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2017 started with Theresa May announcing that the UK will leave the EU single market and customs union (aka. Hard Brexit). The UK Government later lost a case in the Supreme Court and were forced to allow the UK Parliament to vote on starting the Brexit process (Article 50). Let’s see how this turns out.
In Wales, AMs backed the UK Government’s Wales Act 2017 which will gradually “enhance” the Senedd’s powers over the coming years. The Welsh Government also picked a fight by introducing the Trade Union Bill, which will protect unions representing devolved public service workers from reforms introduced at Westminster.
AMs also backed calls for a public inquiry into the tainted blood scandal from the 1970s-80s.
The UK House of Commons approved a Bill to authorise the activation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by 498 votes to 111. At the same time, the Senedd’s External Affairs Committee published a report into the impacts of Brexit on Wales, with particular concern over a lack of discussion between the Welsh & UK governments.
The Welsh Government announced the phasing-out of Communities First, while Tata Steel employees backed a pensions agreement which would lead to £1billion investment following a year of uncertainty over the future of Welsh steel-making.
While the crisis in steel lessened, a new crisis emerged at the Ford engine plant in Bridgend, with suggestions more than 1,000 jobs could be lost by 2021.
The Welsh Government introduced a Bill to abolish the Right to Buy in Wales in order to preserve social housing stock. Elsewhere, the Chair and Vice Chair of Sport Wales were sacked following a leadership crisis.
On March 22nd, an Islamist terrorist attacked people outside the Palace of Westminster, killing five people and resulting in the devolved parliaments suspending sessions for the day. Now long afterwards, the Prime Minister notified the EU of the UK’s intention to leave the EU in 2019.
As the parties started their local election campaign in Wales, Mark Reckless left UKIP to join the Conservatives, making the Tories the largest opposition group in the Assembly. The Assembly also launched a consultation on the creation of a Youth Parliament for Wales.
A report from the Communities Committee highlighted the poor condition of housing used by refugees and asylum-seekers. Elsewhere, the Wales Audit Office began to raise serious concerns over public money spent on the proposed Circuit of Wales project in Blaenau Gwent.
Wanting to secure a larger majority (heh), the Prime Minister announced a snap UK general election would take place on June 8th.
Labour lost over 100 seats in the local elections and lost control of 3 councils, with gains made by the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and (more modestly) the Lib Dems. As the Greens won their first ever council seat in an election in Wales, 92 seats were uncontested across the country.
AMs passed the Public Health Act, which was modified from an earlier version to remove a ban on vaping in enclosed public spaces. The Welsh Government also accused developers behind the Circuit of Wales of providing inaccurate information.
The Senedd mourned the death of former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, at the age of 77 on May 17th. Tributes were paid from across the political spectrum, while election campaigning in Wales was suspended as a mark of respect.
Tragedy struck again, with an Islamist atrocity at the Manchester Arena killing 22 concert-goers on May 22nd.
Theresa May’s political credibility took a battering when her early election gamble backfired and left her without a majority and reliant on the DUP’s support. The result in Wales was broadly the same as in 2015 except Plaid Cymru’s victory in Ceredigion left Liberals without parliamentary representation in Wales for the first time in 150+ years.
The Circuit of Wales project finally bit the bullet with the Welsh Government pulling the plug on underwriting the costs. The Llywydd also revealed that the National Assembly would see its name changed to Welsh Parliament.
It was, however, a fire at Grenfell Tower in West London on June 14th which would provide one of the more memorable events of the year for the wrong reasons. The final official death toll was 71, but local residents’ concerns over cladding and under-investment by one of the wealthiest local authorities in the UK underlined the income inequality that still exists as well as the impact of austerity.
The Welsh and Scottish governments issued a joint statement declaring they would not support the proposed “Brexit Bill” over concerns that powers over devolved areas that are currently exercised by the EU would be returned to Westminster and not Wales & Scotland.
The Senedd’s Health Committee called for an expansion of medical school places in order to deal with doctor shortages. Elsewhere, the UK Government reneged on a promise to electrify the railway between Swansea and Cardiff, while the Economy Secretary was eventually forced to scrap a sculpture (approved by Cadw) that resembled a visual pun of a nickname attached to Edward I’s subjugation of Wales.
