‘Free expression discouraged in Labour debates now’ – officials
Could the increasingly apparent Brexit disaster for businesses and jobs be avoided if the UK sought to rejoin the single market and customs union while remaining outside the EU, asks Political editor-at-large Martin Shipton
ASERIES of suspensions of leftwing Labour Party officeholders in Wales has led to allegations that the party is becoming less tolerant of internal debate under Sir Keir Starmer.
At least eight elected lay officials in Wales have had their party membership suspended in the wake of a report into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, published last October by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
One has since left the party, but the other seven are all members of the Welsh Labour Grassroots group, the Welsh affiliate of the Momentum organisation which was formed to support Jeremy Corbyn during his leadership of the party.
Among those suspended are officials of constituency parties in Cardiff North, Cardiff West – represented at the Senedd by First Minister Mark Drakeford – Ceredigion and Brecon & Radnorshire, as well as the secretary of Machynlleth branch in the Montgomeryshire seat.
Clive Haswell, who chaired Cardiff North Constituency Labour Party (CLP) has been suspended after allowing two motions to be debated by members – one expressing solidarity with Mr Corbyn, who had the Labour whip withdrawn at Westminster after he suggested concerns about anti-Semitism in the party had been exaggerated, and the other raising concerns about freedom of speech within the party.
He told us: “It is my duty to ensure that members are able to discuss issues of concern to them.
“For many people, the ability to have open debate about important issues of the day is one of the reasons why people join the Labour Party.
“In allowing these two motions to be discussed, I was simply giving members the right to express their opinions and performing the role required of me as the chair by Labour Party rules. They were both passed overwhelmingly.
“There was nothing anti-Semitic in the motions or offensive in any way. I fully support the party leadership’s drive to eliminate anti-Semitism from the party. But I disagree with my suspension and cannot accept that my actions have been ‘grossly detrimental to the Labour Party,’ to quote the rule that is being used against me.”
In Cardiff West two party officials have been suspended after a motion was passed expressing alarm at “the increasingly restrictive instructions… relating to what local parties can and cannot discuss, the most recent of which defines so loosely the category of motions considered unacceptable as to make almost anything relating to internal party matters potentially out of order; attempts to silence and intimidate prominent party figures who have spoken out on recent developments, such as Jess Barnard, the recently elected chairman of Young Labour, who was instructed to take down a social media post conveying a solidarity statement agreed by the Young Labour National Committee; and the declaration by the party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, in a speech on November 29, 2020, that she would be willing to suspend ‘thousands and thousands’ of party members if this were deemed necessary to enforce the party’s instructions.”
Welsh Labour Grassroots secretary Darren Williams said: “There is widespread demoralisation in the Labour Party as a result of the actions of the UK party leadership in clamping down on free expression in party meetings.
“The restrictions imposed by the general secretary are completely unprecedented and suggest that party members aren’t trusted to engage in comradely and respectful debate.
“If the situation isn’t addressed soon, it is likely to have a detrimental effect on Labour’s capacity to campaign for the Senedd elections.”
Dozens of similar suspensions have affected Labour members in England.
A Labour Party spokesman said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures.”
It is understood that only one of the suspended Welsh party officials – not Mr Haswell – is under investigation for alleged anti-Semitism.
In relation to suspensions for breaches of instructions issued by Labour’s general secretary, it is understood that local parties and branches have received guidance on conducting discussions about the EHRC report and its impact.
THE RSPCA rescued 45 dogs from a “dilapidated” Welsh farm after officers were alerted to them being kept in “inappropriate conditions” in Ceredigion.
The charity attended the site on four occasions in January.
The sheer number of the animals meant the owner was struggling to meet their basic needs, with a lack of adequate shelter, poor diet and no parasite control all of immediate concern to RSPCA inspectors Gemma Cooper and Julie Fadden.
The owner accepted the situation was, as the RSPCA described it, “completely out of control”, and all 45 dogs were signed into the charity’s care.
The dogs have gone to a number of centres, namely at Newport, Bryn y Maen in Upper Colwyn Bay, Gonsal Farm, Newbrook, West Hatch and Llys Nini. Some have also gone into the care of the Dogs Trust.
The dogs were aged between 11 weeks and 10 years. Some were puppies born as a consequence of breeding between the unneutered dogs.
This prompted the RSPCA to remind people both of the importance of neutering pets to avoid unwanted litters, and of current laws in Wales with regards to licencing of those involved in dog-breeding.
Some have already found new homes, but many face a period of rehabilitation in the RSPCA’s care ahead of rehoming.
Anyone who may be able to offer a home to these dogs has been urged to keep an eye on the RSPCA’s Find a
Pet website to see when they become available.
Despite the lockdown restrictions, the RSPCA is able to continue to rehome animals, utilising a Covidsecure process that includes virtual adoption processes and animal deliveries.
RSPCA inspector Gemma Cooper said: “These poor dogs were kept in inappropriate conditions at a dilapidated farm building in Ceredigion.
“Thankfully, the owner worked with us and we were able to get these dogs out of this setting and into a number of different animal centres. We’re so proud we were able to rescue these dogs.
“Some pups have already found new homes – but many of the dogs face a period of rehabilitation and care to get them ready for rehoming.
