'Unhelpful' Brexit deal speculation criticised

UK, Welsh and Scottish ministers at a Brexit meeting in October 2017 Credit: PA, Steffan Rousseau

The Welsh Government has criticised as 'unhelpful' reports that a Downing Street bid to end a Brexit stalemate with Wales and Scotland is set to be rejected by Scottish ministers.

It's claimed that the UK Government has offered a concession to try to ease concerns about the impact on devolution of its EU Withdrawal Bill.

The Bill has been described by the Welsh and Scottish First Ministers as a 'power grab' because it includes plans to retain at a UK-level powers currently held by Brussels in devolved areas such as farming and fishing.

According to a report in the Times newspaper, more than a hundred such returning powers would be passed on directly to the Scottish Government although ministers in London would retain a veto over their use.

It's not clear if a similar offer will be made to Wales. A spokesperson for the Welsh Government would only say that 'discussions are ongoing.'

Nevertheless Plaid Cymru has accused Labour ministers of being 'complicit' in Westminster's 'power grab' by 'staying silent' and missing out on a concession won by Scotland.

Here's the full Welsh Government statement.

We have fundamental objections to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which - as currently drafted - does not respect the devolution settlement and allows the UK Government to take control of devolved policy areas.

Discussions are ongoing and we are continuing to exert pressure on the UK Government to amend the Bill, so it is unhelpful to speculate at this stage on the prospects of an agreement. While we are hopeful an agreement can be reached, we continue to prepare for the introduction of our own legislation as a fail-safe to provide certainty and protect devolution.

– Welsh Government spokesperson

The UK Government is also staying tight-lipped. A spokesperson said:

We are not going to comment on speculation or rumour. Our full focus is on improving Clause 11 of the Withdrawal Bill by continuing the extensive and constructive talks with the devolved administrations and bringing forward changes that can command support on all sides.

– UK Government spokesperson

If an offer is to be made it'll be discussed at a meeting of ministers from the UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments in London on Thursday. Wales will be represented by Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford.

A series of similar meetings, including one between the Prime Minister and First Minister has failed to reach an agreement.

Carwyn Jones has been working closely with his Scottish counterpart Nicola Sturgeon in opposing the Withdrawal Bill. This is the first time that the two governments have struck such different tones which could suggest that they're inching towards reaching separate deals.

Officially the Welsh Government says that it can't recommend that AMs agree to it as it stands when they come to vote on giving consent to the aspects of it which affect Wales.

The clock is ticking because the Bill comes to the end of its parliamentary journey next month. There's no legal obligation on the UK Government to recognise any refusal from Cardiff Bay or Holyrood but it could cause a constitutional crisis if the bill becomes law without those votes of consent.

Plaid Cymru has accused the Welsh Government of 'sleeping on the job and allowing Westminster to get away with its power-grab, while the Scottish Government has been fighting for its citizens.'

The party's Brexit spokesperson, Hywel Williams said:

While the Scottish Government is demanding concessions, refusing to back down and protecting the interests of its citizens, the Welsh Government is sitting silently, allowing Westminster to do as it pleases. The First Minister’s silence makes him complicit in Westminster’s power-grab.

We will be writing to both the First Minister and the Prime Minister in Westminster to make it absolutely clear that any attempt to water-down Welsh democracy and move responsibilities over domestic Welsh affairs to Westminster will not be accepted.

– Hywel Williams MP, Plaid Cymru