Brexit and Welsh Devolution….

Martin Thomas attacked the government over their poor planning for devolution around Brexit. This is the speech Lord Thomas gave in the House of Lords.

Paragraph 20 of the Memorandum of Understanding of October 2013 states:

The UK Government will involve the devolved administrations as fully as possible in discussions about the formulation of the UK’s policy position on all EU and international issues which touch on devolved matters.

The annexed Concordat on Co-ordination of European Union Policy issues – Wales reads:

B2.5 ..the UK Government wishes to involve the Welsh Ministers as directly and fully as possible in decision making on EU matters which touch on devolved areas.

Nothing could more directly touch upon devolved matters than Brexit. Nevertheless, the government have failed to discuss the formulation of the UK’s policy position with the Welsh Government and have not involved Welsh Ministers directly or indirectly in decision making about the negotiations.

These failures have led to an impasse such that neither the Welsh nor the Scottish Parliaments will grant legislative consent to the Withdrawal Bill currently before the House of Commons. Welsh and Scottish parliamentarians from every political party, including the Conservatives, in the devolved administrations met the junior Minister in Committee Room 4A last month, and made it clear to him that they are united in refusing legislative consent. Why?

Currently, the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh government are legally obliged to comply with EU law and although legislative competence has been devolved from Westminster, their policy autonomy is significantly constrained in areas such as agriculture, environmental protection, state aid for industry, public procurement and aspects of transport and energy. The effect of the Withdrawal Bill is to remove the need for compliance with the European measures.  These policy areas would without more, fall completely under devolved control and quickly give rise to significant policy differences.

Thus the government have concerns about the coherence of the UK internal market.

 In the 2nd Reading Debate of the 7th September, the Minister David Davis said that the purpose of the devolution section of the Bill was for:

Recreating in UK law the common frameworks currently provided by EU law, and providing that the devolved institutions cannot generally modify them.

The Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) formed under the aegis of the Memorandum of Understanding,  met for the first time in eight months on the 16th October last,  and  issued a Communique which posited UK frameworks setting out a common approach, common goals.

But under the Bill, it is Westminster which will have the sole power to legislate to replace the EU frameworks with UK frameworks.

We in Wales have by and large been content with the EU framework agreements, based on a wide perspective of the needs of the nations and the regions of Europe. Wales is a net beneficiary of European funds – they have significantly helped our deprived areas and our upland farming.

But when a UK framework is created by a Tory government at Westminster, other considerations come into play: the politics of cutting the cake are very different. Even supposing European funding is replaced,  there are electoral considerations; there is above all, the English question – the asymmetric aspect of the United Kingdom. Wales is not a priority.

Now Scotland has some clout – simply the threat of another referendum on independence. Northern Ireland can play its cards –  the problems of the Irish border and the threat of a total breakdown of the Belfast Agreement. In any event, the DUP holds the government’s majority in its hands, not to mention a cash subsidy of a billion pounds.  Wales holds no levers: the Welsh Assembly Government is not a friend of the current Tory Administration.

There are 64 policy areas where powers returning from the EU intersect with the Welsh devolution settlement. The plan is that the major powers – state aid, agriculture, food and drink, fisheries, environmental protection and aspects of health and education – will not go directly to Cardiff, Edinburgh or Belfast but will be retained in Westminster to be devolved if at all, at the discretion of Ministers by statutory instrument  – not even by the will of the Westminster Parliament in primary legislation.  This is at the heart of the disquiet voiced by the devolved administrations over the Withdrawal Bill.

In all of this, the Memorandum of Understanding with its Joint Ministerial Committees and promises to consult, has been a dead letter. It should be scrapped. What is needed now is a statutory UK Council of Ministers drawing upon all the devolved administrations and central government, which can discuss and resolve the many problems this Tory Brexit throws up.

* Martin Thomas is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and the party's Shadow Attorney General

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3 Comments

  • Totally agree. When you have a prime minister willfully using the Welsh NHS to score points against labour despite it also discouraging people from having confidence in the health system and therefore putting lives at risk (“the difference between life and death is Offa’s dyke,” or words to that impact), then that prime minster calling a referendum, well it’s troubling that his party has such control over the fate of that nation afterwards.

    Nick Clegg spoke about Scotland and London’s young who will be hit by brexit but forgot to mention Wales despite us being hit hardest for reasons outlined here. Will the lib Dems stand up for Wales? It’s good to see one is.

  • As mentioned Cymru Wales has net benefit of being the EU.
    Not mentioned is that Cymru Wales is the only country in the UK to have a trading surplus: Wales exports more than it imports ! England has imported more than what its exports. Most of Wales trade is with other EU members, and this is now in threat due to UK with the referendum which resulted in the leave vote.

    If England continues with the Tories, then Cymru Wales has only one option:
    That is the same as for Scotland: FULL INDEPENDENCE !!

  • That is independence from the UK

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