Welsh minster outlines plan for ‘commission’ to look at Wales’ future in the UK
A Welsh minster has outlined a plan for a commission to look at Wales’ future relationship with the UK.
Mick Antoniw, the Minister for the Constitution, shared the Welsh Government’s intention to establish a Constitutional Convention to “examine the governance of Wales” and “devolution”.
In a speech to Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, he also accused the UK Government of an “unprecedented assault” on the powers of the Senedd.
He told his audience that a “top-down unionism that believes that the problem will simply go away if it shouts loudly enough and waves a few flags around” was evidence of a government in “denial”.
According to Antoniw, the Welsh Government’s “commission of citizens, which he intends to formally launch in the autumn, “will “facilitate a genuinely national conversation about the future of Wales within the UK”.
An “expert panel” will also be set up to “assist” the commissioners, by providing “expertise and the hard data and information”.
The commissions will be tasked with producing a report with its “recommendations and conclusions” within 18-24 months.
Mick Antoniw said: “We recognise, of course, that such a fundamental change could only happen in the context of a much wider constitutional reform.
“That’s why we need to keep discussing and debating these issues. We don’t have all the answers. We’ve never claimed to.
“And that in turn is one of the reasons for our commitment to establish our own Constitutional Convention and Commission, to engage with the people of Wales to examine the governance of Wales, devolution and our future relationship with the UK and the principles on which it should be based.
“We want this Commission to facilitate a genuinely national conversation about the future of Wales within the UK. We want it to engage with citizens and with civic society.
“In particular we want it to reach out to those who might not otherwise come forward to participate in such a debate, to those people and communities who are largely disengaged from politics or rather who have become sceptical about its relevance to their lives and that of their families and its ability to make a difference.
“We will establish a commission of citizens. They will be people who will represent the diversity of our society and communities and who will have the skills and ability to reach out and engage.
“Their task will be to seek to identify and build consensus about our values and the sort of Wales we want to be.
“We will encourage the Commission to think about how its work can support the seven wellbeing goals, as set out in the Well-being of Future Generations Act and to operate in way which is consistent with the five ways of working the Act sets out.
“We will encourage the Commission to identify and learn from the best examples of citizen engagement and to be innovative in the way in which it approaches its task. It must be a peoples commission engaged in a peoples conversation, a genuine grass roots engagement. How we achieve that will be our biggest challenge.
“We will need to develop a new language of engagement, one that avoids the language of politics and constitutions that we are so used to, a language that talks about the things that are directly relevant to people’s lives.
“To assist the Commissioners, we will establish an expert panel to advise the Commission.
“They will provide the expertise and the hard data and information, which we hope will free up more of the Commissioners’ time to focus on the big conversation we want to initiate.
“Our first step will be to appoint a Chair a vice chair or even co-chairs, this is work in progress and I hope to be able to say more about this in a statement I will be making to the Senedd over the next few weeks.
“From there, we will work through the summer and into the early autumn to appoint the Commissioners, to put in place a secretariat and the other structures necessary to enable the Commission to effectively fulfil its remit.
“That remit will be designed by the Welsh Government, but in doing so we will work with the Chair to refine and finalise the Commission’s terms of reference.
“In appointing the Commissioners, we will strive to ensure that the Commission as a whole reflects the diversity of modern Wales.
“Reflects the citizens and the places with which it will need to engage. We will need to strike the right balance between knowledge, independence, and representativeness as we appoint members to the Commission.
In his speech the minister also took aim at the UK Government for its approach to devolution.
He said: “The Union of the United Kingdom has never in my lifetime been under such strain. My position and the position of the Welsh Government is that we want that union to work better in the interests of the people and the communities of Wales and that will require radical reform.
“Instead of a constructive and collaborative relationship, based on fairness, social justice and subsidiarity, what we see from this current UK Government is an increasingly muscular Anglo-centric unionism.
“A top-down unionism that believes that the problem will simply go away if it shouts loudly enough and waves a few flags around. A Government that is in denial.
“Since 2019 when we published our original ‘Reforming our Union’ programme, devolution has found itself under unprecedented assault.
“In 2019 there were those who remained hopeful that the UK Government’s disregard for the refusal of the Scottish Parliament to consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 was an isolated one-off decision.
“Set against the background of the unprecedented upheavals of EU exit, the actions were unique to the situation we faced.
“But since December 2019, the Sewel Convention has been breached with such regularity that the UK Government actions appear to signal a new, more combative position.
“Perhaps the most damaging breach was that related to the UK Internal Market Act.
“Here, we had a Bill which flagrantly cut across devolved powers, usurping functions that clearly sat within the competence of the devolved governments.
“Rushed through the UK Parliament with unseemly haste and minimal scrutiny, it sat in defiance of a refusal to give consent from both the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament. It’s hard to understate the seriousness of such actions.
“It’s hard to understand how the provisions in this Act are anything other than a significant assault on the Senedd and our policies of social and economic reform by undermining the very powers at the core of devolution, and are little more than an attempt to achieve through this Act what the UK Government has been unable to achieve through the ballot box in Wales.
“Powers endorsed in two referendums by the people of Wales.”