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Where do I stand on Brexit?

Brexit is the biggest political issue of our time – and it is about time the Labour Party came to a clear position through its democratic structures. Like the overwhelming majority of members I backed remain, but what matters now is that the people should decide whether the Government’s approach is the way forward or we should stay in the EU – either through a people’s vote or a general election where the people are given a clear choice.

One of my earliest political memories is of the 1975 referendum and my Dad coming home from work and complaining about all the youngsters thinking Europe sounded like a good thing and ignoring their union (the ETU, now part of Unite) advice to vote no. But since I was old enough to think about it for myself I can’t remember being anything other than pro-Europe. I like to think that if my parents had still been around in 2016 they’d have voted to stay in too. Not least because I know their grandkids, my kids (and particularly the two who weren’t old enough to vote themselves) would have begged them to vote for their futures in Europe.

So, why was I so unequivocally pro staying in? I suppose growing up under Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister helped. All the good things in terms of employment rights seemed to come from being part of the EU. But that’s not really a good enough answer: if we chose to we could elect a UK Government that did those things too. But we can’t elect a UK government that gives us the freedom to travel and work in Europe: only international co-operation can do that. It seemed to me the pro-Brexit campaign was based on a number of myths, but the underlying argument was that by leaving the EU the world would be less complicated. It is a fact that the world is much more connected and complicated than it was in the 1970s. Improved communications have radically changed all sorts of processes and enabled global conglomerates to dominate – too big for any single nation to regulate. The question is whether we accept this as inevitable and attempt to work with other nations to tackle their excesses or try to shut ourselves off from it. Many of those in Labour who opposed us joining in the 1970s did so because they wanted us to work primarily through the Commonwealth, but those countries are making their own way in the world now, and that is no longer a realistic option. Geographically it makes sense for us to work with our closest trading partners and much of our economy is now built on this with just-in-time production and a virtual shopfloor with frictionless exchange of parts at companies such as Airbus. It’s also a group of like-minded nations to the extent that we are all committed to liberal democracy, albeit with governments of different political hues in different times at different places. The EU is not perfect, but ripping it up, and starting again to recreate the international agreements in place never seemed like the best option to me.

Prior to the referendum I stood for the regional list during the Welsh Assembly elections and did a number of hustings with UKIP on the platform. It was obvious that theirs was an overly simplistic view of the world. Every problem or difficulty that was raised in any area of life, could be solved, according to them, if we were no longer in the EU. Interesting to see just how that nirvana is working out… I was therefore an enthusiastic campaginer in the referendum:

Colwyn Bay remain

I have to say though I felt it was the most horrible campaign I’ve ever been involved in. Many people clearly felt empowered to voice their xenophobia – and to direct it at us. But some of it was a signal of people’s despair too: they couldn’t see how the economy could get any worse. At the count I remember seeing a ballot box from one of our most deprived areas where only around one if four of the votes was to remain.  And that is indicative of what happened in disadvantaged communities across England and Wales. That’s why I felt immediately afterwards, that while I hadn’t changed my view, we had to respect the referendum result and wrote of the need to address the concerns raised.  But the vote to Leave was a vote to step into the unknown – and once the path ahead had been mapped it was always going to be appropriate for the people to decide whether to proceed. In anticipation of that I was also involved in setting up North Wales for Europe which held it’s first event in early 2017 and has gone from strength to strength.

I watched with growing concern as our Tory Government seemed determined to execute a hard Brexit but with no realistic plan about how to do so. The Prime Minister has danced on the head of a pin to try to keep her hard-line Brexiteers happy sometimes knowing full well that proposals were unworkable and / or unacceptable to the EU. Meanwhile the world has become a more dangerous place with Donald Trump elected US President and liberal democracy under threat even within the EU borders. Never has it seemed less sensible than to contemplate going alone. In early 2017 it began to be clear that as I set out here the Government was turning its back on keeping our country open for business and prosperity. Although the outcome of the General Election in June 2017 was unclear, it was unquestionably a rejection of Theresa May’s hard Brexit – but she carried on anyway. The only real negotiations to date have been within the Cabinet – the rest of the EU has been waiting to find out what they want. The majority have now concluded what was obvious from the start: that if we are to limit the damage to our economy, we will need to remain in the customs union and single market. This is unacceptable to many Tory backbenchers so they have spent months formulating new descriptions but the reality is clear. This should always have been the starting point for negotiations: having rejected EU membership by a narrow margin the national consensus was bound to be around a very close trading relationship – the “common market” we joined in the 70s but reflecting the modern economy. However, the Government is still more concerned about its lunatic fringe than building a national consensus. I wrote here https://labourlist.org/2018/06/passing-up-the-chance-to-beat-the-tories-on-brexit-makes-no-sense/ about Labour’s strategy in Parliament.

This autumn the final deal will be presented to the UK Parliament. It is already clear that the Brexiteers have no plan and never did have. Indeed their approach is at hear to reject the idea of having a plan. Of course David Cameron’s referendum was designed to paper over cracks in the Tory party and then rely on a broad consensus to tell the Brexiteers to shut up, not to give a clear prospectus for Brexit which the people could endorse or reject. And of course we’ve had the revelations about Leave.EU breaking electoral law during the referendum campaign.

