Whilst the UK’s overall EU referendum results were extremely close to 48% Remain and 52% Leave, Wales posted a strong Leave vote with all but five constituencies opting out of the EU.
As the result heralds what the Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University has called a “position of turbulence and uncertainty”, this article considers Wales’ seemingly vexed relationship with the EU.
At first glance, Wales seems to enjoy a positive association with the EU. The BBC reports that it currently receives almost six times as much EU funding per head of population than England and has received approximately £4 billion of EU structural funding up since 2000. The majority of that funding went to West Wales (where both Ceredigion and Gwynedd voted predominantly to Remain) and the Valleys (which recorded a strong Leave vote.)
As such, the reasons behind the Referendum result seem to go beyond the economic.
Immigration was and indeed remains, a divisive topic in the context of Europe. Wales has seen significant population change since the accession of the A8 countries in 2004, specifically Poland whose nationals now constitute Wales’ largest migrant group.
According to the Migration Observatory, Merthyr Tydfil’s migrant population has seen the second biggest percentage increase of any area in Great Britain (227%) between 2001 and 2011 and voted Leave at 56.4%. However, over the same period, Cardiff saw its migrant population increase by 99% and voted Remain at 60%.
Furthermore, at 5.5%, the proportion of foreign-born people in Wales in 2011 was the smallest for any UK nation; the equivalent population in Scotland (who voted overwhelmingly to Remain) is 7%. Immigration appears to be an influential though not determinative consideration.
Some analysts attribute the Welsh Leave vote to a sense of distance and disenfranchisement from the Westminster political bubble. Certainly, there are those who heed the referendum result as a call towards further devolution in Wales. Key areas within the Welsh Assembly Government’s secondary legislation remit (such as environmental policy) are currently covered by European edicts. Post-Brexit, the Assembly would be able to pass its own primary legislation to fill the gap left by the European laws, by which the UK would no longer be bound.
The reasons behind the Welsh Leave vote is complex as the pending Brexit negotiations shall no doubt prove, and the role that Wales shall play in those negotiations shall no doubt be carefully scrutinised by the Welsh populace.