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The Liberal Democrats on the EU Referendum

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By Andrew Lye

I bumped into Herald Editor, Tom Sinclair at the Milford Haven Fish Week event, almost 2 weeks ago, 24 hours after the result was announced of the EU Referendum. Tom kindly offered me the opportunity to write a piece for the Herald on the Liberal Democrat perspective.

But what is the Liberal Democrat perspective? I guess everyone has their own view. Party Leader, Tim Farron has already made it clear that the Liberal Democrat policy is that we remain in favour of being within the EU and that we will go into the next General Election on a platform to rejoin the EU. The problem we have had is that for the last 30 or so years, we’ve had several papers spouting the anti-EU message and whether the facts were correct or not, these became ingrained in many voters minds as they were not challenged. The UK in the EU was not a front seat driver. We were often sat in the back seat lobbing missiles at it, so Germany and France basically became the driving force and Britain was a nuisance. I would have loved to have seen the UK as a driving force for change and reform in the EU, but now it’s too late.

Some people may say who is Tim Farron as the Liberal Democrats have not attracted much media attention since we were hammered in the 2015 General Election. It’s not for want of trying, as Tim has had plenty to say, but the media choose to ignore the Liberal Democrats and instead make hay at the expense of all the troubles within the Labour Party over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Good news does not sell newspapers or media time on radio and TV. The turmoil since 23rd June sees Tim Farron as the only leader of the Big 3 national political parties, still in his job or not facing a severe leadership crisis from his fellow MP’s. Cameron has resigned and Corbyn refuses to resign as his Shadow Cabinet have resigned by the score to try and force him out.

Even Nigel Farage has resigned as leader of UKIP, but as he has resigned before and restored as leader, no one will be surprised if he is re-instated once more. This is what politics has become over the last fortnight.

It was Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson who was famously attributed to having said in the 1960’s that “a week is a long time in politics”. Indeed, I would contend that events in the last fortnight have been the most earth shattering in my lifetime of following the political scene. It would be fair to say that “A day is now a long time in British politics” and you can go to bed at the end of the day, shattered after following the events at Westminster, Europe and even on the world stage. The surprise vote to leave the EU has sent shockwaves around the world.

In the 2 weeks since the result was announced in which 51.8% voted Out and 48.1% In, the news has been more or less nothing but the fallout from the result:-

  • The resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister and Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb was the first to throw his hat into the ring.
  • Boris Johnson saying he would not stand as Tory Party leader, having been knifed (politically) in the back by Michael Gove.
  • The sacking by Jeremy Corbyn of Hilary Benn and then the mass resignations of most of his Shadow Cabinet and junior posts. Corbyn now struggles to get a Shadow team together. Labour membership has increased by over 100,000 in 2 weeks as Corbyn has lost confidence of the majority of his MP’s, but not party members, apparently.
  • The weak performances by Jeremy Corbyn to support the remain campaign and rumours that he actually voted to leave.
  • Angela Eagle has now announced she will launch a leadership bid to heal the Labour Party. Will Corbyn’s name actually be on any Labour Party ballot? We could be seeing the demise of the Labour party as we know it.
  • The £ and the Euro have dropped quite dramatically and business confidence is dropping. Our credit rating has been downgraded. Are we heading into recession?
  • The possibility of a 2nd Independence Referendum in Scotland (that voted to stay in the EU) and could Northern Ireland possibly seek unification with Eire so that it remains part of the EU?
  • The 2 large demonstrations in London demanding that the UK remains in the EU.

From the start of the campaign, I have feared that we could end up voting out and the UK did. I had emailed a Welsh Lib Dem colleague in early June saying that I could favour the Party supporting a call to look at the possibility of supporting Welsh Independence, if Wales voted IN, whilst the UK voted OUT. In the end, Wales followed England, almost to the same percentages and voted OUT.

