Mark Drakeford tells MPs ‘Wales is better off for being in the United Kingdom’
First Minister Mark Drakeford has told Welsh MPs that the future of the United Kingdom is at risk and that Wales and the UK are better off together.
Speaking to the House of Commons Welsh Select Affairs Committee on Wednesday ( 30 November) the First Minister was asked by Chair, Stephen Crabb MP, to “reflect” on intergovernmental relations.
The First Minister said: “The future of the UK is more at risk today than at any time during my political lifetime. This is not a conclusion I’ve come to in the last few weeks.”
Referring to the recent publication of the 2021 Census by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), Mark Drakeford said:
“The percentage of the population in England who identify as British has really collapsed in a decade to a minority position. There’s a strong growth in people who clearly identify themselves as clearly English. I think that tells us something about the way in which people’s identification (has) changed in the last 10 years. And similar things are reflected in Wales.”
Mark Drakeford went on to speak about his hopes of re-establishing a better working relationship with the UK Government, than had been the case since 2019. It was in July of that year when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.
Stephen Crabb wanted to know whether Mark Drakeford felt “encouraged” by how “quickly” the latest UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, had called him and Scotland First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, during his first day in office.
As we know, Rishi Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss failed to phone either one of them during her seven weeks at the helm.
Change in atmosphere
Mark Drakeford said: “I certainly think there’s a change in atmosphere. The fact that the Prime Minister chose to make the phone call to the First Minister of Scotland and Wales on his first day. I was very pleased that the Prime Minister found the time to attend the British Irish Council later that month. I discussed that with him during his call.”
Simon Baynes, Tory MP for Clwyd South wanted to discuss what he referred to as “the British/Welsh/English angle” and got rather personal with Mark Drakeford.
“Do you see that to some extent you, and the Welsh Government, are responsible for not creating as strong an impression of being part of the Union. You seem to me to be in a slight paradoxical situation in terms of how you see the world.
“On one hand you obviously want to talk up Wales, but you overly stress Wales v the Union … Don’t you see we all have responsibility to stress the benefits of the Union?”
Mark Drakeford replied: “The point I made to the Prime Minister when I met him was this: ‘let me be clear’ I said, ‘the UK is better for having Wales in it and Wales is better off for being in the United Kingdom’. I sometimes think the UK Government could make more of that.”
The Committee then proceeded to discuss the Sewel Convention. Since 1999, the UK Government has followed this convention which states that the UK Parliament “will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent” of the devolved legislatures.
But the Sewel Convention was broken by Brexit when all three devolved nations within the UK refused consent for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. However, the UK Government carried on regardless.
Wayne David, Welsh Labour MP for Caerphilly, wanted to know “What is, and what is not working about the Sewel Convention?”.
Mark Drakeford said: “For nearly 20 years the Sewel Convention was observed by all governments and all political persuasions. The Convention is there to ensure that when the UK Government has legislature proposals that might intrude into devolved areas, they only take those proposals froward when they’ve secured consent of the devolved legislature.”
He continued by saying: “My position is that the Sewel Convention should always be respected” but the Westminster Government, “was prepared to over-ride this … That has brought the Sewel Convention into a very difficult place indeed.”
Stressing the seriousness of the situation, the First Minister added: “If you can’t repair the Sewel Convention, then one of the major underpinning props of the devolution settlement will be kicked from under it.”
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