Ken Skates emphasises the importance to the Welsh economy of our continued membership of the European UnionFebruary 5th, 2013
Anybody who has had the pleasure of vising the Airbus factory in Broughton would agree that the sheer scale of the operation there is truly breathtaking. There are 7,000 skilled employees, hundreds of whom come from my constituency, and thousands of whom come from across north Wales. We talk a lot about the decline of manufacturing, but sometimes we put insufficient focus on the advanced and highly specialised manufacturing we still do across Wales. I am proud that, at Broughton, we have some of the finest wing technicians, some of the most specialised engineers and some of the brightest scientific talent anywhere in the world.
The European Debate
Tomorrow: David Melding, Conservative AM for South Wales Central, examines some unionist and nationalist contradictions.
I wonder what the workers there made of David Cameron’s speech promising an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union? I wonder what they will make of the five years of instability we now face? Certainly, the latest surveys show that even a majority of Tory voters believe that the delayed referendum will harm the economy.
What will the workers of Airbus make of a Prime Minister who is now determined to court a group of Eurosceptics he once branded as fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists? I am sure that those workers would agree with me that being a member of the EU provides real, tangible benefits for the people of Wales. More than 500 firms in Wales export over £5 billion-worth of goods annually to other EU member states, with more than 150,000 jobs in Wales linked to that trade. Structural funds in the present period alone amount to more than £1.8 billion, or £3.6 billion when match funded, helping 100,000 people in Wales find employment or further education.
Of course, we all recognise that the EU faces some very difficult challenges over the next few years, but to turn our back on our European partners as the Tories would do and to believe that we can somehow go it alone in a world now so globalised is a fallacy. To do so is to run against the tide of history.
What perplexes me most in this regard is that it does not even seem to be a very Tory argument. The EU is a single market of 500 million consumers. I thought the Tories were in favour of taking down barriers that impeded free trade, not putting them up. More than half the nation’s exports go to other EU member states, and I thought that the Tories liked to style themselves as being pro-business, not the ones who are deaf to the needs of the Welsh economy.
The EU has changed the game for the better for Welsh businesses and for Welsh people. Looking inward for the moment, all of this puts Welsh Tories in a very difficult position. Mr Cameron’s failed attempts to weaken the voice of devolved nations in Westminster, allied to his pandering to Eurosceptics in the south of England, threaten the very nature of the union that he claims to love—the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. With that, we can only conclude that the Tories are now an English nationalist party, existing in the belief that England will prevail without its allies, without the UK and without the EU.
In turn, this presents a very difficult choice for Welsh Conservatives. Do they stand up for Wales and argue that Mr Cameron’s English nationalist party is threatening the future not only of Wales, but of the union that they so passionately believe in, or do they stay quiet, keep their heads down and say nothing?
If they adopt a pro-EU stance, they will incur the wrath of their members, but if they align themselves with English nationalists, who now overwhelm their Westminster party, they will prove that their loyalties are not to Wales and the UK, but to Mr Cameron and to the people who he once denigrated as fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, but to whom he is now so wedded.