Leanne Wood's speech from the Welsh Assembly ahead of a vote on whether to accept the Labour Welsh Government's deal with the Westminster Tory government which will see them take control over 26 fields of devolved policy areas
We have heard the Orwellian doublespeak used by this Government to justify its capitulation.
The accusation you have levelled against us was one of flag waving nationalists. At least ours is not the white flag of surrender.
So today, I am going to deconstruct that – forensically taking apart, piece by piece, the damaging deal and the illogical justification given for signing up to it.
For the benefit of the Government benches, I will break my speech down into three clear parts.
Firstly, I will outline the scale of their retreat and breadth of their hypocrisy by highlighting statements made prior to the agreement and how they match up with the deal itself.
I will then move on to the substance of the agreement and amendments, outlining how their deal with the Tories fundamentally puts the principle of devolution in danger.
Finally, I will outline what this deal means for the future of devolution and fundamentally how it affects the people of Wales.
I am genuinely sorry to say that there is only one word that can describe this government’s approach. Hypocrisy.
Yesterday, in FMQs, I read out a quote from the First Minister regarding his then opposition to the Withdrawal Bill. As he was not there at the time, I will remind him of what he said on 27 November 2017 – “we wouldn't accept a sunset clause. Who is to say that it wouldn't be extended ad infinitum in the future? It's a matter of principle”.
A five-year sunset clause now forms part of the legislation your government has signed up to.
In January of the same year, the now Counsel General said “I don’t think for a second that the instinct of the Westminster Government or this Prime Minister is in favour of any process that would easily allow Wales to receive the powers from Brussels that we deserve and that are our right.”
The legislation you have now committed to support sees at least 24 devolved policy areas move under Westminster’s control.
Let me take the Cabinet Secretary back to a happier time. When we co-authored Securing Wales’ Future, the Welsh Government had a radically different position.
I’m going to quote from page 28 of that white paper which says “our core standing policy is that the UK exit from the EU must not result in devolved powers being clawed back to the UK Government. Any attempt to do so will be firmly resisted by us.”
Resistance seems to be a synonym for capitulation in the Cabinet Secretary’s thesaurus. So, let me explain to him very clearly, ceding a single power is weak, ceding 24 whole policy areas is pathetic.
There are, to quote the First Minister, an almost “ad infinitum” number of examples which highlight Labour’s hypocrisy, but I will just highlight one more.
Last week, in his statement to the Assembly, the Cabinet Secretary said “I would prefer it if Clause 11 was not included in this Bill”. By agreeing to a deal with the Tories in Westminster, throwing away the Continuity Bill and fundamentally conceding all of our leverage, he has guaranteed that his preferred position is now lost.
The Scottish Labour party says that this Bill is deficient. He himself thought it was deficient. His own backbenchers think it is deficient. Yet, this Government has sold us down the river.
It is deeply embarrassing that this Government has said the things it has, and now tries to tell the people of Wales it has secured a good deal.
You had a Michelin Star meal and made it into a dog’s dinner. We will not forget and neither will the people of Wales.
Let me turn to the second point of my speech, the substance of this dodgy deal.
I am not convinced the Government understands the deal it has signed up to. So, let me break it down for them.
It has two parts – a set of amendments to legislation and a political agreement that has no legal weight.
Shall we talk about the amendments first?
Consent. Agreement. The affirmative. It is not a difficult concept – ‘yes means yes’, no means no.
However, in the upside down world of the Welsh Government, yes means yes and no now also means yes.
So that we are clear, let me read, word for word, the exact phrasing of the amendment this Government is recommending we concede to:
Amendment 86DA, tabled in the name of Lord Callanan. Section 2, subsection 4 in reference to subsection 3, a consent motion is –
A – a decision to agree a motion consenting to the laying of the draft
B – a decision not to agree a motion consenting to the laying of the draft
C – a decision to agree a motion refusing to consent to the laying of the draft
Let me clarify this for the First Minister and other Members of his cabinet who do not fully seem to comprehend this amendment.
