Steffan Lewis AM
It is highly unusual for the five parties represented in the National Assembly for Wales to unite and find agreement on something. It is hard to find common ground between the members of Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP.
Yet last month the Assembly spoke with one voice when a Plaid Cymru motion calling for a Welsh Continuity Bill passed unanimously. It sent a clear message to Westminster: Wales will take legislative action to defend our democracy from an unacceptable power-grab.
Yesterday, the Welsh Government finally introduced a Continuity Bill, now technically titled the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill, and it will be fast-tracked through the legislative process under emergency procedures.
The Scottish Government has also introduced its own bill, and plans to do the same. By the end of March we will be facing a crisis that puts the constitution of the UK under threat.
The principle is clear. The EU referendum was not a vote to roll-back the powers of the devolved legislatures. The leave vote did not grant the Conservatives in Westminster a mandate to reverse the results of the two referenda in which the people of Wales chose devolution.
Throughout the campaign, we were promised the opposite, that a vote to leave would mean we could take control of greater powers over our own affairs, free from Europe’s rules.
Yet the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is ostensibly a tidying-up exercise to prepare for Brexit, is being used to smuggle-past the removal of Welsh powers.
Currently, EU rules form a ceiling that limits the powers of the Welsh Assembly over matters like agriculture and the environment. When we leave, that ceiling will be lifted, while the powers should remain in place in Wales.
The EU Withdrawal Bill overrides that and will return those powers to Westminster indefinitely, giving the current UK Cabinet, who have only ever been responsible for England, unlimited control over Welsh policy.
This is unacceptable and undemocratic. Whether they voted leave or remain, people did not vote to see UK Ministers seize control of powers that have rested in Wales for almost twenty years.
A Continuity Bill will transfer those same EU rules into Welsh law, and give Welsh Ministers the power to amend them.
It is a preemptive step to protect the devolution settlement and must be passed before the EU Withdrawal Bill comes into force. It has been judged to be within the competence of the National Assembly of Wales by our Presiding Officer.
Yet before it has passed, the UK Government is already threatening to challenge the Bill in the Supreme Court.
This is a constitutional crisis of the Conservatives’ own making.It is, quite frankly, inexplicable.
Why would an overstretched Whitehall, working to full capacity to deliver Brexit on a tight timetable, choose to pick an unnecessary, time consuming legal battle with the devolved nations?
I fear the truth is that the Brexiteers, drunk on their referendum success, sense that a return of the ‘good old days’ is possible.
The days of a hyper-centralized British state, Westminster sovereign and distant, and the UK throwing its weight around on the global stage.
As the British nationalists are learning in the negotiations with Brussels, the world today is very different from the world of 1950. British imperial might has gone and it’s never coming back.
Our separation from the EU will make it necessary to come to new internal agreements between the nations of these islands to ensure that we can work together on fair terms.
This was one of the key priorities in Wales’ Brexit White Paper, jointly authored by Plaid Cymru and Welsh Government.
The White Paper also prioritized continuing participation in the EU single market and the customs union in order to mitigate the impact of Brexit on Wales’ economy.
Although the First Minister was recently forced into an embarrassing U-turn into embracing Jeremy Corbyn’s fudge of ‘a customs union’ half way through a trip to the US.
On Friday, Theresa May set out her five Brexit tests to guide the UK in Brexit negotiations. They included bringing the UK together.
Yet her Government is pursuing an aggressive, re-centralizing agenda that is increasingly bringing into question the durability of the UK as a concept.
Plaid Cymru will not allow the Conservatives to undermine the democratic will of the Welsh people and we cannot allow the Brexit vote to be used as an excuse to roll-back the hard-won powers of our national parliament.