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Senedd rejects EU (Withdrawal) Bill

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Peter Gilbey

In a landmark debate and vote, the Senedd has rejected the Prime Minister’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill “in its current form”. What happens now?

Tuesday’s agenda for plenary in the Senedd had a late addition; a motion put forward jointly by the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru to debate and then vote on a response to last week’s publication of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill [previously: Repeal Bill [previously Great Repeal Bill]]. It said:

  1. Notes the UK Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.
  2. Believes:

a) it is wholly unacceptable in its current form; and

b) all necessary steps must be taken to protect the interests of Wales and the constitutional position and powers of the National Assembly, including the publication of a continuity bill.

Record of proceedings

But what does this mean?

Professors Alan Page and Richard Wyn Jones posed the question: “Can Scotland and Wales block the Brexit repeal bill?” and gave an excellent attempt to answer it. You can read it here.

The constitution of the UK is such that the devolved parliaments do not technically have any right of say in massive constitutional processes like this, but politically, it is a whole different story. Not least because the nearly 20-year old Sewel Convention obliges the UK Government to not legislate on matters which are devolved unless they are given permission (through a Legislative Consent Motion). It was even given statutory status in Scotland and Wales a few years ago.

But, only this year, the UK Supreme Court ruled that putting it in statute changed nothing of the convention’s status, and remains a political process, not one for the courts to oversee.

So, as was pointed out during the debate on this motion by Plaid Cymru AM Steffan Lewis, it seems that one clause, in one bill, in Westminster, can overturn two Welsh referenda.

Criticism of the bill came from most of the Siambr. The First Minister was scathing of the degree (or lack of) that the Welsh Government and Senedd were consulted at “either a political or official level”.

The leader of Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood scoffed at the situation we find ourselves in, having to rely on our only defence of trusting “the good will of Whitehall”.

Welsh Labour backbencher Jeremy Miles AM drew attention to the reality that “we are still tied to a totally outmoded view of parliamentary supremacy”.

What is plain, is this is not the same old #EUref arguments and debates being had all over again; we’ve moved on to the unequal and imbalanced nature of the United Kingdom.

Wales, and the rest of the UK have a rare opportunity to effect positive and progressive change in the country. Prime Minister Theresa May not only didn’t gain a whopping majority she so arrogantly ordered on the 18 April 2017, she lost her it. As a result, the liberal wing of her party (yes, they do exist) and the House of Lords, who would have been obliged to fall in line had she won what she was after, are now emboldened to rebel, and stand up for the interests of not only Wales, but the whole of the UK. To press ahead with a hard Brexit that seriously undermines the Senedd, Holyrood and Stormont would further weaken the Prime Minister; it is a battle she doesn’t need to have.

Read more on what Clause 11 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill says, and why the Senedd is now opposed to it in this statement by the First Minister.

Peter Frederick Gilbey is a member of Wales For Europe’s Executive Committee