Pro-devolution but independence would make Wales ‘like Albania’ – what does the new Welsh Secretary think?
The new Welsh Secretary supports Welsh devolution but warned that independence would relegate Wales to “Albanian or Moldovan levels of prosperity”.
Nation.Cymru looked back through Sir Robert Buckland’s comments on Wales and devolution to ascertain his views as the Swindon MP takes on the role of leading the Wales Office.
In a speech given at Aberystwyth University in May of this year, he said that he respected the mandate that devolution had in Wales: “The 1997 referendum was followed by another on increased legislative powers in 2011, let’s not forget.”
However, he opposed the creation of a separate legal jurisdiction in Wales, an idea supported by the Welsh Government and their co-operation agreement partners Plaid Cymru, without another referendum to confirm that change.
“You can guess that I am deeply sceptical, indeed hostile to both ideas, and certainly think that if such changes are to be made, then a referendum should be held,” he said.
“These are issues that go beyond any five-year mandate that a political party might claim in a Senedd election.”
He also, perhaps surprisingly, suggested that the Senedd should have two chambers instead of one, an idea not floated during the current debate about Senedd reform.
“I am struck by the complete absence of any debate as to whether a bicameral legislative structure, rather than a unicameral one, would serve the legislative interests of the people of Wales better,” he said.
He also wrote last year in support of “radical devolution” for England in an opinion piece in the Times.
However, he has also, as expected of a Welsh Conservative, opposed any suggestion that Wales could become independent. Writing in 2015, he warned that Welsh independence would make Wales a poorer country than it is now.
“Those who want to leave are divided as to their objectives and incoherent when it comes to their vision of the future,” he said.
“It is just the sort of incoherence that we see at the heart of Scottish or Welsh Nationalism, with its language of independence and belief in membership of supranational entities and then the sort of economic aspirations that can only come with free enterprise and lower taxes but with the type of economic policies that risk relegating Scotland and Wales to Albanian or Moldovan levels of prosperity.”
Of his own identity, however, he said that he was pro-European and supported remaining in the EU.
“As a Welshman but also a patriotic Briton, Geoffrey [Howe] instinctively understood that there was absolutely no contradiction between the various parts that made up the bigger picture,” he said.
“I am Welsh, British and European all at the same time, and there is no contradiction in this. It’s something that we British Unionists have always had no problem with, which is why membership of the European Union contains no hang-ups for us, either.”
Speaking today, Robert Buckland said he was “here to help”, after taking up a post in Cabinet.
He also said that Boris Johnson would not have the authority to do “new” things in government.
The new Welsh Secretary defended his decision to join Mr Johnson’s new-look caretaker Cabinet, stressing that he felt the need to “help and serve”.
He said: “I felt it was right that I did that now. The issue about the Prime Minister and his character has been settled. He no longer has the confidence of the Conservative Party. He is resigning. That is right. But the business of government goes on. I’m here to help.”
Sir Robert said he would not have accepted a position on Wednesday, but the fate of the PM was “now dealt with”.
“He did the right thing and resigned. He changed the circumstances by rightly resigning,” he said.
Describing himself as a “team player”, Sir Robert said there was no such thing as an interim prime minister in the British system of government.
“This Prime Minister no longer has the political authority to do new things,” he said.
The new Secretary of State for Wales has declined to rule out running to replace Boris Johnson as Tory leader.
Robert Buckland said: “What I’m focusing on is values. I talk a lot about One Nation politics. I’ve always been a one nation Conservative, moderate Conservative.”
Pressed on whether he had leadership ambitions, he said: “I will support a One Nation candidate. I woke up this morning not expecting to be a Cabinet minister, so I’ve learnt to expect the unexpected in politics.”
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