Liz Saville Roberts MP, Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader
Far from the “power surge” promised by the Westminster government, the UK Internal Market Bill is about one thing: redrawing the British constitution by carrying out a raid on the powers of the devolved nations. It is incumbent on all Welsh MPs to stop that from happening this week by supporting Plaid Cymru’s amendment to the Bill.
The historically damaging Bill passed its first parliamentary hurdle last week with a majority of 77, with every single Welsh Conservative MP joining the farcical conga line to vote, one-by-one, to claw back powers from Wales. Each one voted in favour of the Bill in the full knowledge that it presents a direct challenge to the established devolution settlement.
They also did so following an explicit recognition by the Government that it would violate international law, simultaneously increasing the chance of no trade deal with the EU and risking the hard-won peace in Ireland.
I wonder what was on the minds of those Welsh MPs as they marched through the lobbies. I wonder if they felt a tinge of shame for voting in favour of a Bill that breaks the “oven ready” international treaty upon which they were elected. Perhaps others had a fleeting thought for the wishes of their constituents, many of whom voted in favour of devolution in two successive referendums?
I would at least hope that one or two would spare a thought for our farmers as they voted to render Wales powerless to stop low-quality produce, such as chlorinated chicken, from flooding our supermarkets and undercutting Welsh farmers.
However, I suspect many believe their own spin, their blind loyalty to Boris Johnson always trumping their responsibility to their constituents.
Needless to say, there is no mandate for rolling back devolved powers. A poll in June showed that only 27% support either removing powers from the Senedd or abolishing it completely. A clear majority of the population believes in defending our Senedd, be it in its current form, strengthened with more powers or elevated to the status of the national parliament of an independent Wales.
Yet under Westminster’s sham democracy, this fact is irrelevant. As always in this union of unequals, Westminster calls the shots, so more powers will be centralised in London whether Wales likes it or not.
While this power grab takes place, evidence is mounting to suggest that the opposite should be happening. The OECD report on The Future of Regional Development and Public Investment in Wales clearly shows how Westminster’s grip on Wales has led to rising inequality and low productivity.
It shows that Westminster’s concentration of power is in many ways an active agent in worsening the fiscal gap – clear evidence if ever it was needed that Wales desperately needs more devolution, not less.
Yet the UK Internal Market Bill will give key spending powers to the Westminster government in entirely devolved areas such as health, education, culture and sport, centralising powers when all the evidence screams to the contrary.
For the fourth day of the UK Internal Market Bill’s Committee stage on Tuesday, Plaid Cymru has tabled an amendment that would protect our devolution settlement against Westminster’s attack. Our amendment 9, signed by a range of cross-party MPs, would ensure that a vote in the Senedd, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly would take place before the provisions of the Bill come into effect.
It would particularly ensure that no further powers could be reserved to Westminster under the Bill unless all three devolved legislatures have endorsed it. This would provide a much-needed injection of democracy into the shambolic process around the UK Internal Market Bill, giving our nations the right to a voice before our powers are undermined.
Welsh MPs of all political colours must unite this week to vote to protect Welsh powers. If the Conservatives are confident that their Bill is a “power surge to the devolved administrations” as they so brazenly proclaim, they will be in the Aye lobby with Plaid Cymru on Tuesday, proudly defending Wales’s right to protect its own powers.
I won’t hold my breath.