Continuity Bill set to be repealed following Brexit powers deal

(Title Image: Cardiff University)

Little over a month after it was passed by the Senedd, the Continuity Bill seems likely to be repealed after Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West) announced that a deal had been agreed with the UK Government to resolve a conflict over devolved powers post-Brexit (explained in more detail here).

The UK Government will table amendments to the UK’s Brexit Bill, while the Continuity Bill is expected to be withdrawn from the Supreme Court.

However, no agreement has been reached with the Scottish Government, meaning the close working between Wales and Scotland on this issue has clearly ended.

The Deal

According to the Welsh Government:

  • All current devolved powers will remain devolved except areas which may require pan-UK rules to replace EU rules after Brexit.
  • Policy areas which will require pan-UK rules will be “temporarily retained” by the UK Government while those rules are further developed, subject to agreement from the devolved parliaments.
  • The powers can only be retained and regulated by Westminster for five years years following the transition period after Brexit (2026), after which they revert to Wales and Scotland.

Compromise or Sell-Out?

The Welsh Government have said from the outset their preference was to negotiate a deal with the UK Government. Mark Drakeford has also said on several occasions that such a deal “was close”.

Clearly, their threshold for an agreement was lower than Scotland, which isn’t all that surprising, as the Welsh Government couldn’t fall back on a Welsh “Remain” vote or the threat of an independence referendum to use as leverage. Maybe the two governments are playing a grand game of “Good Cop, Bad Cop” but I doubt it.

It does hint that the Welsh Government didn’t think the case for the Continuity Bill was a strong as they would like, got the wobbles over it going to the Supreme Court (which could’ve left Wales with nothing if the law had been struck down) and decided that any deal was better than no deal.

Have Labour sold Wales short?

In political terms, 2026 is an eternity away. Scotland might be independent. The Irish border issue might’ve still not been entirely settled.

I’ll probably get pilloried for saying this, but on paper and in objective terms the proposed amendments sound reasonable, mainly because it gives the UK Government and the devolved administrations time to develop pan-UK rules to replace EU ones.

My problem is I wouldn’t trust this UK Government to say rain was wet, particularly when it comes to the constitution and devolution and I’m surprised Labour haven’t learnt the lesson that you only get things in this Union when you threaten it.

Seven years is too long. The expiry date should’ve been at the end of the post-Brexit transition period (in December 2020), so that going into the Welsh General Election in 2021, there’ll either be new pan-UK rules in place, or the Welsh parties can set out their own policies.

Amendments can be amended with each change in government and promises can be, and are, routinely broken.

Come 2026, a decision on those retained powers could be placed firmly in the hands of a more hardline post-Brexit English nationalist Conservative “UK” government and parliament, determined to break all ties with what would be left of EU’s principles in order to centralise powers for themselves.

Power devolved is power retained and if this doesn’t go according to plan it’ll look like Labour “selling a cow for magic beans” to those for whom Welsh interests don’t matter in the slightest.

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