing of Britain in the world”. And she was optimistic about the party’s future prospects, saying: “I know the future of the Welsh party is in good hands.’
The second day of the conference also included a motion on the Welsh Government’s new plans to reform local government in Wales. Although the motion agreed with the principle of cutting the number of councils in Wales, it suggested the final number should be 14 or 15 – and emphasised the importance of respecting localism and democratic structures to reflect that.
Members also backed a motion calling for schools in Wales to introduce gender-neutral uniforms. Presenting the motion, Cllr Rhys Taylor of Cardiff said: “We should not dictate to young people what they should wear outside religious codes.” He added more support and training should be offered to teachers in supporting LGBT pupils.
Amy Gaskin of Swansea University’s branch of the party also spoke in support of the motion, saying: “There’s increasing evidence that male and female brains just don’t exist. It’s more of a mosaic”.
“What right do we have to tell kids they should wear trousers or a skirt, or a tie or no tie?” she asked.
Sunday also saw Baroness Christine Humphreys of Llanrwst, North Wales AM from 1999 until 2001, appointed as the party’s new Deputy Leader. She was the only nominee.
Closing the conference, Welsh Party President William Powell said: “We’ve got a rich vein of new talent emerging in the party.”
Saying he felt a sense of “optimism and positivism, Mr Powell called for: “A kinder, gentler and more inclusive values-based politics – that is what Jane (Dodds) and our wider leadership want to introduce.”
What’s in a name?
QUITE a lot, actually, as Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns found out last week. The announcement that the Second Severn Crossing would henceforth be known as the Prince of Wales Bridge in honour of HRH Prince Charles was met with a somewhat equivocal response from the population of Wales.
The name change, agreed by the Queen and Theresa May, was timed to mark Prince Charles’s 70th birthday, and the 60th anniversary of his investiture as Prince of Wales.
At the time of going to print, around 30,000 people had signed a petition calling for the name change to be scrapped. Plaid Cymru, as might perhaps be expected, were among the more vociferous objectors, with leader Leanne Wood asking whether or not this was a late April Fool prank.
Mr Cairns invoked the Conservative Party’s secret weapon – the ‘silent majority’ – which he suggested gave the name change their full, if silent, backing.
Speaking to the BBC, he implied that a small group of republicans were behind the opposition: “We knew that public opinion would be broad,” he remarked. “Of course there will be some republicans who dislike it, but I think that they should at least have respect for the Prince of Wales because of the work he does in the community.
“I know some republicans who strongly support the charities that he stands for – the Prince’s Trust, Prime Cymru , Business in the Community – and the fantastic work that they do. And I would hope that they would at least look at the work of those charities and recognise that this is a fitting title – for that work if nothing else.”
While the work carried out by groups such as the Prince’s Trust is indeed laudable, it would surely have made more sense to call it The Prince’s Trust Bridge, or indeed the Prime Cymru Crossing, if the name change was meant to celebrate Prince Charles’ charitable works.
The Welsh Labour Government was conspicuously silent on the matter, and it emerged shortly afterwards that Mr Cairns had informed them of the plans some time previously. They raised no objections. This led Plaid Cymru AM Adam Price to accuse the Welsh Government of taking its eye off the ball.
“It’s rare in Wales for tens of thousands of people to sign a petition on an issue like this, with such an emotional and defiant reaction,” he added.
“Of course it’s not just about the name of the bridge, but the symbolism, and the way the decision was made.
“Attention will rightly turn to the Labour Welsh Government and the first minister in the coming weeks, as they failed to raise objections or to recommend that the public’s views were sought.
“We potentially have a position where Labour politicians, as well as Plaid Cymru, will be disappointed in their own first minister, and will be left scratching their heads about why some kind of wider consultation wasn’t proposed.
“Serious questions need to be asked of why the Labour Government took its eye off the ball and, given the strong public reaction, we should now at the very least expect the Welsh Government to make formal representations to the UK government in favour of public consultation.”