GCSE results fell to their lowest level in a decade, with 3.8% fall in the A*-C pass rate blamed on early entries and the introduction of tougher Wales-specific qualifications. Conversely, Wales had its best A-Level pass rate since 2009 despite a fall in the number of entries.
In the Senedd, there were key committee reports published, including a criticism of how the flagship Communities First programme was being wound-down, serious concerns over the impact a “Hard Brexit” would have on Welsh ports and calls for S4C to have a wider remit.
Tensions between the United States and North Korea heightened after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan – a situation that would become ever more threatening to the stability of the far east in the second half of the year.
As the Welsh political bubble marked the 20th anniversary of the 1997 devolution referendum, the Welsh Government published a paper calling for a “softer “stance on migration – one of the key issues in the Brexit referendum – when the UK leaves the EU.
AMs voted down a motion calling for a proposed “super prison” on Welsh Government-owned land in Port Talbot to be dropped; the issue would be discussed on-off for several months. The Welsh Government also published its Prosperity Strategy, which calls for the people of Wales to….work faster and smarter than machines.
Neil McEvoy AM (Plaid–Ind, South Wales Central) was suspended from Plaid for a second time this year after clashing with the party over its support for a ban on “Right to Buy”. He’s remained outside of the party group ever since as Plaid’s disciplinary proceedings move at a glacial pace.
Spain instituted a violent crackdown on Catalonia following an independence referendum; it took the Senedd several months but they eventually condemned Spain’s actions, while Catalonia remains unrecognised internationally.
The draft Welsh budget for 2018-19 was published, with the NHS again being the main beneficiary. Local councils saw their budgets cut by £19million – in the grand scheme of things not much, but with the potential for a bigger cut in 2019-20.
Internationally, stories began emerging of systemic and prolonged sexual harassment and assault by powerful men in Hollywood, with similar stories emerging in political life. The First Minister and Assembly authorities were keen to ensure Wales responded quickly to this. Nobody knew that just a few days later it would plunge Welsh politics into darkness….
November was dominated by one story: the apparent suicide of Alyn & Deeside AM, Carl Sargeant, following his sacking as Communities Secretary after uncorroborated accusations of sexual harassment.
While it’s easily the darkest period in post-devolution Wales, and despite heartfelt tributes to a well-liked and well-respected man in the Senedd chamber, the First Minister’s actions relating to alleged bullying at the top of the Welsh Government, and contradictory answers to questions on his handling of the Carl Sargeant affair, remain an ongoing controversy. Three separate inquiries have been launched into the matter at time of writing – though AMs narrowly rejected holding their own inquiry by 29 votes to 27.
The UK and EU agreed on a provisional deal which, subject to agreement by EU member states, would see both parties move on to trade talks in 2018. The deal is effectively a “soft Brexit” which would see the UK remain in the single market and customs union until 2022 and was forced through after the DUP refused to let Northern Ireland have a different deal to the rest of the UK to settle the Irish border issue.
An expert panel reported back on reforms to the Assembly and how it’s elected, including an expansion to 90 AMs, reducing the voting age to 16 and the introduction of single transferable vote. Labour, as expected, kicked it into the long grass saying they won’t discuss it as a party until 2019.
Top Posts of 2017
In an alteration to the end-of-year tradition, here are the top five most-read posts on each of my three sites:
- Bridgend Council Election Results 2017
- Improvements demanded at Children’s Social Services
- Rest Bay Watersports Centre Plans Submitted
- Bridgend 2017: Who’s Standing Where?
- Porthcawl Regeneration Takes Great Leap Forward
- What you need to know about future changes to free bus travel
- £19million of cuts in 2018-19 local government settlement
- Catalonia: Senedd condemns Spanish heavy-handedness
- Cabinet Reshuffle: Carl Sargeant sacked following personal conduct allegations
- The Talking Point #12: Rotten Egg – Does Welsh rugby have a drink problem?
- Vice Nation: Sex VI – Sex Education
- Five things we can take from the Yes Cymru Poll
- Five big challenges facing the IndyWales movement
- Celtic Crossing: An Irish Sea Tunnel
- Currency I: What does Wales need from a currency?
All that’s left is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. See you in January!