“We’d urge anyone interested in these beautiful dogs to keep a close eye on the RSPCA’s Find a Pet website. People keeping three breeding bitches on a premises – and breeding from those dogs three or more litters of puppies in a 12-month period – require a licence from the local authority, even if they aren’t advertising those dogs for sale.
“It’s so important to get dogs neutered to avoid unwanted litters and, sadly, this incident was a reminder as to how quickly things can get out of hand. The situation had just got completely out of control.
“Fortunately, we were able to work with the owner to get these dogs into animal centres as they start their rehoming journeys.”
THERE have been a few Brexit horror stories since the UK left the European single market and customs union at the end of 2020, but they’ve created far fewer waves than they would have done had it not been for Covid-19.
Yet there’s mounting evidence that, as predicted by Remainers and pooh-poohed by Brexiteers, serious damage is being done to the Welsh economy.
Those who have made a living out of selling shellfish to the EU are unable to do so any more because they do not comply with pure water standards.
Farmers are experiencing difficulty exporting lamb and other products to the EU, while the future of ports like Holyhead and those in Pembrokeshire are in doubt because Ireland is sending and receiving goods directly to and from the European continent to avoid Brexit bureaucracy in the UK.
According to the UK Government, inevitably keen to play the difficulties down, these are largely “teething problems” that will be rectified after further discussions between themselves and the EU.
Others, however, take the view that the problems are an inevitable consequence of leaving the single market and the customs union, and that little if anything can be done to rectify the situation.
But, of course, something – at least in theory – could be done: the UK Government could change its position on the single market and the customs union and ask to rejoin them.
Brexiteers, since they won their narrow referendum victory in 2016, have constantly demanded that those on the losing side should respect “the will of the people” and not seek to overturn Brexit.
Leaving aside the huge amount of disinformation that persuaded many people to vote Leave, the fact is that the nature of Brexit was not defined by those who campaigned to get us out of the EU.
It would have been perfectly possible for us to have left the political institution that is the EU while remaining inside the single market and the customs union.
That would have avoided all the problems that have made it more difficult – and in some cases impossible – for exporters to sell their goods to EU countries.
It would have safeguarded the jobs of those whose livelihoods are dependent on European trade.
Unfortunately such an outcome became impossible because those who steered Brexit were of what they considered a purer variety, who wanted the UK to be a “sovereign” nation and make all the decisions about international trade, and about who could settle here, on its own.
Membership of the single market is, of course, contingent on freedom of movement to work for European citizens, and those leading the campaigns for Brexit were determined that it should end, regardless of the consequences.
We are beginning to see the consequences, which are not to the advantage of the Welsh and British people. Companies that have traded with the EU for many years are unable to do so any more.
Couldn’t we renegotiate the terms of Brexit with the EU and rejoin the single market and customs union?
Former Welsh Labour MEP Derek Vaughan would see that as the best outcome in current circumstances, but thinks it will take time.
“The EU would be open to renegotiate the terms of Brexit, but to enter on such a negotiation it would have to be convinced that the UK Government had made a fundamental change in its position,” he said.
“They would want to see the UK prepared to abide by EU regulations.
“The irony of the difficulty that the fishing industry finds itself in is that the UK was involved in making the rules that the shellfish sellers are now falling foul of.
“Previously, when we were in the EU, because the water quality around Wales isn’t considered good enough, the mussels and other shellfish were washed at purification units in EU countries. That arrangement came to an end when we left the single market.
“The longer-term solution would be to build purification units here, but that would take time. Meanwhile, very sadly, the companies in the industry are going out of business.
“What’s nauseating is that the likes of Farage were promising that things would be much better for the fishing industry out of the EU. Many were persuaded to vote Leave. But while you may have access to more fish after Brexit, that’s no use if the EU refuses to buy them.”
Mr Vaughan said he believed there would be a “drip drip” effect of negative outcomes caused by Brexit, and that in due course future Labour and even Conservative governments would want greater alignment with the EU to facilitate better trade.
He’s unconcerned about losing the independent free trade deals the UK may sign with other countries, which would be a condition of rejoining the customs union.
“In most cases, these new deals are just ‘cut and paste’ versions of deals already done between the countries concerned and the EU,” he said.
Craig Williams, the Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, believes many of the problems will be resolved.
“I don’t know a lot about the shellfish industry, but I talk a lot to farmers who export lamb and other products. The problem is that the EU is being unrealistic about the level of health risk posed by British lamb.
“They assess New Zealand lamb as posing a 1% health risk and therefore inspect 1% of lambs. But they’ve assessed British lamb as having a health risk of 15%, and therefore inspect 15% of them.
“In July we will be in a position to inspect imports. I don’t think the EU would be happy if we inspected 15% of their produce.”
Mr Williams said he did not see rejoining the single market and customs union as a realistic option.
“I want to get away from the divisiveness that has poisoned debate for the last five years. Reopening a debate about whether we should be in the single market or customs union would perpetuate that.
“We want to be negotiating with the EU as a sovereign country, and we could not do that if we rejoined the single market and customs union. We’d have to follow their rules.”
Maybe a time will come when the price of such sovereignty is considered too high.