Hywel Williams MP, Plaid Cymru’s Brexit Spokesperson
The Great War ended when Woodrow Wilson set out his fourteen principles for world peace. In his speech he said that “national aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.”
Almost 100 years on, the UK Government is in danger of destabilising the very foundations of the Western world, in which government by consent is cardinal.
During what is one of the most pivotal periods in history, the UK Government is preparing to ignore the clearly expressed will of the people in two of its constituent countries.
In an Act of constitutional aggression, the UK Government is gearing up to impose the EU Withdrawal Bill on both Wales and Scotland without their consent.
From the very beginning Plaid Cymru has branded this Bill as an existential threat to devolution.
Not only does the Bill undermine devolution, it fails to allow for accession into the single market and customs union, fails to give any clarity on the future role of EU Agencies and gives government ministers the ability to amend and repeal Welsh and Scottish law with impunity.
Whilst the UK Parliament retains power in each of the devolution statutes to legislate in relation to devolved matters, the Sewel convention requires that it should “not normally” do so without the consent of the relevant devolved legislature.
The Supreme Court in the Miller case on triggering Article 50 found the Sewel convention to be just that – a political convention – without legal substance.
In July, following the publication of the EU Withdrawal Bill, the Scottish and Welsh Governments issued a joint statement calling it a “naked power-grab”.
Having met only twice this year, the Joint Ministerial Committee for EU negotiations – the only mechanism whereby devolved parliaments can formally have say – is systematically flawed. Tensions are rising.
Both the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government have made clear that the Bill, as it stands, would be rejected by their respective devolved parliaments.
Goodbye consent; hello constitutional crisis.
Plaid Cymru has been warning of this debilitating dilemma for quite some time. We wrote to the Welsh Secretary over the summer asking for answers in the event of consent being withheld.
The response we received in September was wholly inadequate and merely parroted “we want all parts of the UK to back the Bill”.
We’ve raised it during Welsh Questions, during Brexit Ministerial drop-in sessions, during the Queen’s speech, during oral evidence sessions in the Brexit Committee and during the Second Reading of the Bill.
Not once has a UK Government Minister told us how it plans to proceed if devolved legislatures do not support the Bill.
The only conclusions we can draw from the incoherent, ambiguous and suppressed responses, are that they will press ahead regardless. It is, after all, within their legal right to do so. For the time being.
This is where Plaid Cymru’s Amendment 79 to the EU Withdrawal Bill today comes in to play.
The final step in prying an answer out of the UK Government as to how it will react if the devolved Parliaments reject the Bill, is by gauging its reaction to an amendment calling for the Sewel convention in relation to this Bill to be legally binding.
Our amendment would require the UK Government to gain consent from each of the devolved parliaments and assemblies before the European Communities Act 1972 is repealed.
It already has support from the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Green Party and it would be unthinkable for the Labour Party – the largest party in Wales – to oppose giving Wales a say.
If the UK Government is deadly serious about having all four nations on board, it will vote with Plaid Cymru. As will Labour.
If not, we can only assume that the Prime Minister intends to ignore the clearly expressed will of the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament, breaking her promise of working closely with the devolved administrations to deliver an approach that works for the whole of the United Kingdom.
History will not look kindly on the Prime Minister for disrespecting national aspirations and governing without consent.