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After Voting For Brexit, Wales Weighs In On EU Business Uncertainty

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

While the world tries to make sense of Britain's vote to leave the European Union, the fallout continues in the U.K. Nine members of Parliament have announced they are stepping down from the opposition Labour Party's shadow government. In Wales, the first minister is now trying to deal with the uncertainty that a no vote may bring. We are joined now First Minister Carwyn Jones. He is with us on the telephone from the capital, Cardiff. Hello.

CARWYN JONES: Hi.

WERTHEIMER: You supported and campaigned for the U.K. to stay in the European Union. Obviously, you were not successful in making that case. Why do you think that was?

JONES: Well, one of the issues that we found is that people in Wales are very unhappy with the U.K. government, and they felt that this vote was a way of getting their own back on the U.K. government. We tried try to persuade them that's not what the vote was about. We weren't successful. We have to accept what we find in front of us now. For me, what we now have is a lot of uncertainty. We've got a lot of big companies in Wales. A lot of them American. And they're going to want to know what happens next.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think it's going to look like a few months down the road? Do you think that there will be immediate consequences, thinking in terms of jobs and other things for Wales as a result of this vote?

JONES: I think the greatest problem is uncertainty. You know, businesses hate uncertainty more than anything else. Now, we have a number of employers in Wales who are here because they can access the European market without any kind of barriers. If that access gets diminished or disappears, then clearly they're not going to stay.

Now, of course, you know, there will be trade within countries in Europe. But it's the terms of trade that are important. If we find, for example, there's a 10 percent tariff on what we export into the European Union, that's bad for us because half of what we export is exported to the EU. So all of a sudden everything we sell to the EU is 10 percent more expensive. That means less demand, we sell less, and that has an effect on the Welsh economy. So we've got to make sure that pretty quickly there's certainty as to what happens next.

WERTHEIMER: Here's another thing that I think people in America are wondering about. Leaders in Scotland are suggesting that perhaps they will revisit the secession vote. Anything like that, any talk like that in Wales?

JONES: No. I mean, Scotland's position is different to ours. Scotland has oil, which we don't have. I mean, two things to remember for listeners in the states is that the U.K. really is made up of four nations that never really became one. I mean, we in Wales see ourselves as a nation. We're not English. We're far from it. Yeah, we're part of the U.K. We've benefited from being members of the U.K. So there's not really the appetite in Wales at the moment to become an independent country. Scotland is in a different place.

WERTHEIMER: First Minister, let me ask you how you feel about Prime Minister David Cameron and his decision to go with the referendum.

JONES: I thought it was the - I mean, he had to take the decision to have a referendum. He got elected on that basis. But the timing was wrong. In Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland, in London, there have just been elections. And six weeks after those elections you then find a referendum. Well, everybody's exhausted. You know, you're asking people to go out and knock doors when they've just gone through a long election campaign. And that didn't help because it was impossible then to put together a cross-party remain campaign 'cause we were all fighting each other in the election. The timing couldn't have been worse if I'm honest.

WERTHEIMER: The first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones. We reached him via Skype in Cardiff. Thank you very much for taking this time with us.

JONES: Thanks very much.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's coverage of the fallout from the Brexit vote will continue. Stay tuned for more global reactions to this story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 28, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier headline stated incorrectly that Wales voted against the so-called Brexit. In fact, Welsh voters supported the U.K.'s departure from the European Union.