Senedd committees slam Westminster over Brexit ‘power grab’ bill

Boris Johnson. Picture by Kuhlmann /MSC (CC BY 3.0 DE).

The chairs of three Senedd Committees have written to the chairs of key Westminster Committees warning them of the “profoundly damaging” consequences of ignoring the “serious concerns” of the devolved governments about the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill

First Minister Mark Drakeford has already criticised the bill as an “enormous power grab” which the Welsh Government will oppose “every step of the way” and said it will “do more to hasten the break-up of the Union than anything else since devolution began.

The spending powers set out in the Bill override the existing devolution settlement and will enable the UK government to undertake spending in devolved areas, including for replacement EU funding, without any engagement with devolved nations.

The Bill has also sparked controversy because one of its main aims is to empower ministers to pass regulations even if they are contrary to the withdrawal agreement reached with the EU under the Northern Ireland protocol, breaking international law.

Mick Antoniw MS, Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, Llyr Gruffydd MS, Chair of the Finance Committee and David Rees MS, Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee have sent a joint letter to the chairs of Westminster committees responsible for constitutional matters and scrutinising Brexit, warning that the Bill, as drafted, would have long term constitutional impacts that should be given very serious consideration before the Bill proceeds further.

The bill as it stands would place new limits on laws made in the Senedd, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly. The UK Government have acknowledged that its bill will “create a new limit on the effect of legislation made in exercise of devolved legislative or executive competence”.

The letter from the Senedd Committee chairs says: “We foresee that such limits would greatly impact the Senedd’s ability to make coherent and accessible laws that meet the needs and aspirations of Welsh citizens.”

Any UK legislation that affects areas of responsibility for the Senedd should by convention have the consent of the Senedd – however, this was  disregarded by the UK Government in the case of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. The letter from the chairs states that there is no justification for this to happen again.

The Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly have passed motions opposing the Bill and the Welsh Government has stated that it is not in a position to recommend to the Senedd that consent be given in Wales.

Mick Antoniw MS, Llyr Gruffydd MS and David Rees MS said: “The Internal Market Bill has been extensively debated in Westminster with concerns about it breaking international law. We must not let this overshadow the fact that this UK Government Bill, if passed as it is, would limit the Senedd’s ability to pass laws that meet the needs and aspirations of Welsh citizens.

“We’re calling on members of both Houses of Parliament at Westminster to press the UK Government to address the significant deficiencies as they relate to devolution.

“They Senedd, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly cannot be ignored in this process. If the devolved governments and legislatures are ignored, then this could be profoundly damaging to the UK as a whole.”

On Monday the House of Lords voted 433 to 165 to remove a section of the bill that allows ministers to effectively ignore the Good Friday Agreement by disapplying parts of the Northern Ireland protocol but shortly after the defeat, a government spokesman said the clauses would be re-tabled wen the bill returns to the House of Commons.

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