The Welsh Government’s continued negativity towards Brexit is deeply misguided

The Welsh Government’s continued negativity towards Brexit is deeply misguided

In one of the more comical moments of recent times, the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, attempted to seize upon the confusion over the leaked unfinalised Irish border deal last week by announcing that he wanted Wales to be offered continued participation in the Single Market and Customs Union. It was a classic look-before-you-leap comment: the consequences of such an arrangement would surely be the break-up of the United Kingdom and the erection of a 160-mile  border between Wales and England.

Leaving aside the fact that the First Minister was very unlikely to be speaking for the clear majority of sensible Welsh people, it must be remembered that Wales voted by a margin of 52.5% to 47.5% to leave the European Union. Out of 22 local authority areas, 17 voted to Leave whilst just five voted to Remain in a record 71.7% turnout. In fact, the margin to Leave was even greater in the First Minister’s constituency with 54.6% of people voting to Leave against just 45.4% wanting to Remain.

Since the vote, the Welsh Government has taken every opportunity to try to frustrate the process of leaving the EU. The negativity has at times been breath-taking and its attitude to the voters utterly contemptuous. The democratic will of the people has been subordinated to a political agenda which prefers Wales to be shackled to an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels than governed by an elected Parliament in Westminster. It is this political ideology that motivates them, an “anything but Westminster” prejudice which leads to outrageous and ill-conceived public statements completely disregarding the result of the 2016 Referendum.

One area of contention is the accusation of a “power grab”. The Welsh Government is demanding that when we leave the EU all powers repatriated from Brussels are immediately devolved to Cardiff Bay. In Wales, the Government of Wales Act 2006 sets out twenty areas where the Welsh Assembly has legislative competence. These include vital services such as education and training, health, agriculture and fisheries.

Under the provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, those powers currently embodied within an EU framework will transfer to Westminster; and there are compelling reasons why this should be so. It is not hard to imagine the chaos if agriculture operated to different standards in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We therefore need an overarching uniformity of approach, with the devolved administrations fine-tuning policy as they see fit. Thus, the Welsh farming unions are wholly supportive of a UK-wide competence for agriculture. The same can also be said for fisheries, and so on.

The Welsh Government’s motivation for seeking immediate devolution of these powers, however, is ideological and not based on practical realities. They clearly consider it acceptable for an unelected Commission in Brussels to have these powers but perish the thought of democratic Westminster having the same!

So, has the Welsh Government any legal justification for insisting that these powers are returned to the Assembly? The Wales Act 2017 has seen the adoption of the reserved powers model of devolution, which in theory widens the interpretation of the devolved competences. However, there is no current provision within the Act which specifically refers to the transfer of powers from Brussels once we leave the EU. In fact, the UK Government’s Command Paper to Parliament in 2015 specifically drew attention to the fact that in some areas it was important that Parliament retained control, to ensure that citizens in all areas of the UK are subject to the same obligations and receive the same rights and protections.

Any talk of ‘legislating’ by the Welsh Government to bind the UK government on this issue is premature. It would need the further authority of Parliament for this to succeed; and we have seen the frantic efforts of both the Welsh Labour Party and the SNP in trying (unsuccessfully) to add amendments to this effect during the Committee Stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

A final point to consider is this: even if the Welsh Government were to achieve their objective and be given these powers, could they really create the infrastructure to administer them in the time we have left before we withdraw from the EU in March 2019? Is it not a case of wishful thinking, once again putting political ideology ahead of the interests of the people they serve?

Photocredit: Matty Ring