The Welsh Government has officially shifted its position on Brexit. It will now primarily argue for the UK to stay in the EU, rather than for its previous proposals for leaving with a deal on the single market and customs union which it said would protect Welsh jobs, prosperity and security.
Brexit minister Jeremy Miles told AMs that it was clear that there was no appetite in the Conservative party at Westminster for the kind of Brexit deal that the Welsh Government might have found acceptable.
We sought to reconcile the result of the 2016 referendum with the least damaging kind of Brexit but that effort has now reached the end of the road. The European elections have shown that the electorate remains profoundly divided – and indeed the split has widened with many of those who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum now supporting no deal, and many, probably a majority wanting us to remain within the EU.
This is a dark day for the Welsh economy. After decades of deliberation and over £40m spent, no problem has been solved today. Congestion and road pollution around Newport can only increase. Economic growth will be stifled, confidence in the region will weaken and the cost of an eventual relief road will rise
Wales scraps £1.4bn Gwent Levels M4 relief road scheme
Faced by this sort of binary choice … we as a Government must recognise these realities and change course. In doing so, we make no apology for the policy which we and Plaid Cymru put forward in January 2017. It was an honest attempt to articulate a way of respecting the referendum result while not trashing the economy, recognising that the economic fall-out from a hard Brexit would only intensify, rather than solve, the problems caused by austerity.
M4 relief road: Experts seek alternatives to ease Newport queues
So, as a Government we will now campaign to remain in the EU. And to make that happen, Parliament should now show the courage to admit it is deadlocked and legislate for a referendum, with remain on the ballot paper. We have been calling for months for the Government to make preparations in case a referendum should be necessary: now Parliament must make sure it happens.
Todays announcement is a short-term measure that regrettably solves nothing and sends the message that Wales is not open for business.
Let me be completely clear. Any deal will require a new mandate from the electorate: and leaving without a deal must require one also. And – of course – any referendum must include remaining in the EU as an option.
We have always argued that holding a further referendum risks reinforcing divisions, but the European elections have shown that any belief that the country has come together is wholly illusory. And of course, there is the chance that a second referendum might lead to the same result as the first. But we will campaign to remain, working with those within this chamber and outside who share that view.
In shifting position, Jeremy Miles formally abandoned the White Paper agreed with Plaid Cymru 'Securing Wales' Future', which envisaged Britain leaving the EU. He argued that since Adam Price replaced Leanne Wood as Plaid's leader that party had already moved on.
Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford blocked the plans on the basis of cost and environmental impact. In a letter, Drakeford claimed that the “adverse impacts on the environment” to build the road “outweigh its advantages”. He also said:
Ninety per cent of Conservative MPs have always, consistently voted for that withdrawal deal, unlike almost 100 per cent of the Labour MPs who have voted against. So, you've had it within your gift as a party to deliver a Brexit with a deal that honours the outcome of the referendum result, and I think many people will find it pretty extraordinary that [the Welsh Government's announcement comes] in the wake of the EU election results, which saw a third of the vote—including some our vote, much of it your vote too—drift to the Brexit Party, which clearly wants to simply deliver Brexit.
I find this insouciance absolutely extraordinary. People who aren't in his bubble listen to him say that there needs to be a referendum and that, 'Of course, any referendum must include remaining in the EU as an option', as if we haven't had a referendum less than three years ago, which he promised to respect the result of but now is doing the opposite. I mean, he argues a bit with Plaid Cymru about which went back on what they promised earlier, but the fact is that they both promised to respect the referendum result, and both of them don't respect the referendum result and are telling people they need to vote again, as if that will solve divisions in our society. We took a decision; you refuse to implement it. Why, if you ask people to vote again, would they expect you to implement it any more next time than you have this time?
Im pleased to welcome the fact that the Welsh Government has changed its policy. Its not a reaffirmation, as the First Minister said previously; it is a change of policy on the need for a referendum, in order to put the final say on our relationship with the European Union in the hands of the people. Im not sure how many times weve discussed this issue in this Chamber, with the Government insisting that a sensible Brexit remains possible. But at least now, thanks to the European elections, perhaps, you have now come to the conclusion that Plaid Cymru came to many moons ago, that a referendum is the only way of resolving the Brexit dilemma.
