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The frontrunner to become Wales’ next Labour First Minister has backed rejoining the EU’s single market and said he will be advocating “strongly” for that position with Sir Keir Starmer if Labour win the next General Election.
Jeremy Miles, who was Wales’ Brexit minister from 2018-2021 and is now one of two candidates standing to become the nation’s next leader, made the comments in his first interview with a UK-wide outlet since kicking off his campaign last month.
Miles, Wales’ education minister since 2021, is one of the most senior Labour figures to call for a far closer relationship with the European Union – and joins figures like Sadiq Khan in highlighting the damaging effects of Brexit. Sir Keir Starmer has often seemed reluctant to discuss Britain’s departure from the EU since being elected Labour leader.
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Asked whether he thought Brexit played a role in the recent announcement by Tata Steel to slash thousands of jobs in Port Talbot, Miles urged the company to wait for a Labour government before making any major decisions – adding: “I absolutely think it is important that we’re talking about the facts on the consequences of leaving the European Union.
“We spent a lot of time ensuring that we prepared Wales for departing…Every day, it became ever clearer just how damaging leaving the European Union would be, in the way that we had predicted during the campaign.”
Speaking to Byline Times via video link from Cardiff, he called for an “honest conversation” with the public about the consequences of leaving the EU. “We see it in our economy. We see it in our society. We see it through the loss of structural funds to Wales. I think Welsh people’s understanding of the impact has changed.
People are recognising just how serious the adverse effects are to Wales and the UK, and just how weak the alternatives are which this Conservative Government are advocating.”
Miles, who faces Wales’ health minister Vaughan Gething in the Labour contest, pointed to the spate of trade deals from the UK Government, “none of which go anywhere near the ability to make the loss to the UK economy of not having that closer trading relationship with the European Union.”
Asked what arrangement with the EU he’ll be pushing for, Jeremy Miles said he supported “the closest possible relationship” with the European Union, telling Byline Times rejoining the EU’s single market “would be a positive thing for Wales and the UK.”
The EU Single Market consists of the bloc’s 27 member countries, along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, which participate through the European Economic Area agreement. Its aim is to ensure the unrestricted flow of goods, capital, services, and labour, – the so-called “four freedoms.” Being a member again would require the UK to sign up to common rules and regulations, designed so that member states do not undercut one another.
Sir Keir Stamer has said he wants a closer relationship with the EU – but has explicitly rejected rejoining the EU single market and customs union.
Miles added that rejoining the single market “would enable us to make up for a lot of the damage that we’ve seen in our economy” – and could come as part of a “bespoke set of discussions” between an incumbent Labour Government and the European Union.
The landmark Gordon Brown review into devolution, published in 2022, was commissioned by the Labour Party and sets out a plan for overhauling the UK’s constitution. It was welcomed by Keir Starmer – but its proposals, including scrapping and replacing the House of Lords and a radical transfer of powers out of Westminster – have not yet been formally adopted by the leadership.
Miles is clear that Keir Starmer needs to back the plans, telling this paper the Brown report is “the plan which we need to take forward.”
“It is very pragmatic and recognises that these things need to be done in a step-by-step way. And that is what will happen when we have a Labour Government that the Keir Starmer.”
Pressed on whether Sir Keir would actually implement the changes, the Welsh Labour contender said: “I’ve not discussed it directly with him. But he commissioned from a very authoritative figure, a former prime minister, and it sets out a very particular set of next steps on the devolution journey for Wales and also across the UK…I’m confident that an incoming Labour Government will recognise that.”
Miles has been bruised by dealing with the Conservatives at Westminster, telling Byline Times: “I had an awful lot of experience with Boris Johnson and subsequently, governments trying to step into devolved areas.”
Like most Welsh Labour politicians, he wants devolution to go further, and to be protected in law. For him, that would involve a “fairer funding mechanism” for Wales. Currently the so-called Barnett formula is the basis for Wales’ funding from Westminster, but it is based on a proportion of spending in England.
The education minister also hinted that the Sewell Convention – which notes that areas where policy is devolved shouldn’t be over-ridden by Westminster – should be put into law.
Miles is backing a new package of powers including devolving policing and justice to Wales, alongside the administration of the benefit system. That could allow Wales to scrap or adapt the strict sanctions regime pushed by Conservative governments over the past 14 years.
It is another issue that puts Welsh Labour potentially at loggerheads with Labour in Westminster. The UK party has appeared to rule out devolving policing and adult criminal justice. Speaking to the BBC last week, Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens said the party would be focusing at the next election on “the things that matter”.
Other options Miles is exploring include handing over Wales’ share of profits from the Crown Estate, managed by the monarchy but whose proceeds mostly go to the UK Treasury. Since the Crown Estate controls the UK’s seabed, it benefits from billions of pounds in offshore wind licences every year.
“As we expand our offshore renewable sector, that will become increasingly important and valuable, and it’s right that Wales should benefit directly from that,” Miles said.
25 Years of Labour
Labour has been in Government in Wales for 25 years, since the very start of the Welsh Senedd (then called the Assembly).
Asked if that was too long for a party to be in power, Miles said: “The Labour party isn’t stagnant…[but] we absolutely do not take for granted the support which we’ve been able to win from people in Wales over the last quarter century.”
He admitted however that the next Welsh elections in 2026 will be “challenging” for Labour. “Every election becomes more challenging than the last, the longer you are in.” The next section will be fought with a larger Senedd and a different electoral system, as Wales replaces the mixed member system with a fully-proportional closed list.
He was confident the next elections would happen in “the context of a Labour Government in Westminster” – and therefore a “very different” scenario to now.
The final two candidates – Jeremy Miles and Vaughan Gething will be announced at 4pm today (29 January). The ballot of Welsh Labour members and affiliates opens on 16 February and closes on 14 March, with the result announced on 16 March.
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