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The Catalan crisis and Cymru

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Rallying for independence: Some Catalans seek self-determination

THE CRISIS in Catalonia has made for some strange political bedfellows, with Plaid Cymru and UKIP – for different motivations – railing against those seeking to preserve the Spanish state intact, while the Conservatives remain equivocal and Labour – as in Brexit – prefer to keep their heads down and hope it will all go away without anyone asking them what their position actually is.

And the reasons for those contortions, at least in Welsh politics are not too difficult to establish. While a core text of young socialists always used to be George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’, the establishment of an independent Catalan state would only serve to stoke the well-banked fires of Welsh independence from the UK. With the Labour Party in Wales not only fundamentally unionist in the sense of wishing to ensure the UK stays together but devoted to the idea of the European Union, it does not want to see other European regions assert their independence.

In addition, at least part of Labour’s opposition is borne out of the thought that Catalonia – one of the richest Spanish regions – is seeking its independence partly because it does not want to continue funding poorer Spanish regions: a bit like Surrey declaring UDI because it did not want taxes raised there to contribute to the building of schools in Llanelli.

UKIP’s position has the merit of being both robust and transparently intellectually dishonest. A party built around the recreation of an independent UK is all in favour of other member states of the EU splitting up, especially as – they argue – the conflict highlights the fundamentally autocratic and centralising impulse of the EU. However, UKIP’s anti-unionist and pro-democratic position is not translated to national politics in the particular, only to foreign affairs in the abstract.

In that, it is at least consistent with the keenest Brexiteers on the Conservative side, who are all in favour of using the trials of the Spanish state to illustrate their own view of an over-mighty EU without for one minute advancing the logic of that argument to the UK’s status quo. Which is, perhaps, why they are so reluctant to talk about it.

Of more moment, perhaps is that the EU has turned its face against Catalan separatism on the principle that it does not want to see its Union subject to further division. That attitude should be causing raised eyebrows in Edinburgh, or at least giving campaigners for independence considerable pause for thought. A key notion floated at the time of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 was that Scotland would be an independent nation within the EU. That position – provided of course that the EU is intellectually consistent, coherent, and not prone to dabbling in its members’ internal politics – appears to be shot full of holes by the EU’s current attitude towards Catalonia. And it is worth bearing in mind that SNP supporters supported leaving the EU by a significant majority, which suggests that at least some of its members are prepared to see the lunacy of seeking to leave one union only to join another straight away.

And for Plaid Cymru, or at least those within in it who seek independence for Wales, who believe in the right of the Catalans to self-determination, Welsh self-determination, and who want to remain within the EU – or at least closely tied to it – the position is even more intellectually contorted. The EU – as an institution – shows no appetite at all to allow the federated parts of republics or semi-autonomous regions to divide themselves from the nation states of which they are constituent members. Quite how the attitude of the EU towards the Catalans gives intellectual succour to Plaid Cymru for their own hopes for an independent Wales within the EU requires a leap of logic that suggests faith and not rationality.

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Ben Lake MP “disappointed” after Agriculture Bill amendment on the standard of food and agricultural imports is rejected by House of Commons

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The UK’s new Agriculture Bill was put before MPs on Wednesday (13 May) for the final time as it reached the Report Stage and Third Reading.

Alongside farming unions and campaign groups, Ben Lake MP has lobbied for the Bill to include a number of important amendments. One of the amendments sought to introduce a legal requirement that agricultural or food products imported into the UK under future trade agreements would need to be produced or processed according to equivalent animal health, welfare and environmental standards as those required of UK prodcuers.

This amendment, in the form of New Clause 2, and which was tabled by the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Neil Parish MP, was rejected by the Commons. All Plaid Cymru MPs supported the amendment and Ben Lake MP said he was “disappointed” that the house did not vote in favour of an amendment to prevent the importation of products produced to lower animal health and environmental standards, and which in turn would have supported the high standards of Welsh produce.