Plaid Cymru has tabled a motion for AMs to debate tomorrow, calling on the Assembly to declare its unequivocal support for a confirmatory referendum on any proposal by the next Prime Minister to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, with remain on the ballot paper. The Welsh Government now looks likely to back that motion.
The move has been welcomed by environmentalists who said carving a 14-mile, six-lane stretch of motorway around the city of Newport would wreck a precious and historic landscape.
But it has angered many business leaders and some opposition politicians who believed the M4 relief road was needed to ease congestion on the main route into south Wales.
The project would have been the most expensive infrastructure project the Welsh government had embarked on. A year-long public inquiry examined the pros and cons and ruled in favour.
But the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, announced on Tuesday he was shelving the project on the grounds of cost and its environmental impact.
He said: I recognise the inspectors conclusions. However, I attach greater weight than the inspector did to the adverse impacts that the project would have on the environment.
In particular, I attach very significant weight to the fact that the project would have a substantial adverse impact on the Gwent Levels SSSIs [sites of special scientific interest] and their reen [drainage ditch] network and wildlife, and on other species, and a permanent adverse impact on the historic landscape of the Gwent Levels.
He said: This decision is being made at the point of maximum uncertainty about our financial future. Unprecedented austerity in the public finances is combined with a complete lack of clarity over our capital budgets for the coming years, and is exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. He said a commission would look at alternative solutions to the traffic problems around Newport.
M4 relief road decision is a dark day for Wales, say business chiefs
The Gwent Wildlife Trust was among the fiercest opponents of the scheme, fearing it would devastate the levels, home to otters, water voles and wading birds.
Funds of £1billion available to improve transport infrastructure around city, council reveals in wake of M4 relief road decision
The Romans first drained the area to create a breadbasket for their army before a push into the Welsh mountains. The network of drainage ditches are home to fauna and flora including the rare king diving beetle, as well as the nationally scarce rootless duckweed (wolffia arrhiza), the smallest vascular plant on Earth. The trust compares the richness of the biodiversity of the area to that of the Amazon rainforest.
M4 relief road: Exactly what Mark Drakeford said as he ruled out £1.4bn new route around Newport
Its chief executive, Ian Rappel, said: We are delighted for both people and wildlife that the UKs most ecologically damaging motorway scheme has been scrapped for good and we congratulate the first minister on his decision.
FULL STORY: M4 relief road is scrapped
At a time when international studies have revealed that the world is on the brink of the sixth mass extinction – where 40% of our insects are declining and after a climate emergency was declared in Wales – Welsh government should be congratulated for the bold decisions they are making for the future health of people and wildlife.
It is the third time since devolution that Welsh ministers have shelved the project. Welsh Labours manifesto for the 2016 assembly elections, under the leadership of the former first minister Carwyn Jones, said the party would deliver an M4 relief road.
The Conservative party criticised the decision, with the shadow minister for business, economy and infrastructure in the assembly, Russell George, claiming the announcement was a kick in the teeth for Welsh commuters and business people.
After years of procrastination and dithering from successive Welsh Labour governments, £44m spent on a public inquiry, and numerous pleas of help from business leaders, weve got nowhere, he said.
Its shameful that the first minister has poured millions of pounds down the drain in completing the inquiry, yet only to ignore its findings. Congestion on this road is a foot on the windpipe of the south Wales economy, and is damaging our businesses and their future prospects. Im now urging the first minister to end the uncertainty and quickly give us an alternative to how he intends to alleviate congestion on the M4.
RSPB Cymru welcomed the move, saying: The array of wildlife shows what a special place the Gwent Levels is and it is also a very special place for the communities that live there whose wellbeing is restored by this precious green space that exists so close to Cardiff and Newport.
It picked out the shrill carder bee as one of the species that would be protected thanks to the decision. The Gwent Levels population is one of its two remaining strongholds in the whole of the UK, the charity said, adding that the crane had also recently returned to breed on the levels after an absence of more than 400 years.
The director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, Haf Elgar, said: This is a great news for Wales and the planet. This decision is testament to the untiring efforts of local residents who have opposed this plan over decades.
Darren Shirley, the chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: This signifies the end of business as usual for new road building. At a time when we urgently need to tackle air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions we cant afford for this decision to be a brave one-off.
But Stephen Crabb, the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said the Welsh government had bottled it, adding: We may as well put a sign at the Severn Bridge saying: Wales closed to new business.