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In the last few days a poll has emerged that indicates that Wales would now vote 53% to 47% to remain in the EU. So what is to happen now? Are we heading for a constitutional crisis as the country is in political turmoil? We have no functioning government as the PM has resigned as party leader and the Tories are fighting for the poisoned chalice of leading us out of the EU. Or trying to?

We have no functioning official Opposition as Corbyn only secured 40 votes in a vote of confidence in his leadership from his MP’s. 172 of his own MP’s voted against him.

Indeed, there is talk of a progressive new party being created with social democrats from the Labour Party, social conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. We live in different times.

We now face years of a new government being formed by a PM (May or Leadsom) who has put no manifesto to the country in a General Election and we will become bogged down with the negotiations of leaving the EU. We don’t even have the negotiators to negotiate our trade deals as they have all been done for us by the EU since 1973 and there’s the likelihood that the Government will have to employ the experts from abroad.

The UK also saw migration as one of the main reasons for voting out and we have seen rises in cases of hatred being reported to the police since 23rd June. In my 31 years in active politics, I do not recall a time where I find we are in a nasty place (and I DON’T mean Pembrokeshire or Wales!) as the result seems to have given the green light to those who are not happy with foreign people living and working in the UK. Even social media sees nastiness being spouted. I do not understand why. I even saw a councillor I know, face abuse on Facebook and I advised her to report it to the police.

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I have seen comments from the out side saying we are sore losers and must abide by the decision. I accept that the decision has been made, but as Private Eye Editor Ian Hislop said on Question Time (8.7.16) said, “Even if you lose the vote you are entitled to go on making the argument”.

And as a Welsh Liberal Democrat, that is what I will do. Yes, OUT won, but now we face Article 50 being triggered and 2 years to negotiate the details of exit with the EU. What we are doing is effectively undergoing a divorce and anyone who has undergone a divorce, knows only too well, how bitter that can become over time as negotations continue.

Those who voted OUT have got their victory, but do they expect the UK to accept whatever deal is foisted on them by the EU, or do we expect them to get the best possible terms? I know what I would expect my Government to deliver… the best possible terms! I will also expect those leading members to honour their promises made during the campaign, like the extra £350m per week for the NHS, funding for farmers and the poorer regions, which includes West Wales.

I have said above that whoever becomes the new Tory Prime Minister will have taken on a poisoned chalice and I am sure that Stephen Crabb is probably quietly relieved that it won’t be him in charge. There will be those expecting the UK to leave and then there will be those of us opposed to leaving or ensuring that we get the best terms. The future British Prime Minister who accepts a 3rd rate deal from the EU will be a dead woman walking.

Anyone who has undergone a divorce (including me) can tell you that it gets messy and everyone is at each others throats. We’ve already heard the comments from European leaders and Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, who is annoyed at the delays by the Government in not invoking Article 50 yet. He’s made it clear he wants us to go as soon as possible. These messages in recent days are not a good indicator how things could go.

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It looks like there are endless possibilities of what could happen, but each country will have to ratify the deal. Suppose Eire refuses to ratify it? And if there is no deal reached by the end of those two years, we just leave without a deal unless the European Council (the ministers of the other 27) agree to an extension of the negotiation period.

So could we find ourselves negotiating a deal for years? Who knows?

If we are, I can imagine the OUT voters will be frustrated and demanding we leave. But then there will be those of us calling for the best deal if we are to leave and not be sold out by a modern day Chamberlain, who returns with a useless piece of paper signed by Juncker, and whoever are then the German Chancellor and French President.

We must also question whether the referendum is legally binding. The answer is no. This is because parliament is sovereign and generally, referendums are not binding in the UK. So we do live in interesting times. Suppose it was proven by polls that the will of the people changed and they didn’t want to leave the EU as what the OUT side termed “Project Fear” came true as “Project Fact”? Could we face a 2nd referendum? Indeed, it could also be possible that the lesson learned from this referendum is not to have any more!

