Nick Smith MP has called for answers from the Government in a bid to protect the future of a post-Brexit Blaenau Gwent.
Mr Smith has challenged both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Transport as Parliament reformed to deal with the implications of the EU referendum result.
Speaking at Treasury Questions, Mr Smith pointed out the importance of European Union funds for development in Blaenau Gwent and asked what measures were being taken for that support to continue – a situation described by George Osborne in response as a “challenging question”.
Then at Transport Questions Mr Smith argued for the importance of the mooted South Wales metro system, a plan requiring millions of EU money. However, the Minister could not name any action they would be taking to protect the project.
Speaking after the sessions, Mr Smith said with his borough receiving more money from the EU than it put in, it was vital to defend the levels of support needed to make improvements.
“I campaigned in a borough where our new road systems, hospital, schooling and town landscapes were all dependent on EU funding”, he said.
“I think whatever side of the debate you fell on, we can all agree it is now vial to champion the good that funding did and fight for equal or better support in the years ahead.
“Everyone is going to be clamouring for a piece of the pie while there is so much uncertainty over the future of the country. I would not want Blaenau Gwent to be left behind while the money is funnelled to richer areas like the South East of England.
“I’ll be making our voice heard, as I am sure will many of my Valleys colleagues.”
Please find the questions asked in Parliament this week and the responses below
1) Nick Smith: European Union funds have helped economic development in my constituency. What measures is the Chancellor going to take to ensure that areas such as south Wales continue to receive support for infrastructure and to help to boost jobs in our valleys?
George Osborne Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Secretary of State: We are going to face some big questions about providing support to the institutions, regions and sectors that have been receiving European Union assistance, most notably the regional support that has been provided to areas such as south Wales, the ongoing support that the EU provides for research in our universities and the support for our farming community. We in the House of Commons are going to have to address all those issues in the coming months and possibly beyond. However, at the moment we remain a member of the European Union—I shall talk about the procedure for our departure in a moment—and the European funding and grants will continue to be made. We are looking specifically at areas where questions have been asked about long-term uncertainty in relation to particular projects, and I will keep the House updated. This is a challenging question, which we have to answer, and we are looking at it very intensively now. But at the moment nothing has changed and we remain a member of the European Union.
That brings me back to the question of trying to resolve as quickly as is practical the uncertainty about the new relationship we are seeking with the European Union and our European neighbours. We need a bit of realism and we need to offer reassurance. It is apparent that the uncertainty will be fully resolved only when we as a country have negotiated an agreement with our European partners on the relationship we now want to have with them. We know what the broad options are. The Government spelled them out and set out the different relationship models over the past few months in the Treasury and Cabinet Office papers that were produced in advance of the referendum. We could join the European economic area, like Norway; we could forge a new negotiated bilateral agreement with the EU, like Canada; we could adopt the Swiss model; or we could rely on World Trade Organisation rules.
As the Prime Minister set out at this Dispatch Box, the Government have established a new unit at the heart of Government made up of some of the best civil servants, reporting to the Cabinet, that will help us as we make that decision. I stress, however, that Members of Parliament and other organisations can feed in to the work that is taking place, so that we have the fullest possible information on the decision that we will have to take collectively as a Parliament on our new relationship with Europe.
My view is clear that we should move towards an arrangement that provides us with the closest possible economic ties with our European neighbours. Close to half of our exports go to the EU and millions of jobs are supported by our trade with the EU. Leading industries, such as car manufacturing, farming and our services industry, are reliant on that relationship, and we should be moving towards an arrangement under which—if we reach it and can negotiate it—the trade of both goods and services, including financial services, is as free as possible. In the meantime, returning to a point I made earlier, UK firms continue to have exactly the same status as any other EU firm. Business continues in the City and elsewhere, including for euro-denominated trading in our financial markets.
However, I am a realist—we have to be realistic about this—and we must acknowledge that we cannot have all the benefits of the EU without accepting any of the costs and obligations. It will be for this Parliament to decide what the accommodations and compromises should be.
2) Nick Smith: A new metro system in south Wales would really help rail tourism there, but the planned metro is heavily dependent on EU support. What measures will theMinister take to ensure that the south Wales valleys metro system can be delivered?
Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport): Investment in rail services in Wales is now devolved to the Welsh Administration, so that funding is a matter for them. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that three of the winners of the competitions I mentioned were based in Wales, including the wonderful velorail bike visitor attraction, which involves cycling along disused railways on enormous great bicycles. There will be some tourism uplift from investments like those.