Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader
This week the Labour Party turned their back on Welsh devolution after they abstained on amendments to the Internal Market Bill which would have safeguarded some of our Senedd’s powers.
This power grab Bill is now an Act, allowing Westminster to spend money in devolved areas and gaining control of key Welsh state aid powers – all without the consent of the Senedd and the people of Wales.
This will have direct consequences. It could mean Wales having to accept goods produced to lower standards in other UK nations. It will add another unnecessary layer of complexity for people and businesses. And most worrying of all, it paves the way for Boris Johnson to take control of devolved areas such as health, education and the environment and re-shape the Welsh economy for his post-Brexit de-regulatory agenda. And all without even the slightest pretence of strategic planning.
The UK Tory Government will be able to direct Welsh devolved affairs via the backdoor, a total affront to devolution and our democracy.
Despite wild claims to the contrary, there is nothing in the Bill which meaningfully protects devolution or the powers for which people in Wales have voted in two referendums.
The hypocrisy is clear. Labour bleat about standing up for Wales, yet when it counted, they meekly sat down and watched on as the Tories grabbed Welsh powers.
When challenged on this in Westminster, Labour had the gall to attack the so-called “nationalist” parties and our “politics of grievance” in a desperate attempt to deflect from their failings.
Well, let me say in response: people in Wales have every right to be aggrieved, after being failed miserably by the Labour Party on such a momentous issue for our nation.
It seems Labour has delusions of grandeur of winning the next general election and saw their abstention as an opportunity to curb the power of a future SNP Government in Edinburgh, despite knowing it would hamstring their own Welsh Government counterparts in Cardiff.
In doing so, Labour have stood back and watched the Tories stoke the fires under devolution, all in the hope they may get to rule over the ashes afterwards.
This petty politics is not only shameful, but utter fantasy. Scotland may have already left this moribund union by the next UK general election, with Wales not far behind.
Aside from their disastrous abstention, the Bill exemplifies Labour’s incoherence on devolution more generally, as they flip flop between positions on either side of the M4.
In November, the Labour Welsh Government offered to create a framework agreement with the UK for state aid rules, meaning that there would be no reason to restrict the Senedd’s powers through the Bill. This offer was ignored. Yet, fast forward three weeks later and Labour were abstaining on this very same framework amendment that had been tabled in Westminster – totally contradicting their earlier position.
More recently, in the Senedd, Labour voted to withhold consent to the Bill which the First Minister Mark Drakeford himself called “a direct attack on devolution” – but over in Westminster they allowed the Bill pass.
The charade continued into this week when it was pointed out to Labour’s UK Shadow Business Minister that her own party’s counterparts in Wales will be challenging the Bill in the courts. The Labour front bench response was that they were “not sure of the details”.
The details are simple – despite the Labour Welsh Government being rightly furious at the UK Government for reserving new powers to Westminster through certain clauses in the Bill, the Labour front bench was more than happy to see those very same power grab clauses be waved through the UK Parliament. Labour is “not sure on the details” in the only Labour government in the UK. You can’t make this stuff up.
Labour’s muddle-headed approach to devolution from the official opposition is damaging; damaging to Wales, damaging to us – the people of Wales, and damaging to our democracy.
Labour is content with talking out of both sides of its mouth on this issue. They readily style themselves as the ‘party of devolution’ in Wales but are more than happy to throw our Senedd and people under the Tory bus at Westminster whenever it’s politically expedient.
It is plain for all to see that their self-styled label really is a sham. When push comes to shove, Labour’s deference to Westminster and blind unionism will always come at the expense of Wales’ interests.
People in Wales deserve much better than this. We can no longer rely on the Labour Party’s paper-thin commitment to devolution which offers us no protection for our powers.
What is the next step forward? The answer is clear. Only independence can guarantee that Welsh powers stay in Wales. Only independence can safeguard our Senedd and democracy against Westminster overreach.
And only a vote for Plaid Cymru in May will guarantee that we hold an independence referendum for the people of Wales.