‘No backbone’: Welsh Government accused of capitulating to Westminster on Brexit powers

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford, who has been attending Brexit discussions with Scottish and UK Government ministers. Picture by NHS Confederation (CC BY 2.0)

The Welsh Government has been accused of having “no backbone” after reaching an agreement with the UK Government over their attempts to retain devolved powers at Westminster post-Brexit.

The agreement means that EU powers in devolved areas will be intercepted by Westminster rather than being transferred to Cardiff.

The UK Government has said that the powers will be held for no more than seven years. However, since a government cannot bind its successors it is no cast-iron guarantee.

The agreement, negotiated by Wales’ Finance Secretary and favourite to be the next First Minister, Mark Drakeford, was rejected by the Scottish Government.

Mark Drakeford said it was a deal “we can work with which has required compromises.”

Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Rhun ap Iorwerth, however, said that the deal shows that the Welsh Government had “no backbone” and was a “shameful shower”.

The party’s leader Leanne Wood added it was a “bare-faced Westminster power grab which undermines the will of the people of Wales who voted for more powers in two referendums”.

“By capitulating to Westminster on the EU Withdrawal Bill, the Labour Government is selling Wales down the river,” she said.

“By doing a backroom deal with the Tories in the UK Government, Labour Welsh ministers are yet again reminding us of Labour’s belief that Westminster is superior to Wales.

“While Labour capitulates, Plaid Cymru will keep challenging this Westminster power grab and protecting Welsh democracy every step of the way.”

‘Unacceptable’

The UK Government’s original intention was that EU laws in devolved areas would be transferred directly to Westminster as part of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

However, the Welsh and Scottish Governments branded the move a “naked power grab” of devolved powers.

At the beginning of the year, the UK Government modified its offer so that many of the powers returned instead to the devolved administrations.

The Welsh Government rejected that offer, but agreed today to a modified deal.

The new deal comes with a promise that the new powers will be held for no more than seven years and that the devolved legislatures will need to give their consent to any changes.

Mark Drakeford said that their aim throughout the talks was “to protect devolution and make sure laws and policy in areas which are currently devolved remain devolved and this we have achieved”.

“The original draft bill meant powers already devolved would have been clawed back by the UK Government post-Brexit and only ministers in London would have had the right to decide if and when they were passed back to the devolved parliaments,” he said.

“This was totally unacceptable and went against the will of the people of Wales who voted for devolution in two referendums.”

The Scottish Government said that they could not accept any deal that “the Scottish Parliament’s powers could be restricted without consent”.

“The UK Government’s latest proposals continue to give Westminster the power to prevent the Scottish Parliament from passing laws in certain devolved policy areas,” Brexit minister Mike Russell said.

“And while we expect the amendments to include the addition of a sunset clause the restrictions on our use of these powers would last for up to seven years.

“Meanwhile any constraint placed on the UK Government will be purely voluntary.”

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