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Nurtured by EU funds, Wales faces Brexit cash limbo

[NEWPORT] Britain's Brexit vote has put Wales's EU funding in doubt, dealing a potentially heavy financial blow to one of Britain's poorest regions which relies on money from Brussels for farmers' subsidies and urban regeneration.

"Wales are in a bit of trouble, we get a lot of money from the EU," said Anna Preece, shocked by the referendum vote to quit the European Union.

Wales, like England, voted "Leave" in the June 23 referendum, in contrast to the United Kingdom's other two constituent parts, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

On the streets of Newport, a small coastal city in southeast Wales close to the English border, 43-year-old charity worker Ms Preece was visibly upset by the result in her country and Britain overall.

The vote count is "quite shocking", said "Remain" voter Ms Preece, in reference to the 52.5 per cent of voters in Wales who supported Brexit.

"I was really quite surprised it was so high, especially in the rural areas," she told AFP.

In Newport, where attractive riverside apartments have replaced wharfs that once exported vast quantities of coal mined from the Welsh Valleys, the "Leave" vote stood at 56 per cent.

That was similar to the vote in Neath Port Talbot, home to the already at-risk Port Talbot steel plant owned by India's Tata. The highest "Leave" vote in Wales was 62 per cent in Blaenau Gwent, home to Ebbw Vale, hit hard by the decline in Britain's steel industry.

"Welsh voters almost certainly voted against their economic self-interest," said politics academic Brian Klaas at the London School of Economics.

"The little town of Ebbw Vale... would likely have turned to bust without EU support," he added.

"EU funding is key to the vitality of the Welsh economy and net migration is low, but Welsh voters still voted against immigration and against continuing financial support from Brussels."

A pre-referendum study by Cardiff University said that in 2014, Wales received an estimated £245 million (S$439 million) more from the European Union than it paid in.

The overall net benefit to Wales was around £79 per head in 2014, the report said, amid fears that Wales could now lose funding for a new metro system serving Cardiff and nearby areas such as Newport.

"It's all scaremongering," said Tracy Stokeswhiting when asked if she was worried about potential cuts, with the 53-year-old "Leave" voter insisting that it would be business as usual at her Newport clothes shop "La Belle Femme".

"The European suppliers are not going to stop sending stock to the UK," she said, adding that many of her goods arrive from EU members France and Italy.

European aircraft maker Airbus, which assembles wings in Broughton, north Wales, has meanwhile assured staff that the UK remains a vital part of its operations.

In Newport, Angelo Clifford said he voted "Leave" to show Europe "that we needed to tighten up on the amount of immigrants".

The 62-year-old engineer believes money cut by the EU will be offset by funds Britain no longer has to send the other way.

"The money we're saving from not being in it will benefit our infrastructure and also the NHS," he said from Newport city centre, which has undergone a facelift with the recent opening of a shopping mall and cinema.

The "Leave" campaign argued that quitting the EU would reduce immigration and free up vast extra sums for Britain's cherished state-funded National Health Service - the post-World War II creation of revered Welsh Labour MP Aneurin Bevan.

Unlike Scotland, whose government is pushing for a fresh vote on independence after the referendum to try and stay in the EU, there is no widespread support in Wales for splitting off from the rest of Britain.

This makes it all but certain it will end up out of the EU and many are hoping that whoever replaces David Cameron as prime minister will fight hard in Brexit negotiations.

"The sooner they get a new prime minister in, with a bit of backbone to stand up to the EU, I think we'll be alright," said Mr Clifford.


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