We can still stop Westminster from using Brexit as an excuse to grab Wales’ powers

Steffan Lewis AM. Picture by National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Steffan Lewis AM, Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs 

The volatile nature of politics right now makes it impossible for anyone to predict what will come of the single biggest political and economic event in modern times.

Westminster is in meltdown, the UK government is in freefall and we know from history that when right-wing British nationalists feel their backs are to the wall, grave dangers are posed to Wales.

The European Research Group at Westminster is all too easily dismissed sometimes as a grouping of extremists whose influence is over-stated.

But they are dangerous, and they are sensing that their opportunity to realise their aim of a centralised, isolated, jingoistic UK could be under threat from the Prime Minister’s draft Brexit Agreement.

This entire process has posed a threat to Welsh political nationhood from the outset.

This became abundantly clear when the UK Government published its draft Withdrawal Bill back in March 2017, back then pompously called the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.

It included a paragraph in section 4.2 stating that EU responsibilities relating to devolved fields such as agriculture, environment and transport would be claimed by Westminster, making English MPs responsible for devolved Welsh matters for the first time since before devolution.

This is what led me to propose unilateral legislative action by introducing a Welsh Continuity Bill that would enshrine all existing EU regulations into Welsh law.

The purpose of this Bill was to ensure that the standards we value, like environmental protections, food standards, and the rights we have come to take for granted as EU citizens, continue to apply to Wales after Brexit.

It was also designed to stop the Conservatives’ EU Withdrawal Bill turning into a Westminster power-grab over already devolved matters.

Mandate

On March 18, 2018, the National Assembly passed the bill and it looked like we had secured a vital legislative shield to protect Wales from the Westminster power-grab.

But in April the news broke that the Welsh Government had agreed on a deal with the UK Government on the Withdrawal Bill which gave away Wales’ powers, in return for some empty promises.

This deal committed them to repealing the Continuity Bill once it received Royal Assent and became an Act.

The Welsh Government intends to repeal the Act on Tuesday. My Plaid Cymru colleagues and I will be voting against doing so for three principal reasons.

First of all, repealing the Act would mean allowing the Westminster government to legislate in devolved fields.

While I believe this is wrong in principle, it is also completely anti-democratic because Wales voted for these powers in 1997 and voted for more powers in 2011.

When asked in the ballot box Welsh voters have twice given a mandate for more powers to be transferred to the National Assembly. They have never voted for powers to be taken away.

For this reason – and this reason alone – Assembly Members should represent the views of the people of Wales by voting against repealing the Continuity Act.

Leverage

Secondly, the Scottish Continuity Bill is currently in the Supreme Court, awaiting judgement about whether it is within the competence of the Scottish parliament.

If the Supreme Court finds in Scotland’s favour it would mean that the Welsh Continuity Act would be upgraded into a platinum-plated legislative shield.

Our powers would be safe, and Wales would finally have the political leverage we’ve been lacking throughout the whole Brexit process.

Assembly Members should, at the very least, wait until the judgement before voting to repeal the Act.

Finally, the UK Government is engulfed in absolute turmoil at the current time.

It would be folly of the highest order to allow an executive which is at war with itself permission to legislate in devolved fields.

We have no idea how much damage they could do to our agricultural sector, environmental protections and food standards, to name just three fields.

As the representatives of the people of Wales, Assembly Members have a duty to act in the best interests of the people who elect us.

This means voting against depriving Wales of its last line of defence on Tuesday.

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