Majority of Leave voters don’t think Brexit should be used to remove Wales’ devolved powers
A majority of Leave voters in Wales believe that Brexit should not be used to remove powers from the Senedd, according to findings from researchers at Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre.
Writing in a British Politics after Brexit report for the UK in a Changing Europe initiative, the academics used Welsh Election Study (WES) data to show that 52% of Leave voters rejected the suggestion that “the UK Government is right to remove powers from the Senedd if it is necessary to maximise Brexit benefits”.
There was also opposition to using Brexit to undermine devolution among 88% of Remain voters, and 71% of the Welsh electorate as a whole.
The data confirm that the Leave vote in Wales in the 2016 referendum was not fundamentally linked to scepticism over devolution, according to the authors Richard Wyn Jones, Jac Larner and Daniel Wincott.
This finding – that voting Leave and ‘devo-scepticism’ are not interlinked – was replicated at last year’s Senedd elections, where anti-devolution parties collapsed without generating an equal-sized increase in vote share for the Conservatives, they said.
Previous WES findings demonstrated that Welsh Labour succeeded in holding on to a larger than anticipated share of its own Leave voters.
Richard Wyn Jones commented: “Data collected by the 2021 Welsh Election Study shows that a substantial majority of the Welsh electorate reject any undermining of devolved powers in the name of Brexit. This view is shared even by a majority of Welsh Leave voters.
“This raises far-reaching questions for the Welsh Conservatives as they adopt an increasingly ‘devo-sceptic’ stance. While such a stance may well be popular with their own activist base and core support, it is in danger of alienating them further from floating voters as well as majority opinion in Wales.”
Noting that the election “proved a disappointment for Conservatives,” Jac M. Larner, Richard Wyn Jones, and Daniel Wincot’s chapter in British Politics after Brexit suggests that Conservatives may have “misjudged the constitutional attitudes of their target voters”.
“Nonetheless, the Conservatives remain committed to the view that devolved competences must be reduced to deliver on their wider agenda. They also assume that, if forced to choose between devolution and a union rebuilt in the Brexiters’ own image, the Welsh electorate will inevitably settle for the latter.
“Equally plausible is that by forcing this choice, an even larger section of the electorate will conclude that it is time to give up on the union.
“This in turn would force Welsh Labour to push for even more far-reaching autonomy or risk leaving a flank open for Plaid Cymru to exploit. Doubtless, the Conservatives would enjoy the resulting discomfort but viewed through the lens of statecraft this appears to represent a substantial and totally unnecessary gamble.”
The study also notes that more powers for Wales is by far the most popular constitutional preference in Wales.
“Despite the increased focus on both independence and abolition, and perhaps uniquely among the constituent countries of the UK, Wales has firmly
embraced what in the nineteenth century was known as home rule,” it says.
“Broadly speaking, its citizens like devolution and want more of it, while eschewing outright separation (see Figure 1). It is a position which Welsh Labour — under
its popular leader Mark Drakeford — encapsulates nicely.
“The challenge for Labour is that it is unclear if its position will remain sustainable in future.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.