(Title Image: Cardiff University)
When the UK Government & Parliament wishes to make a law in a policy area that’s devolved, they need to ask the Senedd’s permission through the use of a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM). In practice, the UK Government can ignore them, though they wouldn’t normally do so at the risk of appearing to interfere in devolved affairs.
Until very recently, the Welsh Government have recommended that AMs deny permission to the UK Government to pass a law enabling Brexit to happen (“Brexit Bill”). Following the recent deal over devolved powers, the Welsh Government have changed their mind.
This afternoon, AMs got a chance to vote on the Brexit Bill LCM and decide whether to approve or reject it.
The Senedd’s External Affairs Committee published its final report on the LCM today too (pdf). In summary, their findings were that:
- The UK Government can still impose restrictions on devolved powers/retained EU law after Brexit without the Senedd’s consent, but this is now time-limited even though it could be extended by UK law in the future. It’s “hoped” the UK Government will respect the Senedd’s wishes if they chose to do so.
- There need to be stronger procedures in place so that proposed regulations in retained EU law are tabled at the Senedd as soon as they are published, as well as on the sharing of information between parliaments.
- UK Government will still be able to amend aspects of EU law retained after Brexit that only affect Wales; there’s a loose promise that the UK Government “will not normally” do this and this didn’t satisfy the Committee.
- They offered no recommendation on whether to approve the LCM or not.
The arguments on both sides are well-rehearsed and, to be honest, a bit boring now with exaggeration by everyone involved. I’ve covered the gist of it in previous posts like this one, this one and this one.
Firstly, here’s a broad picture of what was said in favour of the LCM.
Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West) – who negotiated the deal – said many of the objectional elements of the Brexit Bill had now been modified and the Senedd will have to give its consent any time the UK Government wished to extend the temporary arrangement by which London retains powers. “We have provided for the successful operation of the United Kingdom after Brexit. We have delivered a good deal for the Assembly and a good deal for Wales.”
David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) said that Wales had secured “concessions” from the UK Government and accused Welsh and Scottish nationalists of demanding a “veto” – saying there needed to be post-Brexit UK-wide frameworks to replace EU law but refusing to support mechanisms to develop them. Mark Reckless AM (Con, South Wales East) also played the “nationalist” card by saying opposition to the LCM was motivated by wanting to break up the UK.
Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales) said that while Theresa May was incompetent and untrustworthy, the deal was necessary as no one part of the UK should be allowed to derail Brexit. He didn’t believe the UK Government even wants the powers that would be temporarily held there.
Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) – often one of the most vehemently anti-Tory AMs in the chamber – hailed the deal as a victory for Labour “standing up for Wales”; opponents calling supporters of the LCM and deal “unionists”….”wasn’t an insult on these benches”.
Almost all of the opposition to the LCM came from Plaid Cymru.
Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) highlighted that both Chairs of the committees tasked with looking at the LCM have said none of their objectives had been met in full, with Jeremy Corbyn has explicitly called it a “power grab”.
Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) argued Wales would effectively be voting to cede its own authority if the LCM were approved. It could be said that the same thing happened when the UK joined the EU, but the EU is a community of equals, not a unitary state where one nation dominates the others. There are historic examples – the Irish Parliament being one – where similar powers ebbed were gradually taken away; “British rule, while it was often unfair, was almost always polite”.
Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) gave a practical example of the UK Government potentially using retained EU powers over public procurement to force the opening up of the Welsh NHS to private companies.
Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) argued that parliamentary sovereignty – the constitutional power the UK Parliament has to do whatever it pleases – hasn’t protected Wales in the slightest: the erosion of trade union rights, the poll tax, austerity. Inter-governmental agreements are political agreements that can be easily broken or changed, not solid constitutional agreements.
By contrast, the Scottish Parliament voted against it by 90 votes to 30 – with Labour, Lib Dems and Greens voting “No” alongside the SNP.