As a Welsh Liberal Democrat, I will be exercising my democratic right to ensure we hold the Government to account for the deal it negotiates and that it gets the best terms, or in the event of a substandard deal, we remain in the EU and actively pursue the reforms that the EU desperately needs from within. You cannot reform the EU if you are not in the club. And the EU DOES need reform. If it doesn’t, it’s likely to see other countries demand referendums as well. The EU has to wake up and smell the coffee.

So the battle may have been lost but the war is not over and since the result was announced, the Liberal Democrats have signed up 16,000 new members across the UK. In our local party area, membership has increased by over 20% in the last 2 weeks. You can join online at www.libdems.org.uk/join. If you support our call to remain in the EU, join us!

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Mark Drakeford says: ‘Thank you Wales for going red’

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LABOUR is staying in power in Wales after matching its best-ever Senedd election result. It won exactly half of the 60 seats in the Welsh Parliament with all results now declared

Labour has 30 seats, with the Conservatives on 16, Plaid Cymru on 13 and the Liberal Democrats one.
Mark Drakeford thanked Wales for “going red” and has vowed to be “radical” and “ambitious” in government, as Labour looks to solidify its leadership in Wales.

Labour’s Vaughan Gething, health minister in the Welsh government, told the media that the party didn’t “have to look at a formal coalition” because they had done so well.

“We do, however, have to talk to other groups within the Senedd,” he said.

Mr Gething said Labour had a “strong mandate to govern” with 30 of the Senedd’s 60 seats.

The Wales Green Party failed to win a seat in the Senedd elections but they say they recorded their highest-ever result in Wales. Leader Anthony Slaughter said the “results demonstrate the appetite for change” across Wales.

A very happy Mark Drakeford on Saturday, May 8 (Photo Welsh Labour/Twitter)

Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: “We seem to be getting votes from all of the parties and support on that regional list as people increase their knowledge of the voting system.”

Adam Price, who held Carmarthen East and Dinefwr with a reduced majority, said he would not stand down as Plaid Cymru leader.

Despite no gains, Mr Price said the party had increased its share of the vote and its stance on independence had been a “net positive”.

“I’m not walking away from anything, because this is the moment when Wales needs leadership,” he said.

“This is a historic challenge, because of the way that the politics is moving in this island, but it’s also a historic opportunity for us.

On the campaign trail, Plaid leader Adam Price (Pic Plaid Cymru)

“We can move our nation forward and I’m looking forward to playing my part, it’s not something that anyone can do on their own.

“I have a role to play, we all have a role to play and that’s what’s exciting about politics at the moment. Wales is on the move Wales is on the march. I’m going to be part of that.”

Later, on social media, Adam Price said: ” I extend my congratulations to Mark Drakeford on securing a mandate to lead the next government. Although disappointed not to be returning more Members to the Senedd, I am proud that we ran a positive campaign based on a transformational programme.

“Our Senedd group will bring renewed energy and fresh ideas and I look forward to working with all my colleagues as we continue to build the case for independence. We will be a constructive but forensic opposition as we enter a crucial period of pandemic recovery.

“However, the sixth Senedd will be poorer without one of Wales’s most remarkable politicians. No one has given more to the party or to her community than Leanne Wood – an inspiring role model for so many.

“Leanne’s commitment to the Rhondda is unparalleled and I know she will continue to make an important contribution to the future of our nation and the pursuit of social justice which always has and always will drive her politics.

“Westminster’s attack on devolution is only just beginning and Wales needs a plan – that plan must focus on taking our own future into our own hands so we can build a nation that is fair and free.

TORYS CLAIM BEST RESULT EVER

The Welsh Conservatives say that they have secured the party’s best ever result in a Senedd election, winning 16 seats in the Welsh Parliament.

In a statement to the press the party said: “Today’s final election results have seen the Welsh Conservatives secure two regional list seats in both South Wales Central and South Wales East.

“Welsh Conservatives polled 289,802 votes (share up 5.0) across 40 constituencies – 26.1% of the vote – winning eight seats including gains in both the Vale of Clwyd and Brecon and Radnorshire.

