(Title Image: Cardiff University)
One of the growing concerns about the Brexit process in the devolved administrations is the possible “clawing back” of devolved powers by Westminster – underlined by two recent committee reports.
Earlier today, AMs debated Steffan Lewis AM’s (Plaid, South Wales East) proposed Member’s Bill which would ensure all current EU laws relating to devolved areas will be enshrined in Welsh law (“Continuity Bill”).
Steffan believes the UK Government have shown contempt for devolution by not pursuing a Continuity Bill at a UK level in partnership with the devolved administrations. As plans stand, the UK Government could “lay the groundwork for a power grab” by taking EU powers over devolved areas – like agriculture, environment – for themselves.
The issue wasn’t a Remain vs Leave, unionist vs nationalist argument, but one around a basic question as to whether the 2016 referendum result gave a green light to Westminster to take powers away from the National Assembly? Steffan warned that once they have those powers, they may never come back.
Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) – a prominent Leave supporter – would prefer a pan-UK solution that has to be agreed not imposed and welcomed a commitment by the UK Government to reach an agreement with Scotland and Wales. Nevertheless, the Tories would back the proposal.
Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) argued that the Brexit Bill was a Continuity Bill “for recentralisation of the British state”. There was no constitutional logic to the UK Government’s position; the Assembly could either hope that the law is changed at Westminster or take the initiative themselves.
Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) underlined important environmental laws at EU level which were no longer guaranteed by the Brexit Bill – such as those laws which led to recent legal action against the Welsh Government on air pollution. He called on the Welsh Government to publish a draft Continuity Bill now because the Tories at Westminster couldn’t be trusted. Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) later argued the Brexit Bill effectively overturns part of the 2011 law-making referendum.
Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales) believed it was “impossible” to oppose the proposal because there’s no intention of delaying or halting the Brexit process and that it’s right – through devolution – that power is closer to the people. UK Government policy was, therefore, contrary to what most Leavers want.
Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) outlined that the Welsh Government has tried to be constructive in working with the UK Government and has made its own positions on Brexit clear, but in kind, the UK Government hasn’t shown any signs of respecting devolution.
On behalf of the Welsh Government, Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), said the government would support the proposal from the outset to provide legal clarity for people and businesses post-Brexit. A Continuity Bill will be sent to the Llywydd by the end of this month (in line with Scotland) and will go forward unless satisfactory amendments are made to the Brexit Bill in London.
The UK Government has failed to honour promises to Wales and Scotland to bring forward amendments to the Brexit Bill to ensure the devolution settlement remains unchanged. The fight now goes to the House of Lords with the Welsh & Scottish governments continuing to work closely together.
In reply, Steffan Lewis believed AMs from all sides had sent a strong message during the debate, but he would like any draft Bill published as soon as possible to strengthen their hand as the Brexit Bill goes through the House of Lords.
As said, the proposal was approved unanimously and a Bill is already in the works if not already drafted and waiting in the wings.