This was the cue for UKIP AM Gareth Bennett to enter the fray, with an insightful analysis of the situation, and a solution which would satisfy all concerned: “Rather than getting into a row about a name, Welsh Labour and their bedfellows in Plaid Cymru should be working to build bridges with the Government in Westminster to secure the Brexit that the people of Wales voted for,” he insisted.
“Coupled with their bogus legislation on a supposed ‘power grab’, the people of Wales will see this for what it is; a cynical attempt by Plaid and Welsh Labour to claim they’ve been hard done by yet again.
“The people of Wales voted by a clear majority for Brexit, far more than the very few who cling on to a vain hope of a ‘Welsh Republic’. It’s time the establishment in Cardiff Bay and London got on with the day job and stopped their pointless virtue signalling.”
This statement, while proving conclusively that no topic cannot be linked – at least in the mind of a UKIP AM – to Brexit, did little to indicate the party’s stance on the matter.
The comments sections of any article concerning the subject were an education, in the loosest sense of the word. Responses ranged from calling those in support of the change gutless appeasers, to others suggesting that Welsh Nationalist outbursts like this were the reason that Wales can’t have nice things.
Enter Rod Liddle.
In his column for the Times, the former Today Programme editor wrote: ‘The Welsh, or some of them, are moaning that a motorway bridge linking their rain-sodden valleys with the First World is to be renamed the Prince of Wales Bridge. In honour of the venal, grasping, deranged (if Tom Bower’s new biography is accurate) heir to the throne. That Plaid Cymru woman who is always on Question Time has been leading the protests. They would prefer it to be called something indecipherable with no real vowels, such as Ysgythysgymlngwchgwch Bryggy. Let them have their way. As long as it allows people to get out of the place pronto, should we worry about what it‘s called?’.
This 100 word snippet has so far led to at least 19 complaints to Ofcom – or one for every five words – and in fairness it is difficult to see how Mr Liddle could have managed to insult or denigrate more aspects of Welsh life and culture in such a short article.
Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts, told Radio Cymru’s Post Cyntaf: “The two things in particular which incensed me were his attempts to belittle the Welsh language, and to compare poverty in Wales with England’s wealth as a first world nation as something amusing.
“We have to ask when we should put up with this and whether or not the Sunday Times cares about readers here in Wales.”
Carmarthen Mayor and veteran journalist Alun Lenny said: “As a supposedly highly-experienced journalist Rod Liddle has let himself down badly by writing such puerile stuff. His sneering comments about ‘rain sodden’ Wales not belonging to the First World and his attempt to get a cheap laugh at the expense of the Welsh language is the basest racial stereotyping.
“At a time when anti-Semitism dominates the political agenda, it’s deeply disappointing that the Sunday Times allowed such a nasty and offensive little article to be published. You must not be nasty to the Jews, but it seems we Welsh are fair game.”
Moving forward, in the somewhat unlikely event that the massed discontent surrounding the name change in Wales has any effect on the UK Government and Royal Family, several suggestions for a new name have been floated.
Pont Arthur – thus referencing the Prince of Wales’ middle name and a national hero – was one suggestion. Given that the tolls are due to be abolished this year, the Rebecca and her Daughters Bridge has a certain ring to it.
If a royal reference was a requisite, Carmarthen East AM Adam Price provided one: “If we must name this bridge after a prince let it be Owain, surviving son of the last real Prince of Wales (pre-Glyndwr) who, arrested at age eight, spent his entire adult life in a wooden cage in Bristol Castle so the Welsh would know their place. If only we knew our own history,” he remarked.
Aberaeron’s Lib Dem County Councillor perhaps hit the nail on the head. “Can’t decide which comes first in my train of thought – offence? certainly, Anger? most definitely, or should indifference top my list? Because in Wales, it will always be the Severn Bridge – and a mighty fine name that is!”
Carwyn Jones top step down as row over Sargeant inquiry intensifies
THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales and leader of the Labour Party in Wales, Carwyn Jones, has announced he is to step down from both roles in the autumn.
