The clock is ticking in the race to stop Westminster taking back our powers

Steffan Lewis AM. Picture by National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Steffan Lewis, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales East

Tomorrow, I will move a Members’ Legislative Proposal in the National Assembly that calls for a Continuity Bill to defend Welsh democracy from a Tory power-grab.

The UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill, ostensibly an exercise in administrative tidying up to prepare for Brexit, is being used to smuggle in a roll-back of Welsh devolved powers. Our national parliament must resist.

During the 2016 European referendum, no-one promised that a vote to leave the EU would result in the full or partial reversal of two referenda in favour of devolution.

In fact, the opposite was regularly repeated by those in favour of separation from the EU.

Depending on the final relationship, what should happen post-separation is that the EU ceiling currently in place on the powers of the National Assembly would simply be lifted; but the powers themselves remain where they have been for almost twenty years. Here in Wales.

The Westminster Withdrawal Bill introduces an abrupt interruption to that process: it places jurisdiction over devolved matters in the hands of ministers who – up till now – have only been responsible for English policy areas.

They will have unprecedented powers for an indefinite period of time.

Plaid Cymru has always argued that our new relationship with the EU would result in the need for new arrangements between the governments and parliaments of these islands – but such arrangements can only be implemented on the basis of agreement.

Indeed it is my deeply held view that Article Fifty should never have been triggered without at least an outline agreement between the nations of these islands on what our future relationship should look like.

From the moment the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ White Paper was published, Plaid Cymru warned that it represented a direct threat to Welsh democracy.

When the renamed EU Withdrawal Bill was introduced, our worst fears were realised.

Clause 11 of the Bill puts new constraints on the Assembly’s ability to legislate. English Ministers alone will have the power to amend EU regulations that fall within the Assembly’s competence, without any oversight from AMs.

Both the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government have described this as a completely unacceptable re-centralization of powers.

They jointly tabled amendments to the Withdrawal Bill that were then blocked by the UK Government in the House of Commons.

We are speeding headfirst into a constitutional crisis.

I have long advocated a Continuity Bill as a means of pre-empting and mitigating a potential power-grab. This was never the preferred option, but I believe it essential.

Whether you are ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ is irrelevant in terms of the Continuity Bill.

It comes down to one simple principle. Was the referendum in 2016 a mandate to take powers away from Wales?

Damaging

I’m pleased that after consistent moves by Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Government has confirmed that a Continuity Bill has been drafted and is ready to be tabled.

They have thus far been reluctant to progress it, probably hoping that the Westminster Bill can be salvaged.

But time is running out. Once the Wales Act 2017 comes into force at the beginning of April, the Assembly’s competence will be curtailed. A Continuity Bill may no longer be possible.

The fastest a piece of legislation has ever been passed by the Assembly is roughly one month. We have until the very beginning of March to introduce the Bill.

We won’t know whether amendments to Clause 11 of the Withdrawal Bill have been tabled for debate in the House of Lords until the very end of February. By waiting, the Welsh Government are taking an unwise gamble with Wales’ constitutional future.

The Welsh Assembly has voted in favour of developing a Continuity Bill before, when a Plaid Cymru amendment passed in April last year.

The stakes are higher now, the Tories have been unwilling to compromise so far and the clock is ticking.

This is the National Assembly’s opportunity to defend the Welsh constitution from attempts to undermine our competency without any democratic legitimacy.

We cannot allow Brexit to be used as an excuse to roll back the hard-won powers of our national parliament, as voted for by the Welsh public in two referenda.

If we fail, the consequences of the current Tory cabinet having powers over devolved matters may prove irreversible and almost certainly damaging.


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Philip Gibbons
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Philip Gibbons

This will be no more than an altruistic gesture. Westminster make the rules and the Tories are determined to curb Welsh powers because they see no prospect of ever having a majority here – pure partisanship. And they wish to extend their traditional methods of exploitation – as in the case of the Swansea barrage where they can do much better for themselves by continuing to take vast bungs from the French and the Chinese.

JE Lloyd
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JE Lloyd

Shameful that it required Steffan to take a stand to defend our National Assembly when he should be focused on conquering his tumour. Hero. Let’s hope the FM will respond positively to Steffan’s efforts, and is up to the job of defending our National Assembly.

W. Habib Steele
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W. Habib Steele

Whatever the Welsh Assembly decides, your future is entirely in the hand of the English MPs. Wakes has 40 MPs, while England has 533. The 3 conquered nations in the UK, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland have a total of 120 MPs. So it’s the 533 who rule and who will decide, according to their belief in a absolute supremacy of the UK parliament, what will happen to the Welsh Assembly. If they decide to disband it, then, according to law, they may do so.

Ian Fidler
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Ian Fidler

Are powers given to wales under the st David’s day agreement and the subsequent Wales Bill included in the probable claw back attempt? E.g. Energy inc.fracking.

W. Habib Steele
Guest
W. Habib Steele

Excuse me! Typo & careless proof-reading Not Wakes, but Wales! I’m embarrassed.

dan rees
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dan rees

Scotland was not conquered, it joined a union of its own volition in 1707, I believe.

JE Lloyd
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JE Lloyd

The Scottish warriors at Culluden would doubtless take a different view.

dan rees
Guest
dan rees

Facts: The Scots were never conquered, 1745 was a rebellion. The first King of the Scots was Kenneth MacAlpin in 843. A successor, Robert the Bruce defeated the English at Bannockburn in 1314. Another successor, James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603. In 1707, the Scottish Parliament voted 105 to 69 for the Union. Upon union, Queen Anne, until then Queen of Scotland and Queen of England became Queen of Great Britain. In 1745, the French (who else!) backed Charles landed in the Outer Hebrides and gained the support in particular of Highland Catholics. The rebellion… Read more »

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

Although the Assembly is pretty toothless and in many respects has done less than it could have done to advance Wales’s sense of nationhood, the issue raised by Steffan Lewis needs to be taken seriously, and MUST be tackled by a united front on the part of the Assembly. I now see sinister implications, and not merely a national insult, in the appointment of a second Yorkshire MP as a Minister in the Welsh Office; it ties in nicely with the forthcoming claw-back of devolved powers. For all its weaknesses and complicity, the Senedd is currently all we’ve got; it… Read more »

JE Lloyd
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JE Lloyd

Westminster is playing shameful tricks to stop this. Basically, a vague promise of unspecified additional powers for our Senedd, coupled with an implied threat to stop the devolution process if the Welsh Government doesn’t knuckle under.

But we have been here before. We were promised a “powerhouse parliament” by David Cameron. What we got was power over taxi licensing and speed limits — totally ignoring the recommendations of the Silk Commission.

Lesson: you can’t trust the duplicitous politicians at Westminster. Enact the Continuity Bill now!

Cynog Dafis
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Cynog Dafis

Llongyfarchiadau ar hyn Steffan. Byddai pasio Deddf Parhau yn y Cynulliad yn weithred symbolaidd bwysig ac yn tynnu sylw eang. Falch i weld bod Pwyllgor Cyfansoddiad Ty’r Arglwyddi yn cynnwys y mater yma yn dri rheswm pam mae Bil Ymadael San Steffan yn ahnfodol ddiffygiol.
Congrats on this Steffan. Passing a Continuity Bill in the National Assembly would be symbolically significant and would draw wide attention. I was glad to see that the House of Lords Constitution Committee list this issue among three that render the Withdrawal Bill essentially flawed.