EU debate follows a rise in UKIP support in Wales
Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones will go head-to-head this evening with UKIP leader Nigel Farage to debate Britain’s place in the European Union.
The hour long event, hosted by the Institute for Welsh Affairs, will take place in front of an audience of around 400 people in Cardiff Bay.
In October, polling data compiled as part of the regular Welsh Political Barometer found that 42 per cent of those questioned in Wales supported remaining in the EU, while 38 per cent indicated that they planned to vote to leave. 17 per cent said that they did not know how they would vote.
In the 1975 referendum on membership of the Common Market, 65 per cent of those who voted in Wales supported staying in.
The event tonight is likely to have added spice given the rise of UKIP as a political force in Wales.
At the 2014 European Elections, UKIP came second in the number of votes cast in Wales, less than one percentage point behind the Labour Party.
During last year’s General Election, UKIP overtook Plaid Cymru as the third largest party in the number of votes cast. Its share of the vote increased by over 11 percentage points to 13.6 per cent.
According to the most recent Welsh Political Barometer meanwhile, UKIP could be on course to bag up to 9 seats in the Welsh Assembly this May.
Ahead of the debate, Carwyn Jones has used an interview with Channel 4 News, due to be broadcast this evening, to question UKIP’s commitment to Wales. Raising fears about the threat they pose the First Minister has said:
“UKIP are a serious threat to Wales and we do take them seriously… We’re not complacent. We’re up for the challenge.”
Noting his own heritage as being a Welsh born grandson of a miner, Jones sought to aim his fire on UKIP using Wales a ‘dumping ground for failed Tory politicians’, an apparent reference to the ex-Kent MP Mark Reckless, who defected from the Conservatives in 2014 and is now standing in the Welsh Assembly elections this May.
“UKIP seems to be intent on Wales being a dumping ground for failed Tory politicians. Where is their commitment to Wales? What do they know about Wales?
It can’t be right…and in fairness UKIP members in Wales have said this: why should people be brought in simply because it’s easier to be elected through proportional representation in Wales than to be elected to Westminster?
All parties should put forward candidates who are committed to Wales and let’s see if Ukip put forward those candidates.”
Concluding that there is ‘a lot of anti-Welsh attitude’ among UKIP members, which ‘they’ve kept well-hidden over the past few months and years’, Jones argued:
“They’re very much controlled from their party headquarters in London. There’s no other party in Wales that’s like that.
And Ukip will have to show that it’s rather more than just an English party with a bit of a Welsh add-on.”
A spokesperson for UKIP has hit back, saying of the interview given to Channel 4:
“For a First Minister who has overseen the obliteration of the Welsh steel industry, who has watched education standards plummet to unforgivable levels, who has stood by while the Welsh NHS struggles to function putting thousands of lives at risk, and yet thinks that because Wales has always been a Labour stronghold he can sit back and simply wait to be re-elected, it’s no surprise that the same arrogance is evident in his attacks against Ukip reflecting the attitude with which his party approaches their responsibilities to the people of Wales.
We are here to hold him to account and it’s apparent he is becoming very scared indeed.”
Last week the Electoral Reform Society called for a ‘real debate’ in Wales and elsewhere over the UK’s place in the European Union which deals ‘with the democratic deficit Britain faces’.
Writing in the Sunday Times yesterday meanwhile, Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood noted that while reforms to the EU were needed, it was crucial above all else that Wales – and the UK – stayed in at all costs. She explained:
“Many legitimate questions and concerns have been raised regarding the need for specific reforms within the Union, but these are far outweighed by the benefits to Wales’ vital agricultural sector, our higher education institutions, transport infrastructure and some of our most deprived communities.”
Ms Wood also reiterated her call, supported by the SNP, that the UK should only leave the EU if all four nations voted to do so, a suggestion constantly ruled out by the prime minister.
Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot ForwardLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.