AMs debate plans to by-pass 'power-grab' Brexit bill

A continuity bill will set the Assembly on course for a clash with Westminster Credit: PA, Tim Ireland

Assembly members will debate Welsh Government plans to by-pass the UK Government in the row over returning EU powers.

They'll discuss what's known as a continuity bill which ministers in Cardiff are rushing through the Assembly in the hope it will end the stalemate although it's also certain to set the two governments on course for a constitutional clash.

Today's debate comes the day before Carwyn Jones meets Theresa May who's described the bill as 'unnecessary.'

The Prime Minister will also hold one-to-one talks on Wednesday with the First Minister and his Scottish counterpart in Downing Street although I understand there's little prospect of agreement being reached.

There have been discussions between the governments at official level since last week's failed meeting of Brexit ministers. But I'm told there's been no new offer from the UK Government.

Despite the lack of agreement, the UK Government is pressing ahead with changes to its main Brexit law, the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is the source of the dispute.

UK ministers have put forward amendments to the bill which it says will mean that 'the vast majority' of powers being brought back from the European Union 'will now transfer directly' to the devolved administrations.

However tensions rose further last week when the UK Government listed the 24 responsibilities it says can't go straight to Cardiff Bay, nearly all of them affecting agriculture and the environment and which include the crucial issue of farm subsidies.

And a new area of disagreement emerged at the same time.

Alongside the list of 24 framework powers, a new list of 12 powers was published that the UK government doesn't think are devolved at all but which the devolved governments want included.

The publication of a leaked document explaining how those 12 were chosen has only added fuel to the fire and led to further claims that the UK Government doesn't respect the devolved administrations.

That charge is denied by the UK Government spokesperson:

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will provide consistency across the UK to ensure that all parts of the UK are ready for our departure from the EU. We are still hopeful that we can reach agreement with the devolved administrations on the Bill in the coming weeks.

The Bills put forward by the Scottish and Welsh Governments are unnecessary and it would be more helpful to concentrate on reaching an agreement on the Withdrawal Bill. The UK Government has put a considerable offer on the table and we would like the devolved administrations to engage constructively on this offer.

– UK Government spokesperson

Plaid Cymru will use the debate in the Assembly to urge the Welsh Government to stand firm. The party's leader Leanne Wood says Labour must 'do its job' and 'stand up for Wales.'

Plaid Cymru was the first party to propose this legislation because we could see the risks to democracy.

Now we want to see decisive action to ensure that any post-Brexit powers come to their rightful place in Wales, and are not held back by the Westminster government.

Powers over areas like farming and the environment are crucial and are already devolved. A majority of people want more powers and decisions about matters affecting Wales to be made in Wales. This means that no government from outside Wales can intervene in Welsh affairs without being resisted.

It is vital that the Labour Welsh Government does not back down. Plaid Cymru will do everything possible to ensure that they do not fail Wales.

The UK Government will try every trick in the book to centralise power at Westminster. They are laying amendments which will affect Wales & Scotland without the agreement of the Welsh and Scottish governments.

We urge the government in Cardiff to do its job: to stand up for Wales and not let the Tories turn back the clock on devolution.

– Leanne Wood AM, Plaid Cymru leader