Carywn Jones, who succeeded Rhodri Morgan as First Minister in 2009, made the announcement at Labour’s Spring Conference in Llandudno earlier today (Saturday, April 21).
Mr Jones was widely expected to step down during the current Assembly, but the timing of his resignation statement has come as a surprise.
Carwyn Jones has exercised power as First Minister for almost nine years in spite of having either no majority or only the slenderest of majorities in the Welsh Assembly. During his period in office he has been embroiled in a number of controversies; however, the last few months of his time in office have been dogged by a series of scandals surrounding the circumstances of the dismissal and subsequent death of former Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Carl Sargeant.
Mr Sargeant’s dismissal from office was leaked before the official announcement was made, with Llanelli AM Lee Waters revealing that he knew of Mr Sargeant’s sacking before the official announcement. A well-known Welsh journalist was also told of Mr Sargeant’s dismissal before the First Minister met with Mr Sargeant to inform him of it, as were at least two Labour MPs.
Following Mr Sargeant’s sudden death – a few days after his sacking by Mr Jones – a series of awkward questions about due process arose. Mr Sargeant was dismissed without being given the chance to respond to the allegations and the details of the allegations were not made available to him; allegations of leaking of confidential information from sources within the Welsh Government followed; and allegations of a toxic bullying culture at the heart of the Welsh Labour administration, were made.
Although questions regarding those issues focussed on the actions of politically appointed civil servants, those issues cast a long shadow over Carwyn Jones.
Yesterday, solicitors acting for Jack Sargeant, Carl Sargeant’s son who was elected to his late father’s Alyn & Deeside constituency, released a strongly-worded letter which took the Welsh Government to task for continuing delays in setting up an inquiry.
In a subsequent interview, Jack Sargeant’s lawyer – Neil Hudgell – suggested that: ‘[I]t’s been dehumanised within the first minister’s office: there’s some game-playing going on and some deliberate stalling tactics’.
Mr Jones acknowledged the pressure exerted by Carl Sargeant’s death and the subsequent furore about the involvement of civil servants both in bullying and in leaking information.
“There are people I haven’t been fair to in recent times, and that’s my family,” he said.
“In any normal political career you expect to be put through the wringer and have your everything challenged. I don’t think anyone can know what these last few months have been like, other than Lisa and the kids. They have helped me through the darkest of times. I have asked too much of them at times and it’s time for me think about what’s fair to them.”
While no direct allegations of wrongdoing were ever made against Mr Jones personally, the suspicion that something was rotten among civil service political appointees became increasingly hard to dispel. And there have been increasing signs in the First Minister’s responses to questions that he is feeling the pressure, as the Olympian sarcasm he often uses to cross-cut opposition AMs has degenerated to personal attacks on those questioning him.
Evidence of that was the abortive attempt to smear Adam Price in exchanges over the healthcare reorganisation in Hywel Dda.
A Freedom of Information Act request made by The Herald to the Health Board uncovered that civil servants working for the Welsh Government had asked for details of Mr Price’s correspondence from the Health Board and after receiving it had gone back and asked for details other AMs’ and MPs’ correspondence.
That led to an angry exchange in the Senedd last week, when Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire AM Angela Burns, referring to The Herald’s article about our Freedom of Information Act request and the Health Board’s response, questioned the First Minister why she was still waiting for an answer to her own request from the Welsh Government on the same lines. When Adam Price raised the spectre of a ‘smear machine’ staffed by civil servants to assist Labour in making personal attacks on opposition AMs, Mr Jones responded with a personal attack on Adam Price.
The field of candidates to replace Mr Jones is likely to number no more than four, thanks to the nomination procedure for leadership of the Assembly group. Likely runners include Ken Skates, the Economy Secretary, Health Secretary Vaughan Gething, and possibly Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford – likely to be popular with a grass-roots membership significantly more left wing than the party in the Assembly.
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