Ben Lake MP said:

“Without this amendment there remains no legal requirement for future UK trade agreements to ensure that any agricultural or food imports are produced to the same standards as those required of domestic producers.

“Farmers in Wales strive to produce quality food in a sustainable manner, but the failure to include this amendment to the Agriculture Bill risks undermining these efforts by keeping the door open to imports produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards.

“I have always argued that in order to protect our own high standards it is crucial that a level playing-field is maintained in relation to imports, and that farmers in Wales are not put at a disadvantage by having to compete with imports that are produced to lower standards. I sincerely hope that this amendment will be adopted by the House of Lords, so that the House of Commons has another opportunity to support it.”

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£1 billion deal for ‘Shared Rural Network’ to improve mobile coverage goes ahead

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Ceredigion MP, Ben Lake says he is delighted that a scheme to extend mobile coverage in hard-to-reach rural areas making poor mobile phone coverage a thing of the past has been given the green light, thanks to a major new deal between the Government and UK mobile network operators.

The ‘Shared Rural Network’ will mean that high quality 4G coverage will be available for 95 percent of the UK by 2026 which means consumers will get good 4G signal wherever they live, work or travel. The new plans involves four operators (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) joining forces to create a new organisation to deliver the ‘Shared Rural Network’. Each will be able to make the maximum use out of existing and new phone masts by being able to host their own equipment on them allowing their customers to access a mobile signal. The scheme will cost more than £1billion made up of £530m from the mobile operators and a £500m investment from the Government.

Ben Lake MP, who was one of 78 cross-party MPs who wrote to the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport last year to ask for government support for the scheme, said:

“This is really good news for my constituents. Better mobile connectivity will make flexible working, access to education and leisure opportunities easier. It will boost regional economic growth and begin to close the digital divide that exists across the country. The mobile has become an essential tool for most of us. It will certainly come as a relief to many people living in my constituency who are frustrated by the persistent ‘not spots’ which prevent them from carrying out many tasks which other people take for granted”.

The ’Shared Rural Network’ will eliminate the substantial majority of the country’s partial not-spots with the added benefit of increasing competition for mobile services, especially in rural areas; deliver on the Government’s 95% coverage manifesto commitment to extend coverage across the country; improve road coverage by reaching a further 16,000 kilometres of roads; involve minimum environmental impact and reduce the need for duplicate infrastructure and ensure that the UK has one of, if not the best, mobile coverage in Europe.

The initiative, which is a world first, follows government proposals for an overhaul of planning rules and is part of the Prime Minister’s plan to level up the country with world-class digital infrastructure across the UK to make sure homes and businesses are better connected.

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Elin Jones welcomes speed reduction, but says it should be even lower

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Following a meeting and correspondence with the Welsh Government, Elin Jones AM has welcomed the confirmation of an initial reduction in the speed on the A487 between Bow Street and Aberystwyth.

This stretch of the A487 is particularly dangerous, and there were two fatal accidents there last year.

Ken Skates, the Welsh Government Minister for Economy and Transport, confirmed to Elin Jones via letter that the route between Waun Fawr to 300m beyond Dorglwyd Junction will be reduced to 50mph, with work taking place in the next financial year.

The reduction to 50mph has been initially welcomed by Elin Jones, however she has called for the speed limit to be reduced further to 40mph.

Elin Jones said:

“The need for a review of the safety on the A487 is clear, particularly following the two tragic accidents that took place last year. I was pleased to be able to discuss the issue directly with the Welsh Government Minister in Bow Street recently, and for him to see for himself why a speed reduction was needed.

“I’m also pleased that this has resulted in the safety and speed limit review concluding that a reduction was necessary.

“However, I and many constituents who regularly use this route feel that the speed limit could be reduced further to 40mph, which I will raise again with the Minister.

“I will also continue to call for upgrading safety at the Dorglwyd junction. There are also many areas on the A487 where safety can be improved, either with a speed limit reduction, or by providing cycle lanes and footpaths to remove pedestrians and cyclists from danger. I have called on the Welsh Government to consider all options.”

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