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THE HERALD INTERVIEWS • NEIL HAMILTON

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‘Bright future’ ahead: Neil Hamilton gives his views on the Brexit

‘Bright future’ ahead: Neil Hamilton
gives his views on the Brexit

ONE OF the fairly small band of Welsh politicians who were pleased with the outcome of last Thursday’s EU referendum was UKIP’s Senedd Leader Neil Hamilton, who has been an outspoken supporter of Free Trade since before the UK joined the Common Market in 1973.

The Herald spoke to the Mid and West AM on Friday morning (Jun 24) to discuss his thoughts on what this historic result would mean for Wales.

“It’s a historic day for Wales – I’ve been fighting for this for 49 years , since I joined the Anti-Common Market League in 1967 when I was at school in Ammanford,” he said.

Given that, with the exception of Ceredigion, Mid and West Wales voted Leave, was he pleased with the local result?

“The result from Carmarthenshire was extremely good. It was 55/45 wasn’t it? So it was better than the national average,” he said. “I’m very, very, pleased. Carwyn Jones’ and Leanne Wood’s constituencies both voted to leave so that’s very satisfying as well.”

Given that, even at the time of writing, another EU referendum looks unlikely, and leaders of the major political parties appear to have accepted that Britain will leave the EU, we asked Mr Hamilton what he thought leaving the EU would mean for Wales.

“First of all , it means there will be more money for Wales, and I’m going to issue a demand today (Jun 24) that the government should guarantee that Wales gets the taxpayers money which is currently spent by the EU in Wales and avoid the possibility that this is siphoned off somewhere else in the UK,” he said.

“And then there will be a Brexit dividend from £10bn a year we send to Brussels which is spent in other parts of Europe. We should have at least £500m a year out of that.”

Wales is used to the NHS being treated as a political football, but did Mr Hamilton think that the increase in NHS funding – promised by both Leave campaigns – would materialise?

His response appeared rather more measured than some of the rhetoric used by Leavers like Boris Johnston during the campaign: “The money is there to spend and we, via our elected politicians , will decide where,” he said. “The NHS is a priority, and I would expect that a certain part of that will be spent on the health service.”

In the interests of fairness, it is worth mentioning that the £350m a week figure which Britain apparently spent on the European Union rather than the NHS was not endorsed by UKIP.

Another matter which is almost sure to prove contentious in the coming months is the subsidies received by Welsh farmers from the EU – most notably the Common Agricultural Payment (CAP). We asked Mr Hamilton whether he would be leading calls for the UK Government to provide a similar level of subsidisation for the industry in Wales.

In response, he claimed that leaving the EU could actually lead to an upturn in farmers’ fortunes: “What we need is a guarantee that at least the same amount of money as the EU spends in Wales – it’s all British taxpayers’ money anyway – should be given to the Welsh Government for it to spend,” he stated.

“And obviously agricultural subsidies are another very high priority, particularly because Wales has so many marginal upland farms.

“We can provide a better system of agricultural subsidy and income support than the CAP and we can have cheaper food into the bargain. It will be good for farmers and consumers.”

While UKIP exceeded expectations across South Wales in the Assembly elections, the party was still some way behind Labour in the region. However , the Leave vote, in spite of Labour MPs and AMs supporting Remain, was particularly strong in the old industrial heartland of the country, from Llanelli to Ebbw Vale. We asked Mr Hamilton why he thought this was the case.

The former Conservative MP suggested that this was the result of disillusionment with mainstream political parties, particularly Labour.

“The Labour Party had given up their working class base. The Labour leadership are very multicultural urban-orientated – they’ve given up on the old industrial communities which founded the Labour Party,” he claimed.

“That is why UKIP is doing so well in the Valleys seats. We got 25% of the vote in places like Merthyr and Ebbw Vale in May, and we’re going to build on that. Our aim now is to replace the Labour Party in those Labour-voting areas.”

“I know that at the General Election last year , UKIP’s support base was the most working class of the major political parties in Britain – much more than the Labour Party.

“The people who run the Labour Party today are middle class academics and professionals who have lost their touch with the ordinary working man. UKIP is a grassroots movement full of ordinary people, so we’re much more representative than the Labour Party,” the former barrister and reality TV star added.

With a minority Labour Government running Wales at present (again) and the leader of the Welsh Conservatives an advocate of Brexit, we asked what role UKIP would play in post-EU negotiations.

