EU Referendum

The EU referendum: A 'gut-feeling' decision?

Tata's Port Talbot plant Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Both sides of the referendum debate say the fragile state of UK steel supports their arguments

I was told by a friend about his experience recently travelling to a rugby match on a train between Aberdare and Cardiff where the dominant subject of conversation on the carriage wasn't sport, but the EU referendum.

As points of debate go, it passes the pub test which isn't something you can say that often about big political stories.

There are a number of high-profile single issues that have a particular relevance and topicality in Wales, such as support for the steel industry and structural funding designed to grow the economy in deprived areas.

The relatively low steel tariffs set by the EU, compared with the US, have been the subject of intense debate.

Tariffs on the imports of the kind of steel from China to the US used in car body panels are rising from an eye-watering 266% to more than 500%.

By comparison, the tariff for the same kind of steel into the EU is around 16%.

Those campaigning for a Brexit have blamed the crisis facing plants like Port Talbot on huge overcapacity caused by cheap Chinese imports.

What complicates matters is that this can't be entirely blamed on faceless Brussels bureaucrats, but the fact that the UK government has campaigned against the introduction of punitive tariffs.

Throw into the mix claims from Conservative ministers at Westminster that there is plenty that can be done within the existing EU rules, and you have the basis for many of the competing claims regarding the role of Europe in the steel crisis.

Image copyright PA/Chris Ison
Image caption Immigration is more likely to be raised as in issue in Merthyr than EU aid

Structural funding for deprived areas has a particular relevance in places like the south Wales valleys, where so much has been spent in recent years.

In a place like Merthyr Tydfil for example, EU-funded projects are highly-visible, from the recent expansion of the local college to work on the heads of the valleys dual carriageway. It is also where the Welsh European Funding Office is based.

Yet if you stop people in the streets of Merthyr to ask them what they think of the referendum, invariably it won't be EU structural funding that trips off the tongue but concerns about immigration.

So while the Welsh dynamic to many of the issues in the EU referendum are important, I suspect most people will base their decisions on a gut feeling about prospects for the economy, immigration and sovereignty.

Related Topics

More on this story