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Labour has sold Wales down the river and they can’t even explain why

13 May 2018 4 minute read
The First Minister Carwyn Jones. Picture by The National Assembly (CC BY 2.0).

Leanne Wood AM

An argument for change is predicated on three pillars – the principle, the political and the legal.

On Tuesday, the Labour Welsh Government will work with the Conservatives and UKIP to support Westminster’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

A Bill which will weaken our national parliament and put Wales’s place in the Single Market and Customs Union at further risk.

Labour has been unable to justify their decision to do as a matter of principle, politics or legality.

It is a complex issue that hours of debate in parliaments across the UK cannot give justice to.

In the following 600 words, however, I want to outline the principle, political and legal case to which those who vote to support the EU Withdrawal Bill must answer.

Before we get on to that, the first, and very fair question, is why is the National Assembly for Wales voting on Westminster legislation? This actually happens surprisingly often.

Anytime Westminster alters the powers the Welsh Assembly has, Cardiff Bay must also approve the change.

This takes me neatly onto the first pillar – the matter of principles.

  1. Principle

At the heart of devolution is the principle that it gave us the opportunity to create unique solutions to specifically Welsh issues.

Powers in at least 24 policy areas will now be sent back to Westminster. Powers over our environment, our agriculture and our public services.

It means Westminster, not Wales, will decide what type of environment we will leave for the next generation. Any ambition of creating a green, clean and plastic-free Wales will now be up to Michael Gove and his Tory cabinet colleagues.

It means Westminster, not Wales, will decide the funding our famers will get. Will they support the barley barons of southern England or the hill farmers of Wales? I can tell you who my money is on.

In contradiction of two devolution referendums, the fundamental principles of Wales’s constitutional settlement will be eroded by this piece of legislation.

And that is not the worst of it.

The principle that Westminster cannot simply meddle in Welsh affairs without first getting the Assembly’s consent is gone.

  1. Legal

This takes me on to the second pillar – the legal aspect.

Legally the Bill has created a new system for the Assembly to express if it is happy for Westminster to pass laws effecting Wales. It is called the ‘consent decision mechanism’.

In a feat of astounding Orwellian doublespeak this mechanism says Westminster can interpret a decision not to ‘consent’ as a green light to push ahead with passing legislation.

To put it another way, even if the democratically elected National Assembly for Wales says ‘no’, Westminster can simply ignore it and do what it wants anyway.

In a damming 6-page legal analysis obtained by Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Assembly’s own lawyers confirm that this deal puts our Assembly in an unprecedent position –  at risk from a Westminster power grab and with no legal defence to stop it.

  1. Political

This takes me on to the final tenant of the argument – the political.

Labour’s position on all things Brexit might be in total chaos, but cosying up to the Tories and UKIP in a deal to weaken our Assembly takes their incoherence to a new level.

Even more bizarre is the fact that Labour in Scotland has taken the direct opposite approach and will join the Scottish Government in rejecting the Withdrawal Bill.

So on Tuesday, Labour will simultaneously vote to support the Withdrawal Bill in Wales and reject it in Scotland.

By supporting this Bill, Labour will of course also allow the Tories to hurdle another legislative barrier in their quest for a hard Brexit.

Labour in Wales has spent the two years since the referendum flirting with the idea of Single Market and Customs Union membership.

By doing a deal with the Tories on this Bill they have given any ambition of influencing such matters away.

A solution was possible. These issues could have been overcome. Wales and Scotland had passed legislation enshrining the principle of devolution in Welsh and Scottish law.

The Supreme Court was poised to make a ruling to clarify the legal standing of the devolved institutions. And the political will was there to find a deal which was in everyone’s interests.

The Labour party has simply sold our nation, our parliament and our people down the river and they can’t even explain why.

This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times on Sunday 13 May.

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