“I said in my very first speech in the Senedd that we were going to be a constructive opposition party and we wanted to play a full part in getting the best deal for Wales, ” Mr Hamilton said.

“Of course, that was contemptuously rejected by Carwyn Jones and Leanne Wood, who tried to do their own downstairs stitch-up deal.

“UKIP has seven AMs in the Senedd and support in constituencies. We represent 15% of the people of Wales and we cannot be ignored. I’m going to give support to the demands by the Welsh Government that we should get our fair share of the Brexit dividend.”

When we spoke to Mr Hamilton, the pound had just plummeted to its worst level since the 1987 crash. We asked whether he thought this would be a short-term blip.

He agreed, and wasted no time in laying the blame for the pound’s poor showing squarely at the door of ‘so-called experts.’

“This volatility has taken place because the so-called experts we were told up till yesterday we had to believe didn’t see it coming,” he insisted. “Markets don’t like upset – they don’t like being wrong-footed. It’s a great time to buy at the moment, and the market will bounce back over the next two weeks.

“It will become absolutely clear in no time at all that the doom-mongering scenario the government itself went into overdrive to promote is entirely bogus, and we will carry on trading with Europe and the rest of the world. In the short term , nothing’s going to change, but in the longer term there’s a world of opportunity.”

The so-called ‘Project Fear’ campaigners suggested that a number of businesses could leave Britain if the country gave up EU membership. However, even accepting that was the case, did he think that uncertainty over Britain’s future would discourage new inward investment over the coming years?

Mr Hamilton did not. “I think when people decide to make an investment they look at the whole business environment, particularly staff, and if we have a better regulatory environment than across the channel then businesses are going to invest here,” he claimed.

“They have done for centuries. We have access to the Single Market in the same way as the United States, Canada, Australia, India and China. There is a tariff wall around the EU but that is relatively small – an average of 4%.

“We have a massive trade deficit with the EU so it is pretty much in their interest to agree to a free-trade agreement, which is what we should very quickly put together.”

Mr Hamilton also dismissed suggestions that Britain should ‘buy in’ to the Single Market: “All we want is free trade, and even if we didn’t do a deal with the EU for the Single Market , we would still have access to it.

“All we would have is a tariff barrier, which is on average 4%. We would put a similar tariff on EU exports to us. There is a hundreds of billion pounds deficit in terms of the EU so if they try to discriminate against us , they will be the losers,” he added.

“We will get the benefits of tariffs on their exports to us which we could then return to our exporters so it is more than self-financing.”

One of the claims made by senior figures in the Brexit campaign was that without EU membership, Britain would be in a position to protect its industries, and possibly part-nationalise struggling firms like Tata Steel.

However, Mr Hamilton felt that this would not be a positive move: “The future lies with free trade not with protectionism,” he added. “But, take steel for example. Where foreign competition is unfairly subsidised as it is , with Chinese steel we can take protective measures to even the playing field as the United States has done.”

Renationalising struggling industries was also not on the cards, except as a short-term measure. “Well we could do it, but I don’t think nationalisation is the way forward. Politicians running industries has not proved to be very successful in the past.

“Sometimes as a temporary measure , the government needs to step in. But , it should never be a long-term option in my opinion,” he added.

Looking forward, Mr Hamilton ‘believed that Wales had a bright future outside the EU.’

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‘Reach out to friends and family’ says Council Leader

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THIS week’s update from Cllr David Simpson, Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council:

‘Hello everyone, I hope you are all keeping well and safe.

‘I’d like to highlight that this week is Mental Health Awareness Week.

‘I’m very aware that the last 15 months has had a huge impact on our lives and, in some cases, our wellbeing.

‘Mental Health can be a hidden issue and we all need to be aware that some people may need some extra support.

‘On a personal level the lockdown restrictions have reminded me of the importance to talk to people and to ensure people are supported.

‘Supporting your friends and family can be as simple as a phone call to say hello. A quick hello can ensure people are ok and managing and can give someone a huge uplift.

“Our communities have done a fantastic job of supporting each other so please, Team Pembrokeshire, continue these efforts.

‘I urge you all to pick up the phone and say hello to your friends and family, as we all need to play our role in everyone’s wellbeing – talking about issues does make a difference.

‘If you are suffering from Mental Health or general wellbeing issues please reach out, do not struggle on your own, your friends and family can help and make a difference.

‘Please also take the opportunity to also view the website at https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week which has much more information and support.

