The UK Government’s Welsh Secretary has said that he makes no apology for “standing up to the Welsh Government” which he accused of not being accountable.
But Labour’s Shadow Welsh Secretary accused the Prime Minister of “degrading” the links which hold the United Kingdom together and “irretrievably” damaging public trust.
The comments came during a day-long debate in the House of Commons focussed on the role of Wales within the union of the United Kingdom.
It’s a session of the Welsh Grand Committee, a long-standing gathering of MPs from Wales which is rarely held. It last met in 2018.
The Welsh Secretary, Simon Hart, listed a series of what he said were benefits to Wales from being part of the UK such as the furlough scheme and an expansion of the army in Wales.
And, in a nod to the current controversies over Downing Street parties, he said that
“In a week when apologies are on everybody's lips, I will be making no apologies for this being the most active, I would argue, and engaged UK Government in Wales for the last 20 years, no apologies for standing up when necessary, and when forced, to Welsh Government, which seems from time to time to enjoy all of the responsibility but little of the accountability when it comes to matters of Welsh importance, no apologies for taking a proactive approach.”
Simon Hart reiterated his pledge that a free port would be established in Wales, despite the opposition of the Welsh Government.
Free ports are a form of focussing tax-breaks and other assistance on key ports across the UK. The Welsh Government says that the UK Government is offering less money for one to be established in Wales.
The Welsh Secretary told MPs that “I always said it was when not if the first free port in Wales [would be established and ] we edge ever closer to that particular moment.”
However his Labour shadow, Jo Stevens, accused the Conservative party of undermining efforts to keep the nations of the UK together through “shameful” actions and attempts to distract from allegations of parties in Downing Street which broke covid regulations.
“How shameful Is it for the union to have a Conservative Prime Minister mired in law breaking deception and incompetence, leading a government whose ministers at best attempt to deflect from the Prime Minister's inherent personal failings and at worst, publicly and repeatedly endorsed both them and him.
“And the union far from being strengthened by the Prime Minister and the government has been degraded and weakened because for all his flag waving, and his plastic patriotism, no Prime Minister has ever done more to undermine the union than this one.
“He has irretrievably damaged public trust and confidence in the UK Government and in UK politics.”
Plaid Cymru MP Ben Lake used the debate to highlight what it said were inequalities created by Wales being part of the United Kingdom.
“The Union also does not provide security from two pressing challenges: a cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis.“11 per cent of households live in fuel poverty, a figure which no doubt will worsen. Being part of the Union has not insulated us from this crisis.“But this isn’t momentary. At the Budget, the Chancellor glossed over that for all the government’s levelling up rhetoric, real disposable household incomes across the UK are only expected to grow by 0.8 per cent per year over the next five years."