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  1. ITV Report

UK ministers trying to "strip back" devolution, Welsh Government tells Supreme Court Brexit hearing

The Supreme Court heard the Welsh Government's arguments for over an hour. Photo: Supreme Court

The top lawyer representing the Welsh Government, at the Supreme Court hearing on Brexit, has attacked the idea that the will of the people entitles the UK Government to rely on the Royal Prerogative to start the formal process of leaving the European Union.

But Richard Gordon QC acknowledged that Wales, as well the UK as whole, had voted to leave. He told the court that he was not there to try to delay the implementation of Article 50 of the European Treaty, giving notice of the UK's intention to leave the EU.

Wales is not here because it wants to stop or to stall Brexit, or the implementation of Brexit. It is here because the constitutional issues at stake go far beyond Brexit.

– Richard Gordon QC, Counsel for the Welsh Government
Richard Gordon QC addresses the Supreme Court. Sat next to him is the Counsel General for Wales, Mick Antoniw AM. Credit: Supreme Court

The main argument before the Supreme Court is whether the UK Government needs Parliament's approval to invoke Article 50 because it was Parliament that legislated to make the UK part of the EU in the first place. The Welsh Government argues that the Government of Wales Act created a similar requirement to seek the Assembly's approval. It was a point queried by one of the judges.

That's quite a bold submission isn't it? How can devolution legislation construe an act passed over 20 years before?

– Lord Mance, Justice of the Supreme Court

The Welsh Government's QC pointed to the references to EU law written into the Government of Wales Act and to the convention that Westminster seeks the Assembly's agreement before passing any law that affects devolved matters.

In essence, the [UK] Government's case, as it applies to Wales, is that the framework of devolution in Wales may by the prerogative be stripped back and radically altered without any statute at all, in disregard of processes designed to ensure the stability of devolution, simply in order to give effect to the popular will expressed in an advisory referendum.

– Richard Gordon QC, Counsel for the Welsh Government

In fact, Mr Gordon claimed, it was an attempt to turn the clock back to a time long before Wales had an Assembly or Britain was a member of the EU. He implied that UK ministers were trying to reclaim the powers enjoyed by King Charles I, until Parliament had him beheaded.

We say that is not the reflection of a modern constitution. It is a reversal to a wider exercise of prerogative power than has existed for several hundred years.

– Richard Gordon QC, Counsel for the Welsh Government

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