‘I now want to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in last week’s elections.

‘Elections take a phenomenal amount of organisation at the best of times but even more so in a pandemic situation.

‘To all those who ensured the smooth running of the elections process, thank you.

‘Congratulations to all the successful candidates and I look forward to working with them to further improve the lives of Pembrokeshire people.

‘We have now had further updates from Welsh Government and the next phase of the unlocking road map has been unveiled.

‘From Monday, 17th May, indoor hospitality can re-open.

‘Up to six people from six different households will be able to meet indoors in pubs, cafes and restaurants.

‘We have so many fantastic hospitality venues in Pembrokeshire who we know will be giving their customers a big welcome after so long away.

‘The opening of indoor hospitality will be a major landmark in our emergence from the pandemic and towards recovery.

‘While out and about please remember social distancing rules are still in pace, consider your actions on others, remember your footprint has an impact on our communities, so please tread lightly.

‘When you go home, leave with a smile – enjoy your days out, enjoy seeing your families and most importantly enjoy our beautiful county and please support us in keeping Pembrokeshire special – play your part and please be responsible.

‘I want to wish you all a lovely weekend and I look forward to talking to you all again next week through my update.

‘Thank you everyone.’

You can keep up to date with all the Council’s press releases here: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/newsroom

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Plan to rescue rare butterfly from extinction in Pembrokeshire

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE Coast National Park Authority is stepping up efforts to save the marsh fritillary butterfly, which was once widespread in Wales but is now close to extinction in Pembrokeshire.

Funded by the Pembrokeshire Nature Partnership, the new landscape scale strategy aims to improve the fortunes of the rare species, which relies on networks of flower rich marshy grasslands across the landscape.

Much of this habitat, which is home to the favourite food of its larva – the devil’s bit scabious (succisa pratensis), has been lost due to drainage, inappropriate tree planting and the neglect of traditional management of grasslands through light grazing with heavy animals such as cattle.

National Park AuthorityBiodiversity Officer, Sarah Mellor said: “The marsh fritillary in Pembrokeshire is now in a very precarious position. We think it has already become extinct in a number of areas in its former range and it has not been seen on the St Davids Peninsula since 2013. The population around Keeston and Tiers Cross is also now thought to be extinct.

“We must find a way to make space for wildlife in our landscape to ensure that nature can thrive for future generations. It is quite sobering to think this species could disappear from Pembrokeshire in my lifetime. We have a responsibility not to let this happen on our watch.

“Even in those areas where it remains we have seen dramatic declines, for example around Mychanchlogddu it used to be recorded from 32 sites, but since 2015 it has only been seen at seven sites.”

The National Park Authority has already stepped up its action to rescue the rare butterfly by assisting landowners to bring sites into suitable management through grant aid and providing suitable grazing animals through the Pembrokeshire Grazing Network and the Conserving the Park Scheme.

The new strategy will include mobilising Park Authority staff and volunteers to undertake targeted surveys at sites across the county, as well as helping landowners to manage their land in a sensitive way to help ensure the future of this rare butterfly.

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Santander turns away customers due to nationwide computer glitch

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CUSTOMERS of Santander in Haverfordwest were being turned away this morning by branch staff saying that they were unable to make transactions due to a computer glitch. It is understood that branches use the same computer systems which run the bank’s other systems.

Problems arouse last night when computer updates which the bank was implementing did not go to plan.

Some Herald readers contacted the news room to speak of their surprise that they were not able to access their funds.

One reader, who had gone to the bank to withdraw funds to pay rent on his home was told that there was nothing that could be done.

Website and App transactions are also being affected at the high street bank, and card transactions are being declined

The head of money at consumer magazine Which?, Gareth Shaw, said many customers will be stressed, “with people reporting that they have been unable to make online payments or in some cases purchase food in their local supermarket”.

“Customers can incur fines, penalties and fees when they’re not able to access their finances, so the bank must offer compensation to all those who have been impacted in this way”.

Santander told customers they can “access cash from other banks’ ATMs, at the Post Office and can get cashback where that’s available”.

A service status page on its website said planned maintenance was due to be performed on the Santander mobile banking app overnight on Friday. It is not known whether this prompted Saturday’s problems.

On Twitter, a Santander spokesperson said: “We’re sorry that a technical problem is affecting our services, our teams are working hard to fix it.

“You can access cash from other banks’ ATMs. Please check back here for further updates.”

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