The First Minister warned business leaders in Wrexham that some companies in North Wales would go bust within three weeks as a result of a bad deal Brexit.
According to the Rt Hon Mark Drakeford AM, leaving the EU on the wrong terms would spell disaster for the Welsh economy and if there was another poll he would urge people to vote remain.
Prof Drakeford was speaking at a meeting of Wrexham Business Professionals, a group made up of successful businesses and highly skilled professionals working together to promote regional prosperity and the enterprise and expertise that exists in the region.
He told the packed audience that a decade of the longest and deepest period of austerity in the 200 year history of a modern industrial United Kingdom has meant the Welsh Government budget was now back to where it was in 2009.
He said: “Ten years into austerity the signs of stress and strain in our public services are absolutely real. There is only so long you can go on stretching the elastic. As the elastic shrinks and the wounds expand as we try to keep the show on the road in the way the people of Wales expect.
“And that is certainly true of our ability to fund local government that local authorities carry out in education, in housing those things that matter every single day in the lives of people in Wales.
“Austerity remains a defining characteristic but that is compounded by the impact of Brexit.
“Welsh businesses are more exposed than any other part of the United Kingdom to the adverse effects of a no deal Brexit. Manufacturing remains a larger part of our economy than any other part of the United Kingdom.
“And our exposure in the field of agriculture and food production is enough to challenge because if you have none tariff barriers in trade with our largest and most important market.
“Over the past 20 years with the help of European money we have built up a significant sea food business in North West Wales with 90 per cent of their produce being exported to the Southern Mediterranean. It leaves Wales fresh and it arrives at its destination fresh and those businesses are real success stories.
“If we leave the European Union in the wrong way then those businesses have to produce country of origin forms, forms to demonstrate safety standards and all to meet the obligations of the European Union. It all takes time and those products will not be fresh by the time they arrive.
“There is so much economic analysis that leaving the European Union on the wrong terms could leave those businesses being over in three weeks. Twenty years to build up and three weeks to destroy, that’s what could happen in Wales if Brexit were to go the way that some people at Westminster advocate.
“If we are to leave the EU we need a form of Brexit that means we leave the political structures of the European Union but we remain as closely aligned as we possibly can be economically to Europe.”
Prof Drakeford added there were still grounds to be optimistic about the economy in North Wales.
He added: “The region has employment rates higher than those for the rest of Wales and higher than the rest of the UK too.
“So, to have employment rates that are higher than the UK average is genuinely remarkable. Wages rates in North Wales exceed those of Wales and they exceed wage rate rises across the rest of the UK as well.
“Last year we saw wage rises across Wales go up by 2.1 per cent, across the UK as a whole by 3.5 per cent but here in North Wales they rose by 3.8 per cent. That shows the strength of the economy here in North Wales.”
The meeting was also address by Lord Michael Bichard, formerly Permanent Secretary of the Department for Employment who was appointed by the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to chair an inquiry into the Soham murders of two 10 year old girls in 2004.
According to Lord Bichard, there were not many people who thought the Brexit negotiation process had been well managed.
He said: “The consequence of that is that our reputation and our international standing have been seriously damaged.
“The impact may never be measurable but we clearly have a great deal of ground to make up at a time when we need to be forging new diplomatic and trade relationships.”
The meeting was chaired by solicitor Ian Edwards, of Allington Hughes Law, who said: “Our group continues to raise the bar, we have enjoyed two wonderful and inspiring speeches and both our guests have given us a great deal to think about as we work through the challenges Brexit brings to our region.“
For more information about Wrexham Business Professionals please visit www.wrexhambusinessprofessionals.com