Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says 'now is not the time' for more devolution to Wales
The Prime Minister has told ITV Wales that transferring further powers to the Welsh Government should not be a priority for the UK Government.
Rishi Sunak said that “what people want is a government delivering on the priorities that matter to them.”
He made his comments in an interview to coincide with the Welsh Conservative conference in Newport where the party’s leader in the Senedd urged the Prime Minister to “push back” against any calls for devolution.
The UK has seen decision-making shared since 1999 when Tony Blair’s Labour government devolved power to Assemblies and Parliaments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Since then Welsh devolution has increased with the National Assembly taking on law-making powers and renaming itself Senedd Cymru or Welsh Parliament while the Welsh Government also gained tax-raising powers.
There are many calls for further devolution. Mark Drakeford has said that he will seek powers over Gender Recognition and Welsh Labour has pledged to pursue the transfer of the entire criminal justice system, replacing the current England and Wales system.
A report led by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has recommended that a future Labour government should ensure that Wales is given new powers over youth justice and probation.
Plaid Cymru has called for control of water, broadcasting, welfare and the Crown Estates to pass to Wales.
An Independent Commission chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams is due to publish a final report this year but in an interim report has already states that the status quo is not a “viable option” for Wales and that radical change is needed.
That’s not the view of the Prime Minister however. When I asked him if he was in favour of transferring any new powers to the Senedd and Welsh Government he said that “I think what people want is a government delivering on the priorities that matter to them and that's about easing things n the cost of living.
“It's about growing the economy and creating jobs, reducing debt. It's about tackling the challenges that we face in the NHS in every part of the UK and it's about stopping the boats. Those are my priorities. That's what I'm focused on.”
When I double-checked if that meant no further devolution, Rishi Sunak said, “I just don’t think more constitutional reform is what anyone thinks should be the government's priority at the moment.
“They think it should be about halving inflation, about creating jobs, about reducing debt about cutting waiting lists and stopping the boats. Those are my priorities and those are the people's priorities.”
In his conference speech, the Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies backed the Prime Minister’s stance when he urged colleagues at Westminster to “push back” against any requests for further devolution.
He told members that “requests for powers over policing, criminal justice or gender self ID - must be refused.
“And if Labour in the Senedd try to push the boundaries, if they try to veer into areas that are notdevolved, just like Nicola Sturgeon did in Scotland - then Prime Minister - you must push back.
“Your decision to veto Sturgeon’s Gender Recognition Bill was bold. It was brave - and it was absolutely the right thing to do.”
Despite this party stance against further devolution, the Prime Minister insisted that he has a good working relationship with the First Minister.
Famously his predecessor Liz Truss failed to speak to Mark Drakeford during her short time in Number 10 so I asked Rishi Sunak how often he speaks to Mark Drakeford.
In his interview with me, he said, “Well, of course, I've spoken to Mark Drakeford and I met him on my last visit to Wales and actually that was a good example of co-operative working between the UK Government and Welsh government.
“Of course it's important to me because I'm Prime Minister for the United Kingdom and where we can find ways to work together, I will look to do that and the creation of those two Freeports is a great example of that.
“You know that that's the Welsh and UK government working together. This was an idea that the UK government came up with.
“It's a Brexit opportunity we've set up too in Wales and also funded them with over £50 million of funding. That's going to create jobs for people in Wales, particularly young people in growth industries and it's going to attract an enormous amount of investment and that is a really positive thing and people can see that that is the UK Government delivering for Wales.”
Here at the conference in Newport it’s clear to me that the Welsh Conservatives have come together when it comes to questions of devolution in a way that they haven’t done so before.
After two long stints in charge, the Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies has found his political mojo, within his party at least, with a mixture of robust attacks on Welsh Labour, anti “woke” provocation and strong devo-scepticism while gone are the calls from previous leaders, including himself, for devolution to be strengthened.
The trouble is that also gone are any attempts to build links with other parties which could pave the way for Conservatives to take part in a future coalition government in Cardiff Bay.
The Welsh Conservatives seem to me to be at ease with other for the first time in a long time.
Unity of purpose goes a long way in politics but parties also have to reach out beyond their base or risk turning a highway into a cul-de-sac.