Chinny Reckon? AMs satisfied with Brexit powers deal



(Title Image: via Twitter)

The Issue

The agreement between the Welsh and UK governments over how current EU powers in devolved areas will be used after Brexit has proven a bit divisive. In short, the UK Government proposed to temporarily retain 24 powers in devolved areas to develop UK-wide frameworks until 2026.

The Conservatives and Labour are generally satisfied with the agreement and the forthcoming repeal of the equally controversial Continuity Bill, but Plaid Cymru most certainly was not happy with either and maintain that it’s a “power-grab”.

Yesterday afternoon provided the opportunity for the first meaningful debate on the agreement and here’s what was said (as I stroked my chin contemplatively whilst reading the transcript).

The Motion

To propose that the Senedd:

  • Notes the agreement between the Welsh and UK governments on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.
  • Further notes that the agreement renders the Continuity Bill, passed by a majority in the National Assembly for Wales, redundant.
  • Regrets the fact that the agreement grants the UK Parliament a veto over areas of devolved legislation.
  • Further regrets the agreement’s undermining of the Plaid Cymru-Welsh Government White Paper, Securing Wales’ Future, which states ‘that the UK exit from the EU must not result in devolved powers being clawed back to the UK Government. Any attempt to do so will be ‘firmly resisted by us’.
  • Calls for a meaningful vote by AMs on the agreement.

Key Points

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda)
For (the motion): The Welsh Government don’t know what they’ve done.

  • Plaid Cymru has been accused of being “flag-waving nationalists”, but their flag “isn’t the white flag of surrender”.
  • The deal is hypocritical, as the Welsh Government previously rejected the idea of a sunset clause (a set time after which powers would be devolved to Wales) but have now agreed to one.
  • The Scottish Labour party has said the deal Welsh Labour signed up to is “deficient”; “You had a Michelin-starred meal and turned it into a dog’s dinner”.
  • Despite the deal, the UK Government can still interpret it however they want and can ignore seeking permission from the National Assembly; an example is given whereby the UK Government can make laws on farming without consent.
  • Powers over public procurement will remain in London and that could, potentially, see more private involvement in the NHS without Wales’ permission; she wasn’t convinced the Welsh Government understands what it’s done.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales)
Against: There are checks and balances (itchy chin).

  • Plaid Cymru is “doing this issue to death”; the agreement needed compromise on both sides.
  • The UK Government has only been given temporary power over a small number of policy areas to develop UK-wide frameworks.(Hmm, itchy chin.)
  • The UK Government will need to seek agreement from the devolved legislatures every time they propose to retain a power; they can do with without permission too but an explanation has to be given to the UK Parliament.
  • The five-year sunset clause period can be shortened. (Chinny rec-kon.)

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales)
For: The Welsh Government has gambled with the future of rural Wales.

  • Less than 24 hours after telling a Committee there was no agreement, an agreement was reached.
  • The Welsh Government have said that there was an opportunity to change agricultural policy to suit our own needs but because of this agreement, that’s now more uncertain.
  • Farmers have already raised concerns about how the UK Government proposed funding cycle (3 years instead of 7) will impact their ability to plan long-term.
  • When UKIP and the Conservatives are queuing up to congratulate Labour, it’s a sign they’ve been conned or made a big mistake.

David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon)
Mixed-views

  • The UK Government have moved away from the “ridiculous” initial position to come up with a workable solution.
  • Are the changes positive enough for AMs to approve the Brexit Bill?
  • The UK Government will now need to go to both Houses of Parliament before extending the sunset clause (they could retain powers indefinitely in the Bill as originally drafted) – is this any better? Five years is too long.
  • He was disappointed there was no requirement for the Welsh Government to publish new regulations as soon as they get them from the UK Government.

Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
For: What’s coming down the line?

  • What’s going to be given up by the UK Government to secure trade deals after Brexit?
  • It was “reckless” to surrender state aid and procurement powers; the Welsh Government should’ve grabbed the chance of freer state aid rules with both hands – remember state aid during the steel crisis.

Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd)
Against: It restricts the UK Government too (itchy beard.)

  • The simplest solution would’ve been the removal of offending clauses in their entirety, but a compromise was inevitable.
  • While there are restrictions on Welsh powers there are restrictions on the UK Government too.
  • Plaid Cymru should put the interests of Wales first, not Scotland, in “pursuing a narrow separatist ideology”.

Welsh Government Response

First Minister, Carwyn Jones (Lab, Bridgend)

  • There’s still some disagreement over the nature of state aid after Brexit; he would prefer it devolved.
    Originally, the UK Government didn’t want to concede anything and wanted an indefinite sunset clause on retained EU powers; that’s no longer the case.
  • The agreement is consistent with the new reserved powers model and doesn’t restrict devolved competence – the Bill and agreement don’t give anything away.
  • He admitted the UK Government and Parliament can ignore consent because of parliamentary sovereignty, but the views of the devolved nations must be considered. (Tutankhamun)
  • There are incentives for the sunset clause period to be shortened to enable the UK Government to develop English-only policy. (Chinny beard.)

Vote

Jimmy Hill.


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