Welsh and UK Government tensions are simmering over coronavirus decisions

Tensions between Welsh and UK Governments over some of the big decisions made in tackling coronavirus have led to the First Minister calling for more meetings with UK ministers and the Welsh Secretary asking for a representative to join Welsh Government strategy groups.

Both governments say they want a 'four-nation approach' to this crisis to continue and officials are reportedly in constant contact.

But Mark Drakeford has frequently spoken about his increasing frustration at the way joint working happens in 'fits and starts.'

That frustration dates back at least to mid-April when the Chief Medical Officer told MPs that the launch of the UK Government's key workers testing portal wasn't discussed in detail with devolved governments.

It was exacerbated in the run-up to the review of lockdown restrictions at the start of this month when differences emerged that many on both sides think could have been avoided if there'd been more ministerial communication.

However the UK Government says it has been communicating and there was frustration on its side when, as I reported at the weekend, the First Minister gave them just an hour's notice of his 'traffic light' plan out of lockdown.

At his press briefing today the First Minister said that was effectively the fault of the UK Government when he told me that it was 'a very good illustration' of why there should be more frequent meetings.

'Had we had a system of regular and reliable engagement with the UK government over last week,' he told me. 'I would have had opportunities, before the document was published, to have explained what we were doing.;

He went on to say that he and the first ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland met Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove yesterday and that he hoped that would lead to more and regular meetings.

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart arriving at the Cabinet Office. Credit: PA

The picture of communication breakdown is rejected by the Welsh Secretary.

Simon Hart said in a written answer to a question from one of his predecessors, David Jones, that there was an 'unprecedented' amount of working together between the governments.

Simon Hart has also written to the First Minister, both to underline again what he says are 'unprecedented levels of engagement' between the two governments but also to ask for a reciprocal arrangement.

The Welsh Secretary writes that, in the same way that Mark Drakeford and other ministers join meetings of Cobra and the Ministerial Implementation Groups 'it would be valuable if a representative from my office could attend the equivalent structures you have put in place in the Welsh Government.'

'This could also include meetings of the Counsel General's external advisory group of Wales' recovery from the pandemic.'

Credit: PA

A report in yesterday's Sunday Times suggests the problem could be wider than any tensions with Wales. It quotes several UK Government sources critical of over-centralised decision-making, adding that exclusions extend to the devolved governments.

According to the Times, 'Committees on which politicians from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sit - such as the Covid health committee - are meeting less often so that “franker” conversations can be had out of earshot of Edinburgh.'

In response to claims of tension, a UK Government spokesperson said: