Westminster wants to use Brexit to relegate Wales back to a Little England annexe
Hywel Williams, Arfon MP
The United Kingdom consists of four countries, not just one. Democracy requires and values all voices, not just one.
Devolution demands that all countries within the UK have a say in their respective futures, not just one.
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill seeks to undermine and reverse twenty years of the existence and development of devolution and our national parliament – the National Assembly.
This Bill, if enacted, will take us back to a position where we can no longer make decisions for our own country – forever relegated to the Little England annex.
Clause 11 of the Withdrawal Bill, due to be debated tomorrow, places new restrictions on the National Assembly that will prevent it from legislating in areas due to be repatriated from the EU.
This will apply even when those areas are already devolved, such as agriculture and the environment.
The European Union operates on the principle of powers being exercised as close to the citizen as possible.
That principle does not exist in Westminster. Wales relies solely on the devolution settlement – the recently passed Wales Act 2017 – to determine where powers lie.
Even then, Westminster can override any decisions made in Wales.
Allowing Westminster to intercept these powers in devolved areas that would otherwise be passed straight to the National Assembly, will normalise direct Westminster-rule once again, undermining Welsh sovereignty and setting a dangerous precedent.
The UK’s Prime Minster has, by the way, pledged never to “devolve and forget” again.
Plaid Cymru has tabled amendments to the Withdrawal Bill so that it respects the Welsh devolution settlement. They will be debated in the House of Commons tomorrow.
Our amendments adapt the restrictions placed on the National Assembly in the Bill so that they are only applicable to Westminster responsibilities, allowing Wales to continue to legislate freely in its devolved fields.
Our amendments differ to those tabled by the Welsh and Scottish Governments. Rather than deleting the whole clause, our amendments acknowledge that there will be a difference between certain repatriated powers that rightfully reside with the Assembly and those that fall under Westminster’s areas of responsibility.
We are playing by the rules. We expect Westminster to do the same.
On the 14th of November, Plaid Cymru forced a vote in Westminster on an amendment to ensure that the EU Withdrawal Bill could not be signed without all four countries in the UK agreeing to it – a vote to give Wales an equal say.
Despite the Labour Party being the ruling party in Wales, only one solitary maverick Labour MP voted to support our amendment and the legitimacy and authority of the National Assembly for Wales.
The rest not only didn’t support us, but didn’t bother voting at all.
This sadly reflects the Labour Party’s reluctance to take any responsibility for Brexit. They are more comfortable shouting from their opposition seats in Westminster than taking any real responsibility and steering our country in the right direction.
In the National Assembly, all woes and discontent are deflected back at the Tory Westminster Government, and yet here they are content in leaving our country’s future in Tory hands.
The Labour party’s confused position on Brexit was further exemplified when Jeremy Corbyn whipped his party to vote against an amendment tabled by one of their own MPs, to allow the UK to remain a part of the Customs Union.
The amendment was defeated – a green light for trade barriers to be erected between us and our closest trading partners.
Westminster-rule has not served Wales well. While the Labour Party cry outrage at Westminster’s actions, their own actions, or lack of, cry louder.
MPs will have an opportunity tomorrow to stop this Westminster power-grab.
If all opposition parties turn up to vote and vote together in the interest of the devolved countries, we can stop this encroachment on Welsh sovereignty, and put all four UK countries on an equal footing.