If we want an improved EU that is progressive and accountable we need to stay and fight
A vote to remain in the EU referendum is a vote for Wales to have a voice that can be heard beyond our own borders.
We know that Westminster can’t be trusted to speak out on Wales’ behalf. With a Conservative government looking firmly entrenched in government in London, a vote to Leave risks marginalising Wales even further.
The decisions made in Brussels affect us all, whether we are members of the EU or not. A vote to Leave will shut Wales out of having a say in our own future.
I am not uncritical of the European Union as an institution. It’s far from perfect and can feel unresponsive and bureaucratic.
Plaid Cymru has run a strong campaign against the controversial EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would allow companies to sue governments behind closed doors for pursuing policies that affect their profits.
But a Wales outside the EU would not be safe from trade deals negotiated in the interests of multinational corporations, and would no longer have any standing to campaign against them or friends in other nations to join with in the fight to protect our public services.
If we want to see an improved EU that is progressive, accountable, and continues to deliver improvements to our lives, then we need to stay and fight for it.
The EU acts as a valuable democratic check on the UK government. It has put in place protections for workers’ rights and has brought real and substantial benefits to the people of Wales, especially those of us who live in our more deprived communities.
Wales has borne the brunt of some of the excesses of Westminster’s austerity agenda. The introduction of the Bedroom Tax, for example, disproportionately affected households in Wales, where rent arrears skyrocketed in its wake.
In the region I represent, communities that once made up the South Wales Coalfields have found themselves left behind even equivalent communities in the rest of the UK. In South Wales, decades since the coal industry was shut down, there are just 41 jobs for every 100 working adults.
In this context, European funding has been a lifeline. European Structural Funds are designed to distribute the prosperity from the richest parts of the continent and close the gap between the poorest and the wealthiest.
Westminster does not offer anything similar, and it is almost impossible to imagine the political leaders who would be responsible for guiding the UK through an exit from the EU embarking on a programme of wealth redistribution that would benefit Wales.
Leaving the EU will inevitably mean that Wales loses out on essential funding and will lock in inequality. We could find ourselves falling further behind.
The inevitable economic aftermath of a vote to leave would have a huge knock on effect on employment and wages. Low-income families would be particularly hard hit.
Welsh businesses are more reliant on trading with the EU than businesses in the rest of the UK and could really struggle as the UK’s relationship with Europe is renegotiated.
However, I don’t want to join in the barrage of scaremongering and myth-peddling that has been fuelling both sides of the Referendum debate. Whether it’s warnings about a third world war, or nonsense about bunches of bananas, facts have been hard to come by during the long build up to June 23.
My decision to vote for the UK to remain a part of the EU is based on optimism. I believe that a vote to Remain is a vote for a Wales with a future as a nation within Europe.
Leaving the EU will leave Wales worse off and voiceless, unable to play our part in building a better Europe and at the full mercy of the Westminster elite.
Steffan Lewis is Plaid Cymru AM for South East Wales and Shadow Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @steffanlewis
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