Mark Drakeford has said that the internal markets bill represents a “smash and grab” on the devolution settlement and takes back powers that have been devolved to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland for 20 years.
In a Times Radio interview this morning, the Labour Welsh First Minister discussed the legislation published today, which would grant British ministers with unilateral powers after the UK leaves the EU.
The Welsh Labour leader described the bill put forward by the UK government as an “enormous power grab” and has warned that the measures included will “put enormous strains into the union that is the UK”.
Commenting on the plans for the internal market post-Brexit, Drakeford said: “Now the UK government instead of relying, as we wish, on agreement on discussion on finding common ways to address common problems, their answer is to smash and grab the devolution settlement.
“It is a very bad day for the union because this will put enormous strains into the union that is the United Kingdom. Those of us who believe in the United Kingdom and want it to succeed think that this is a very bad day indeed.”
The internal market bill sets out trading arrangements across the UK after the transition period. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said on Tuesday it would break international law in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol.
Ministers are promoting the bill as giving the government powers to spend more in devolved areas, on things including infrastructure and culture, for the first time since devolution.
One official has reportedly said that the internal markets plan proposed by the government represents an end to the “devolve and forget approach of the Blair/Brown years” and that it will be “hard to argue against more money”.
But Welsh counsel general and minister for European transition Jeremy Miles said: “The UK government plans to sacrifice the future of the union by stealing powers from devolved administrations… This bill is an attack on democracy.”
Miles added that the Welsh administration will “do everything we can to challenge the power grab and the race to the bottom which this bill represents”, warning that the UK government is “explicitly seeking to rewrite the devolution settlement”.
The bill includes plans for a “mutual recognition regime” after the UK leaves the EU, which would require regulatory standards in one area of the union to be automatically accepted in others.
Miles said: “Their proposals for mutual recognition may sound sensible but they are the starting gun for a race to the bottom, undermining the high standards we currently enjoy in terms of food standards, animal welfare and the environment.
“Vital decisions over support for Welsh businesses, important infrastructure and investment opportunities and the safety of the food on the shelves of Welsh supermarkets should be made in Wales, by the government of Wales, and with the consent of the Senedd – and not at the behest of Conservative backbenchers”.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon criticised the plans as a “full frontal assault on devolution” and argued that the campaign for independence is now about stopping the “Scottish parliament from being undermined and its powers eroded”.