“On the five regional lists, Welsh Conservatives secured 278,560 votes (share up 6.3), winning eight seats. The result will see the Senedd return its first ever female from a BAME background, with Welsh Conservatives’ Natasha Asghar making history with election in South Wales East.

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies with Joel Williams on election day (Pic RT Davies/Twitter)

Commenting, Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies said: “Firstly, I’d like to say a huge thank you to our outstanding set of Welsh Conservative candidates, activists and staff who’ve worked incredibly hard throughout this campaign and secured the party’s best ever Senedd result.

“The team has gone above and beyond and deserve great credit for the positive campaign we’ve run right across Wales, and I am thrilled to see Natasha Asghar make history in South Wales East by becoming the first female from a BAME background to be elected to the Senedd.

Newly elected Conservative member of Senedd, Sam Kurtz, talking to BBC reporter Aled Scourfield (Pic J Coles/Herald)

“As a party we are also delighted to have secured constituency seats in the Vale of Clwyd and Brecon and Radnorshire, and increased seats on the regional lists, resulting in our highest ever representation in the Senedd with 16 members.

“It’s been an unconventional campaign and it’s clear incumbency and continuity has played a significant part. To that end, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to Mark Drakeford and Welsh Labour on a successful campaign.

“The election has been fought in good spirit by political parties in Wales and I would like to pay a final word of thanks to the many officials across the country who’ve allowed this election to take place in a safe and effective manner.”

IMPACT OF PANDEMIC

Ian Price, director of CBI Wales, congratulated Labour. He said: “This is a critical time for the Welsh economy and the new parliament must have a laser-like focus on rebuilding from the devastating impact of the pandemic,” he said.
“That means all parties pulling together and working with business to protect jobs, rebuild livelihoods and create a fair and sustainable recovery that addresses the longstanding structural challenges our economy faces.”

Royal Town Planning Institute, largest professional body for town planners in the UK and Europe, commented on the election result saying: “The Welsh Labour Manifesto meets many of the issues raised by the RTPI, including tackling climate action, investing in public transport and active travel, and the delivery of quality affordable homes, including a focus on strengthening Welsh language communities.

“The manifesto commits to strengthening the autonomy and effectiveness of local government to make them more successful in delivering services. We have highlighted the need to invest in planning services to enable the delivery of Welsh Labour’s priorities.”

LABOUR “RESILIENT”

Speaking to the BBC, political commentator Prof Roger Awan-Scully said: “I think it’s been an astonishingly resilient performance by the Welsh Labour Party, amidst disasters for Labour elsewhere in the UK.

“The Conservatives are also performing strongly, but not quite bringing it home in terms of the number of constituency victories that they might have expected.

“For Plaid Cymru I think this has to be said to be a deeply disappointing election.”

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Conservatives hold on to Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat

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THE CONSERVATIVES have held on to their Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat despite Labour closing the gap.

Sam Kurtz will take over the seat from the outgoing Angela Burns who held a majority of 3,400 at the last election.

This time, the gap was just 936 to Labour’s Hassan Riaz who picked up 10,304 votes.

Plaid Cymru’s Cefin Campbell picked up 6,615 votes.

The turnout in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire was slightly up to 52.12% from 51.2% in 2016.

However, with a larger electorate thanks to votes for 16/17-year-olds, the number of votes cast went up by almost 3,000.

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Paul Davies re-elected as Conservatives hold Preseli Pembrokeshire

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PAUL DAVIES has been re-elected to represent the Preseli Pembrokeshire constituency.

He won with 12,295 votes, while there were 10,895 votes for Labour’s Jackie Jones.

Plaid Cymru candidate Cris Tomos gained just over 6,000 votes and there were also 1,239 for Reform UK candidate Alan Dennison.

There were over 3000 more votes cast in 2016, down largely in part to the fact that 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote in this election.

Both the Conservatives and Labour received more votes than before while the gap to Labour closed to just 1,400.

After being elected, Paul Davies said he would continue to ‘fight for Pembrokeshire’ and thanked those who had been involved in his campaign.

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