Labour’s cave in to the Tories at Westminster weakens Welsh democracy
Leanne Wood AM, Leader of Plaid Cymru
Capitulation – Noun – The action of ceasing to resist an opponent or demand.
Example: “The Labour Welsh Government’s capitulation to the Conservative Westminster Government’s demands has left the National Assembly for Wales with fewer powers”.
Textbook is the only way to describe Labour’s buckling to the Tories’ demands this week. On Tuesday they announced that a deal had been done that would allow the Welsh Government to support Westminster’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
For the past eight month the Scottish and Welsh governments have worked in lockstep. They published joint amendments and statements, holding out against the constitutional catastrophe enshrined in Westminster’s flagship Brexit Bill.
Following pressure from Plaid Cymru, Labour went as far as to threaten Supreme Court action if Westminster pressed ahead with the power grab.
The so-called Continuity Bill, first proposed by my party, would have forced Westminster into the courts if they pressed ahead and weakened our devolution settlement.
The Labour Welsh Government’s capitulation on Tuesday, means our leverage is gone, leadership lost and parliament weakened. It is a Labour-Tory stich-up like no other.
Clause 11 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is at the root of this constitutional quarrel. As part of the deal, new amendments were tabled to this part of the legislation.
The proposed changes instituted by these amendments were enough to placate the Labour government’s concerns that Westminster was rolling back the devolution settlement, voted for in two referendums.
These amendments contain some of the most illogical doublespeak ever seen in legislation.
Here is just one of many examples: Under the amendments “a consent decision by the National Assembly” can take the form of “a motion refusing to consent”.
Let’s break that down. Westminster can now interpret a legal statement from the National Assembly for Wales “refusing to consent” for them to act in a devolved area as “consent”.
This mindboggling re-definition of ‘no’ to mean ‘yes’ was acceptable enough for Labour to allow them to cave.
And this is not even the worst of it.
As part of the agreement with the Tories, the Labour Welsh Government has happily seceded power in at least 24 policy areas that were once under their authority.
These powers include how we manage our agriculture and fishing industries, environmental standards and public procurement.
Complex constitutional questions can seem distant from our everyday lives. This capitulation, however, has a real and immediate effect on the people of Wales.
With issues like agriculture and public procurement back in Westminster’s hands, we are powerless to stop them selling out our family farms in favour of some inconsequential trade deal.
For that matter, nothing now stops Westminster from prying open the Welsh health service for the private sector with new public procurement regulations.
One simple principle sits at heart of Plaid Cymru’s approach to power – decisions should be made as close as possible to the people they effect.
Devolution is the first step on Wales’s journey to realising this principle in absolute.
The deal between Labour in Wales and the Tories in Westminster is the reverse of this principle. And in the name of what?
The lack of explanation from Labour as to why they have capitulated is shocking. No clear principles nor practical reasons seem to underpin it.
Over the next eight months, Labour will pick a new leader in Wales. This new leader is likely to be the next First Minister of my country.
What they have shown this week is that regardless of who wins, they don’t have the leadership, principles or competency to deliver for Wales.
The oddity of Labour’s decision goes beyond their mystifying misunderstanding of the constitutional question.
The wider deficiencies of the Withdrawal Bill are well known – no protections for workers’ rights, a lack of guarantees on our future relationship the Customs Union and Single Market, even the protection of animal sentience in law remains a concern.
It seems like the Labour Welsh Government, however, are happy to overlook all of these shortcomings following their deal on Clause 11 and recommend that the Welsh Assembly support the Bill.
Whilst we watch the Lord’s butcher the Withdrawal Bill, motivated by the flaws I have listed and many more, Labour in Wales recommends we support it.
On Wednesday, Plaid Cymru will force a vote on the issue. On Wednesday you will see Labour, the Tories and UKIP voting to take powers away from Wales.
On Wednesday you will see the Party of Wales as the only party standing up for Wales.
This article has also appeared in The Sunday Times.
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