I haven’t changed my view that Brexit is wrong for the country and nor have most Labour members. I don’t think it does us any favours long term to pretend otherwise and it certainly won’t help when it goes belly up to say “we knew it was a bad idea, but we didn’t think you’d listen, so went along with it …” . I therefore think Parliament needs to put Theresa May’s deal, or lack of it, before the people, with an option to remain. That could either be in a people’s vote or a General Election where Labour has a clear policy that we can all get behind and campaign on. We need a debate at this year’s conference to set that policy and that’s why I’ve supported the #laboursay campaign www.laboursay.eu

Is a referendum a good method of deciding a complex decision? Probably not. But just as the 1975 decision to stay could only be reversed with a second referendum, it is only the people who can overturn the decision in 2016 that we should leave. It may not be a good option, but I can’t see a better one.

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Passing up the chance to beat the Tories on Brexit makes no sense

This article was published on Labour List on 12 June 2018.

Today the first of 15 House of Lords amendments are considered by the House of Commons. MPs finally start the process of formalising Brexit and deciding what a best case scenario deal could look like. It provides parliament with a guiding hand over the negotiations.

Over the weekend, David Lidington asked Tory MPs to vote down the Lords proposals: it is too soon, he argued, to be specific about the kind of deal Britain wants from Brussels. The lack of government clarity is not a reason to let them off the hook – it is high time their position was nailed down. If the Prime Minister cannot give the United Kingdom a negotiating strategy, parliament should do it for her.

We are not far off the two-year anniversary of the vote to leave the EU, yet still none the wiser about government policy. Worse, rather than poke, prod and cajole them into a ‘jobs first Brexit’ that might acknowledge the desires of ‘Leave’ voters and balance the needs of employers, manufacturers and tax payers, Labour is giving the Tories a free pass.

Today’s amendment on the European Economic Area is a political sweet spot for those who are anti-austerity, pro-single market and opposed to Theresa May’s plan. The authors are a mix of crossbenchers and cross-party peers, not the Labour leadership. It has the potential for win-win. Jeremy Corbyn can defeat the government and land a blow on May, Tory Remainers can tell themselves Corbyn is not going to get the credit and the fixed term parliament act means it does not precipitate an election.

But instead the Labour frontbench pick a side fight and offer the government a blank cheque. The shadow cabinet behave as if the Tories have no majority on domestic policy and a massive majority on Brexit. The opposite is true. Labour cannot show Tory weakness on Brexit unless it votes against its strategy on Brexit, and tonight is a perfect opportunity to do so. It is unclear to me why we fail to act, but fail to act we do regardless.

The refusal to accept Lords amendments does not make less work for the government or the Lords – it means less work for my friends and neighbours. It’s shameful, really, that Labour is helping not putting a stop to this. It will not be good enough in the future to say to the people of this country ‘we knew a hard Brexit would be a disaster but we didn’t think you’d listen to us if we said so’. Politics is about making choices and sometimes those choices need to involve leading from the front and doing what is right for the country. Tonight should be one of those times

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North Wales Metro

Here’s my video welcoming Carwyn Jones announcement at Welsh Labour conference in Llandudno of plans for a North Wales Metro system. You can read more about the proposals here.

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Winning in Wales and beating UKIP on the regional list

You can read here an article I wrote for Labour List explaining how I believe we can win a seat on the regional list in North Wales and prevent UKIP from taking it. I think this is particularly important as we need regional Assembly Members who work for the whole of North Wales and recognise our unique position as part of Wales but with economic, transport and infrastructure links with the North West of England.

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No. 1 on Labour’s North Wales Regional list

I’d like to thank members for voting for me to be at the top of Labour’s regional list in the Assembly elections in May 2016. I really think we can win an extra seat in North Wales and stop UKIP taking one. If we’d got as many votes on the list as we did in the constituency section in 2011 we’d have won a seat. I’ve written on this for Labour List here.

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Standing to be on the North Wales regional List for the Welsh Assembly

I’m standing to be one of Welsh Labour’s North Wales Regional List Candidates in the Welsh Assembly Elections in May 2016. Dwi’n sefyll i fod yn un o Ymgeiswyr Llafur Cymru ar Restr Gogledd Cymru yn yr Etholiad Cynulliad 2016. You can read my leaflet Mary4NorthWales and a version of the hustings speech I’ve been giving at hustings.

Ballot papers will be going out to Labour Party members in North Wales later this month. I’m standing for three main reasons:

1. These elections are really important. A Labour Welsh Government is our last line of defence against the UK Tory government cuts. We can’t control what money we have but we can prioritise and mitigate the worst effects. It’s therefore really important that we maximise our representation and I want to campaign with our fabulous constituency candidates across North Wales in both English and Cymraeg to do just that.

2. It’s also really important to ensure that North Wales has strong voices standing up for it and making the case for our infrastructure and employment needs. I’d like to continue with the ideas I had for doing that when I stood in Aberconwy in the General Election.

3. If elected, I think I have the skills and experience to deliver for people in North Wales. I currently work with people providing social care to improve services for our most vulnerable. I work with Welsh Government, local authorities and health boards, so I’m used to cutting through bureaucracy and I know the importance of working co-operatively to get things done.

Do get in touch if you have any questions.

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The best chance for a progressive MP in Aberconwy

Really pleased that vote smart have endorsed me as the best candidate to vote for if you want a progressive MP in Aberconwy http://www.votesmart.org.uk/#66085