I and others campaigned hard to persuade people of the merits of staying in the EU, but we lost the argument, and whilst disappointed, as democrats we must fully accept the outcome of the referendum. The majority of people across the country, and people in this area, have voted to leave the EU. No matter whether you were “in”, or “out”, now we have to make this work.
And we will make this work. We will work in times of uncertainty to provide businesses with the reassurance that they can have a stable pro-business approach from the Welsh Government, and that investment in skills and jobs here will be supported. We will work alongside local government and others to continue the community regeneration and drive to tackle poverty and inequality. We will strive to make this work. We have to do this, together.
But let’s not be under any illusions that there will not be major impacts locally and nationally, unless the clear promises made by leading Brexit spokespeople – notably here in Wales the Conservative Leader RT Davies as well as UKIP’s Neil Hamilton et al – to make good any shortfalls in European funding. It is now for the Conservative UK government in Westminster and the Welsh Conservatives in Wales to make good on the investment promised, so that existing and planned schemes can proceed. So that jobs can be kept and created.
Colleges and local employers have already expressed their real fears for the future of training courses and apprenticeships which were funded by the additional money (above that which we in Wales paid in) which has been coming to us via EU structural funds. Ambitious plans for the South Wales Metro and other major infrastructure projects which are so vital to the economic prosperity of South Wales and the valleys will now need new and additional funding from the UK government to make them happen.
The Welsh Conservatives and UKIP leaders who argued for Brexit must be held to account to make good on all their promises: to protect our investment in jobs and training and infrastructure in Wales; to protect the funds for hard-pressed hill-farmers in Ogmore, for community regeneration schemes and rural development (all but 2 of the council wards in Ogmore are deemed rural), environmental works and flood protection; and so much more.
Our message from Wales to RT Davies and Boris Johnson and all should be simple and loud. You told us that it was “our money” and that it would be coming back to us when we left the EU. You told us there would be £350m per week coming back to our NHS. We now expect this, all of this, to be delivered. Wales should not lose out.
So we will work together now to make our future outside of membership the European Union.
But in so doing, I also make this direct plea. Let’s not allow the politics of hate and division to pollute our public discourse. We are surely better than that.
Immigration became a major issue during the referendum campaign (even though we are now seeing Brexit campaigners admit that Brexit won’t make much of a difference). Sensible debate and sound policy is needed to manage the pressures and the benefits of immigration. And I look forward to discussing these and other issues rationally and calmly with my constituents over the coming weeks and months.
But some on the extreme far-right have immediately seized on the Brexit vote as an excuse to vilify and attack people who have come here legitimately to work and live, to pay their taxes and support our public services, whether from Poland or Ireland, China or Bangladesh, or anywhere outside Britain. In recent days people have been told to “go home” after the Brexit vote, been assaulted, and had their homes and businesses vandalised. It seems to have given license to some closet-racists to come out of their closets spewing hate and bile.
This is not good enough. I want every non-British person who lives and works among us to know that they are safe and welcomed here in Wales and in our communities in Bridgend and Ogmore. Whether they work in our health services or social care, food-processing or construction sectors, our universities or our manufacturers, we value their contribution to our economy and our communities.
We should have respect for all who contribute to our society and economy, whether born here, or whether choosing to come and live and work alongside us. We should speak out against those extremists who espouse hate and whip up fear. We are better than that.
So, let’s get on and work through the detail of what Brexit means, as well as making sure that we in Wales do not lose out.
Wales is open for business even if the terms of that business have now changed. And we are an open and welcoming country, which truly values the contribution of everyone who comes to live and work here.