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Analysis

Cardiff relying on Lords to halt Brexit power grab

by John Osmond | 19.02.2018

The Welsh Government is relying on the House of Lords to thwart the UK Government’s attempt to seize powers that should be devolved to Wales and Scotland after Brexit. It believes an alliance of Labour, Liberal, Plaid Cymru and cross-bench peers will be sufficient to vote through an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill and defeat the Westminster government’s power grab.

Welsh finance minister Mark Drakeford told a Cardiff conference on Brexit at the weekend he was sure that they would be able to defeat “this rotten government” on the issue.

His wording is a stark reflection of how far trust has broken down between the governments at either end of the M4.

At present the Withdrawal Bill requires all devolved powers currently exercised at EU level to be transferred to the Westminster Parliament, in particular farming policy and a raft of environmental regulations.

“In the middle of the Bill is a direct assault on devolution as it was enacted in 1999,” said Drakeford, who is also the Welsh Minister responsible for Brexit policy. He said he had received all manner of assurances from UK ministers that this was not their intention and that they would bring forward their own amendment to guarantee devolved powers after Brexit, but nothing had materialised.

“The Conservative party in Westminster have never been reconciled to devolution,” he said ‘“Theirs is a grace and favour approach in which powers devolved can just as easily be taken away.”

He said the Welsh Government was ready to negotiate with the UK Government about agreements on the common application of regulations between the different nations of the UK, but said that any new system could not be imposed unilaterally. “This is simply not acceptable,” he said.

Starmer heckled

At the meeting, attended by around 500 mainly Remain supporters, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer was cat-called when he defended Labour’s refusal to commit to a new referendum on the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU.

Starmer was heckled when he told the audience, “I completely reject the argument that those who voted to Leave were misled and hence stupid and not like the rest of us who really understood because we’re cleverer.”

He said a referendum before the leave date of March 2019 would be impractical because it was unlikely that a final deal on Britain’s departure terms would have been arrived at by then. Instead, the deal would be negotiated in detail during the transition period that will start after Britain has left. At that stage, Starmer said, the debate would be about whether the UK could return to EU membership at a later date, without the rebate on budget contributions it currently enjoys, having to agree to join the euro, and being forced to join the borderless Schengen Area.

Starmer was responding to a question from Peter Price, a former pro-EU Conservative MEP who has now joined the Liberal Democrats. “Why does Labour contend that the British people took an irrevocable decision 20 months ago and argue only for reducing the amount of damage of Brexit? I make the point that, in law, if one party induces a contract by misleading the other party, that contract is voidable, and likewise when you are buying a house you are not committed until the surveyor has delivered his report. Why shouldn’t we the British people have similar rights?”

Earlier the conference heard from Katherine Bennett, senior vice-president of Airbus, which employs around 7,000 people at its plant at Broughton in north-east Wales. She said that at a meeting Airbus organised in Munich last year, UK Brexit secretary David Davis told her: “I’ll be honest with you Katherine, Brexit was not an economic decision.”

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “Cardiff relying on Lords to halt Brexit power grab”

  • Starmer said, the debate would be about “whether the UK could return to EU membership at a later date, without the rebate on budget contributions it currently enjoys, having to agree to join the euro, and being forced to join the borderless Schengen Area.” So that is the height of his ambition? My impression is that Starmer is a lot brighter and more ambitious than that..but he is hog-tied by a dogmatic leader. We don’t seem to be doing too well with our leaders lately.