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21 July 2016

Wales' Brexit blues

Wales' Brexit blues

In First Minister's Questions on 12 July, at a time when Carwyn Jones would normally be expected to provide detail of Welsh Government's programme for government for the upcoming year, he instead announced that this would be delayed until September, stressing that Brexit had "changed things fundamentally".

A sombre mood of uncertainty, even disbelief, has prevailed over much of Cardiff Bay since the EU referendum of 23 June. Even though the people of Wales as a whole voted to leave, the difference was pronounced among Assembly Members, with over two thirds nailing their 'remain' colours to the mast.

Wales has been a major beneficiary of EU structural funds, more so than the rest of the UK because of the weakness of its economy. Welsh Government has stated that 72,700 people were helped into work and 36,970 new jobs were created as a result of EU funds.

There are many projects in the pipeline that would receive EU funds whose future is now uncertain as a result of the Brexit vote. The ambitious South Wales Metro project for example was "in difficulty" according to Jones unless money was given to Wales by Westminster.

Higher education institutions will also be affected and it was announced that 100 EU students reportedly cancelled their places at Aberystwyth University following the Brexit vote.

The Assembly's new Presiding Officer Elin Jones highlighted how much of the Assembly's energies this term would be taken up by Brexit-related issues: the common agricultural policy, fisheries policy and EU structural funds were all decided at EU level, for example, and Wales-only policies would need to be created.

The First Minister has spoken of two non-negotiable "red lines" for Wales regarding the UK government's EU withdrawal negotiations.

One is continued access to the EU Single Market for Welsh businesses, without which jobs would be lost in Wales.

The other was that the £600m that the Assembly receives annually from the EU as part of the UK's membership should continue to be given to Wales by the UK government once the UK had left.

Regarding the latter, Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said, when pressed on the matter that Wales would receive its "fair share" but that to simply have the cash paid by Westminster instead of Brussels "misses the point".

Theresa May's visit to Wales on 18 July provided the first opportunity for Carwyn Jones to meet with the Prime Minister and they covered a range of issues, including Brexit and steelmaking. The meeting, according to Theresa May, was "very constructive" and she stressed that she wanted Welsh Government "involved and engaged" in negotiations with the EU.

It was left to the Welsh football team however to provide the nation with the most uplifting moments in recent weeks. Their unexpected success in reaching the semi-finals of the Euro 2016 tournament in France - their first major tournament since 1958 – exceeded expectations and won them many admirers throughout the UK.

   Image used under CC licence- Jeremy Segrott