Drakeford ‘finds it hard to get Boris Johnson to answer a letter’ says Gordon Brown

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) in yesterday’s speech broadcast on BBC One. Mark Drakeford (right), picture by the Welsh Government.

Mark Drakeford finds it hard to get Boris Johnson to answer a letter according to former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Mr Brown, who was also Chancellor of the Exchequer in Tony Blair’s New Labour government, made the comments about the First Minister of Wales, in an article in London-based left-wing magazine, the New Statesman, where he outlined his plan for saving the union.

In the opinion piece, the former MP for the Scottish constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, which is currently held by the SNP, said that the UK Government was “naïve” when it created the devolved parliaments.

Mr Brown also said that the pandemic had “brutally exposed the dysfunctional British state” but that “nationalism is not the solution.”

His plan for saving the union includes distributing power more equally across the UK, including the regions of England, making sure that devolved power being threatened by the Internal Market Bill is not centralised in Westminster, and instead devolving more power.

Mr Brown also advocates creating a Council of the Regions and Nations to enable “joint working” between different layers of government, scrapping the unelected House of Lords and creating an elected Senate of Nations and Regions based in the north of England, which “guarantee the regions and nations places right at the centre of the government.”

He wants there to be a “Constitutional Convention to draw up a new UK constitution to set this out.”

But he also candidly admitted that the relationship between the UK’s four nations would always be unequal, no matter what the constitution is, because of the relative size of England.

 

‘Disrespectful’

According to Mr Brown, the relationship between Westminster and the devolved nations is not in a good place.

He said: “The Joint Ministerial Committee that was to be the bridge between the centre and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has now broken down.

“Not once has it met, other than on Brexit, during Johnson’s 16-month premiership, and as Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, has revealed, it is difficult to get the Prime Minister to reply to a letter.”

Mr Brown is referring to the time the First Minister wrote to Boris Johnson to urge him to stop people from areas of England with high rates of covid from travelling into Wales.

The letter was ignored by the UK Prime Minister, who is in control of the health policy of England.

Mr Drakeford has this to say on the matter at the time: “I think that is deeply disrespectful, not to me but to the Senedd and to people here in Wales. I do expect to see a reply to that letter and I expect to see a rationale set out in that letter that explains why the Prime Minister appears to have come to his conclusion.”

Mr Brown expressed displeasure about how devolution has worked out.

He said: “It was naive to think we could create strong Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and regional decision-making bodies and automatically expect people to feel more British as a result.

“Equally, it was naive not to anticipate that devolution could create a megaphone for intensifying resentment.

“It is too early to say whether Britain will break up, but we can say already that it is breaking down.”

‘Out of touch’

Mr Brown was critical of the way Westminster has treated Wales and Scotland.

He said: “So, while No 10 may persist in dismissing unrest against the centre as the complaints of ‘restless and unruly natives’ in Scotland or Wales, this is not the real story.

“The view from Scotland and Wales is the same as the view from the regions, too: an inflexible, insensitive centre still trying to imprison a multinational country of diverse regions, with their own histories and needs, into the straitjacket of a unitary state.

“And Boris Johnson’s reported ‘devolution has been a disaster’ outburst – implying his management from the centre is a great success story – shows how out of touch he is.”

He added: “The crisis has shown that decisions that affect the whole of the UK are still made without any real consideration of the impact on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the regions of England, too.

“Across the whole world, no other devolved or federal scheme has survived intact without joint forums to thrash out problems that each part of their union or federation share in common.

“But there is no coherence in the devolution arrangements when the poorest regions in the Midlands and north have fewer powers, less autonomy and less fiscal freedom than our capital city, which is both the richest part of the UK and so close to the centre of politics that it is likeliest to have the most influence on it.

“The pandemic has brutally exposed a centre that has control over the country’s resources but does not know what’s happening on the ground; whose own ignorance has been juxtaposed with outlying communities who have far greater local knowledge but few resources.

“And it is the revolt of the regions – and of much-respected metro mayors such as Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram, Jamie Driscoll, Dan Jarvis, Marvin Rees and Sadiq Khan – that is proving to be the game-changer.

“It has shown that the government does not just have a Scottish or Welsh problem: it has a UK problem.

“While the pandemic has exposed these political divisions, the roots of the problem originate at a deeper level.

“For all the talk of levelling up, the economic divide within the UK has been growing fast and with Brexit will grow even faster, intensifying the battle over the allocation of resources across the country.

“Research by the respected economist Philip McCann has found – astonishingly – that the inequalities between our regions are now wider and deeper than in any other major advanced economy worldwide.

“We know that when 85 per cent of the UK population is in England our constitution will always be asymmetric.”

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