Westminster can now interpret consent as:
A – consent
B – non-consent
C – Anything else
The only parallel the legal experts in this Assembly can find is in local government planning legislation. And even that is stronger than what you have accepted. Westminster is treating this Assembly like a local council, and your Government is happy with that.
Yesterday the Cabinet Secretary attempted to argue the semantics of a consent decision vs consent. Again, just so the First Minister understands, there is no difference.
What you have conceded to is Westminster can interpret no as yes. It is a situation of heads we lose, tails they win.
Let’s turn to the so-called agreement.
Trust, not law, is what underpins this agreement. I don’t trust the Tories in Westminster to act in the Welsh National Interest. But it seems like his government does.
And it is this concept of trust that lies at the heart of the issue of this deal with the Tories.
As part of the deal, Labour trusts that the 24 policy areas outlined in the agreement will be all that Westminster wants to take back control of.
Nowhere in legislation is this codified and this could rise to any number they see fit.
And that, shockingly, is not the worst of it. The short document outlining the agreement packs an impressive number of concessions.
My colleagues will highlight many more, but one of the most jarring is the different treatment of Wales to England.
Now, this is complicated, so I’ll go through it simply and slowly for the sake of the Government benches.
In the non-binding agreement, there is a vague commitment not to legislate on England-only matters.
Whereas, in the legally binding amendments, Wales is explicitly precluded from legislating on Welsh-only matters.
So, let me give you an example, Westminster can legislate on farming – a devolved policy area – to whatever extent it likes. And, for that matter, they can legislate to change the rules for Welsh farmers without the Assembly’s consent.
Yet, in this devolved policy area, Wales will not be able to legislate. A more obvious power grab you will not find.
Fundamentally, Parliament’s supremacy over us, and England’s special treatment, shows the level of disdain, distrust and disinterest with which Westminster treats Wales. Our hands are tied by the law, where England will be able to do what it likes.
I now want to move on to the third and final part of my speech. What does this Labour-Tory deal mean for people’s lives?
The complex constitutional questions are often abstract. But this cave-in has many clear and simple consequences.
Let’s start with the 24 policy areas where Westminster will now hold all the cards.
The Tories in Westminster will, thanks to Labour, be able to decide the framework of farm payments, support and all manner of other agricultural regulations without any substantial consideration of what Wales wants.
My colleague Llyr Gruffydd will outline the implications of this deal for farms in more detail. But, let me ask the First Minister a question – does he believe it is the barley barons of England or the hill farmers of Wales which Westminster will support? When trade deals require our food market to be prised open, what does he propose we do, now that we have lost all powers to stop it happening?
Let’s look at another Labour giveaway in this deal – public procurement.
Whether it is steel, state aid or our NHS, public procurement is critical to the Welsh economy and our community institutions.
Now powers over public procurement will sit in Westminster, does he trust the Tories not to open up our NHS to private companies?
Of course, the Welsh Government is doing this already in Wrexham. But, now you have emboldened Westminster with powers you could have had, what hope do we have of stopping them prising open our NHS to more private companies?
Whether it is a TTIP-style agreement or some other trade deal, the Tories’ eagerness to justify Brexit with new international agreements puts our NHS at risk. And your government has now given them the powers to wreck our health service in this futile pursuit.
Devolution offered us a better way, a different way. You have chosen to give that away.
Over the last few days my Party has spoken to constitutional experts, legislators and lawyers. They all decry this dodgy deal.
Our Leadership is gone, our leverage lost and Assembly weakened. And I am not convinced that this Government even understands what it has done.
Now, no means yes. Two devolution referendums mean nothing. And Westminster regains its dominance over Wales. We are truly through the looking glass.
We have always accepted that frameworks and mechanisms will be needed to ensure a functioning statue book. But not like this.
Tonight, we will vote on this dodgy deal. And, to conclude, I want to make a plea.
If you believe in devolution. If you believe in a better Wales. If you believe decisions about Wales should be made in Wales. Join with us.
The law is on our side and history will be too.
Assembly Members, your choice tonight is simple – join with the Brexit believers and vote through this dodgy deal, or stand up for Wales and vote against this stitch-up.
The vote was lost as Labour teamed up with UKIP and the Tories
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