Top 5 ways Westminster shafted Wales in 2017
We’re used to Westminster ignoring Wales. But there are plenty of times when Westminster seems to go out of its way to deliberately do a number on Wales, too.
All of the examples below have one thing in common: What was good for Wales was found to be politically inconvenient for Westminster, and so we got dumped on. Again.
- Cancelled the electrification of the rail line to Swansea
Wales’ rail infrastructure has long been neglected – our country has 6% of the UK rail network but has only received 1% of Network Rail’s spending on improvements since 2011.
When former Prime Minister David Cameron promised the electrification of the Great Western Mainline to Swansea there was some hope that would change.
But the UK Government announced in July that it was ditching the plans.
This came the same week as they awarded £6.6bn worth of contracts as part of the next phase of HS2 between London and Birmingham.
And at the start of this month, they announced a further ‘£47.9bn overhaul of the network in England and Wales’. The problem? It turned out none of the rail projects included were actually in Wales.
- Failing to back the Swansea Tidal Lagoon project
The Swansea Tidal Lagoon project was the most ambitious building project Wales had seen since the industrial revolution.
The lagoon would have created more than 2,000 construction jobs and generated the equivalent electricity used by 155,000 homes for 120 years.
In November more than 100 leading Welsh businesses, including Tata Steel UK, signed a letter to Theresa May urging her to give the project the green light as soon as possible.
But over a year since a government-commissioned review recommended rapid approval of the project, the UK Government has gone cold on the idea.
“It’s hard to see which ministers if any are still championing this at a ministerial level,” one government figure told the Financial Times.
Which raises the question: What is the Secretary for State for Wales is actually doing around the Cabinet table?
- Turning Wales ‘into a penal colony’
We’re used to Welsh politicians criticising Westminster, but this barb came from an objective charity.
According to the Howard League for Prison Reform, Westminster is ‘is turning Wales into a new penal colony’.
The comments came in the wake of plans to build a new 2,000+ prisonerr super-prison in Port Talbot.
The plans were revealed after the opening of another super prison, HMP Berwyn, near Wrexham.
“Wales is becoming the Botany Bay of the 21st Century. England shoving its urban poor onto the hulks and shipping them off to Wales,” said Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Prison Reform.
“It’s just using cheap land and cheap labour. It’s not really investing in Wales, it’s exploiting Wales.”
- Deciding to hold back Cardiff to help Bristol
Westminster has already given Scotland and Northern Ireland the power to lower air travel tax but balked at the Welsh Government’s plea that they be allowed to do the same.
The issue? They were concerned that if Wales lowered Air Passenger Duty for Cardiff Airport it might negatively affect Bristol Airport down the M4.
A Labour MP for Bristol South lobbied the Government against devolving the tax for fear of it making Cardiff “significantly cheaper” to fly from than Bristol.
The Conservatives hold a number of seats in the Bristol area and are competitive in others, while the constituencies around the Vale of Glamorgan are not particularly fertile ground for them.
Once again, what is best for Wales was set aside when it was found to negatively impact constituencies in England.
- Shutting Wales out of the Brexit negotiations
Wales voted for Brexit and could have expected to have some kind of say in the final deal.
However, the UK Government chose to completely ignore Wales’ voice and push for as damaging a Brexit as possible for the country.
Almost 70% of Wales’ exports go to the EU, and opinion polls show that the population favours a soft Brexit.
However, driven by Eurosceptic Tory MPs, the UK Government aimed for as hard a Brexit as possible, an outcome that would have crippled Wales’ aviation, steel and agricultural industry.
Facing a backlash from the Republic of Ireland, the UK Government then pushed for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, a deal that would have caused chaos at Welsh ports.
Westminster is also in the process of imposing an EU Withdrawal Bill on Wales that will strip them of powers in areas already devolved.
First Minister Carwyn Jones has described the move as a ‘power grab’ that would take powers over transport and education away from Wales.
Given how Westminster keeps shafting Wales, are we really happy to see those powers back in their hands?
Disclaimer: This list does not mention lifting the retirement age, cutting legal aid in a way that disproportionally effects rural communities, failing to guarantee farming subsidies, failing to invest £350m in the NHS, Universal Credit, and allowing banks to hundreds of branches in isolated communities.
Even though Wales is likely to feel the effects of these changes disproportionately they are, on paper at least, decisions that are shafting the entirety of the UK.