Standoff over Brexit powers continues but so do talks

Mark Drakeford speaking to reporters after the latest meeting Credit: Adrian Masters

Welsh, Scottish and UK Government ministers are pushing ahead with separate plans that will see a constitutional clash between the three governments despite holding another round of talks aimed at ending a row over how EU powers should be shared out after Brexit.

It now puts pressure on Carwyn Jones, Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May to reach agreement when they meet in Downing Street next week.

Welsh and Scottish ministers say they put forward practical solutions to the row over the Withdrawal Bill which the UK Government says it will consider.

But ministers in London will table an amendment to the Bill without agreement from the devolved administrations and in turn those administrations will speed through their own emergency legislation aimed at overturning the Westminster bill.

Today's session of the Joint Ministerial Committee had been hastily-arranged after Wales and Scotland rejected a UK Government compromise for not going far enough.

That compromise was described by the UK government as ‘a substantial offer’ which would see the disputed powers transferred to Cardiff and Edinburgh but with a veto for ministers in London in some cases.

They say the veto is crucial to ensure the smooth running of rules and regulations for trading between different parts of the UK.

Welsh and Scottish Governments say the offer doesn’t go far enough as it doesn’t recognise the principle of consent.

They say they understand that some rules and regulations currently run from Brussels will need to be operated on a UK-wise basis but they say such UK-wide systems which overlap devolved areas should be agreed by all administrations.

In return the UK Government says that amounts to giving Wales and Scotland a veto over those UK-wide rules and regulations.

Today's meeting ended without agreement but with a promise of attempts to reach agreement despite the steps being taken in the House of Lords, the National Assembly and the Scottish Parliament which will intensify the dispute.

Developments included:

  • The UK Government will table an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill based on the rejected offer, without agreement from Welsh and Scottish Governments
  • Talks between officials will continue and a meeting of First Ministers with the Prime Minister will take place next week
  • UK ministers leave open the prospect of tabling further amendments if agreement is reached
  • Welsh and Scottish Governments will push ahead with continuity bills to claim the disputed powers for themselves
  • A list of the disputed powers will be published by the UK Government 'in due course' but possibly today or tomorrow
  • Welsh and Scottish Governments will continue to recommend that AMs and MSPs refuse consent to the Withdrawal Bill as it affects Wales

Speaking after leaving the Cabinet Office, Finance Minister Mark Drakeford told me that the Welsh and Scottish Governments had responded to the compromise made by Cabinet Office minister David Lidington last month with a set of three proposals:

The UK Government has now agreed that a limited number of issues held centrally at Westminster. Our questions were how are those issues to be agreed and we need a solution to come to an agreement on them. How are they to be resolved in the sense that how will they be taken out of the freezer if they are to be held here and how long are they to be held here. So we put forward practical proposals on all three issues and it's right and proper to give the UK Government opportunity to reflect on those and come back to us on them.

– Mark Drakeford AM, Finance Minister

Plaid Cymru has criticised the news that the Withdrawal Bill amendment will go ahead without agreement from Welsh and Scottish Governments.

The party's Brexit spokesperson Steffan Lewis, who is credited by the Welsh Government with driving forward the idea of a continuity bill, says it 'wilfully ignores legitimate objections.'

The UK Government is taking a unilateral decision to wilfully ignore the legitimate objections of two of the UK's four countries.

Westminster has no right to tell Wales what powers will be handed to us - all these powers are Welsh powers and if the UK Government wants to reinstate Westminster-rule over our country, they'll have to do it through the courts.

The UK Government needs to remember that there are four countries in the UK, and in devolved domestic affairs, they are the government of England alone - an equal alongside the Welsh and Scottish Governments.

The Welsh Government needs to respond immediately and introduce the Continuity Bill so that our own national parliament in Cardiff can legislate to stop this power-grab.

– Steffan Lewis AM, Plaid Cymru