Helen Wales, Chair of Wales for Europe, reflects on Europe Day and what we need to do as Wales for Europe in the short and longer term.
Whilst yesterday may have been VE Day, today is Europe Day. Yesterday’s commemorations and celebrations focused on one moment in time; they reflected on a key point in the history of our country and our continent. It makes sense to follow that by reflecting, today, on what it means to be European in 2020, and what the future of Wales and the UK in Europe might be.
You may feel as if Wales for Europe has focused on nothing else but the future of Wales and the UK in Europe since 2016. But faced with Coronavirus, that debate and discussion has largely fallen silent in the mainstream media. Those who try to keep talking about it risk being seen as stuck in the past.
Some may grimly joke ‘at least we’ve stopped talking about Brexit’. But Brexit hasn’t gone away. It is still not ‘done’. And as the UK currently faces the stark reality of the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe, it also needs to face the stark reality of the clock ticking on negotiations with the EU.
The UK, and Wales in particular, could ill-afford to leave the EU without a clear, well-planned deal in 2019. It can afford it in even less now. Extending the transition period to allow time, first to enable the EU and the UK to prioritise the response to Coronavirus, then to get a deal that works as well a possible on both sides, should be a matter of common sense, regardless of your views on Brexit. Both the Welsh and the Scottish Governments have said so, too.
Whilst some may be hoping cynically that Coronavirus will provide a way of masking the damage caused by a particularly reckless Brexit later this year, the UK government should be doing everything it can to minimise risk to the country and its people. Adding the worst kind of Brexit to the damage caused by Coronavirus is pure irresponsibility.
But so far, the UK government is not listening.
That’s why Wales for Europe is calling on everyone to stand up, speak out and call for an extension to the transition period. And the message can’t just come from the pro-European movement. We need businesses, charities, trade unions and individuals to make the case to MPs about why this matters to you, in your constituency. In particular, we need to put pressure on Conservative MPs in Wales. Talk to friends, family members and colleagues, especially those who voted to Leave the EU, and encourage them to call for more time.
Because time is short. We’re talking weeks. Parliament will have to amend the Withdrawal Act before 30th June to extend the transition period.
And what about the longer term? Rebuilding post-Coronavirus will present many challenges, as well as some opportunities. We need to be able to consider our future relationship with Europe as part of of this package, not to have already ditched a raft of possibilities before we even start.
Coronavirus has forced us to ask many questions about relationships. From questions about the kind of contact we can and should have with our nearest and dearest, and how we respond to vulnerable people in our communities, to what the virus means for national borders and global travel.
The key choice we face as we rebuild could well be one of national isolationism versus outward-looking collaboration, looking out for the individual or looking out for the inter-dependent collective. For many of us, this has always been one of the principles at the heart of the debate about our EU membership: we cannot face the problems of the twenty-first century without collaboration, cooperation and compromise.
And this is also part of our work now at Wales for Europe: making sure we keep looking outwards, as a nation and as individuals. Promoting European and international solutions that work for Wales as well as our neighbours.
The most moving words I read yesterday came from the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier:
“Never again,” we vowed after the war. But for us Germans in particular, this “never again” means “never again alone”. This sentence is truer in Europe than anywhere else. We must keep Europe together. We must think, feel and act as Europeans. If we do not hold Europe together, also during and after this pandemic, then we will have shown ourselves not to be worthy of 8 May. If Europe fails, the “never again” also fails.
As we move from VE Day into Europe Day, from a challenging present into an uncertain future, these are words to remember.