PM “thought he could show off” with devolution comments, says Drakeford

Elliot Chappell

Mark Drakeford has accused the Prime Minister this afternoon of having tried to “show off” to northern English Conservative MPs by describing devolution as a “disaster” on Monday evening.

Addressing members of the Senedd during First Minister Question’s this afternoon, the Welsh Labour leader argued that the comments by Johnson betrayed an “old hostility” on the part of the Tories towards devolution.

He said: “Devolution thrives when there is a Labour government to support it, and devolution comes under the sorts of pressures that it is now under when we have a Conservative government – when you scratch the surface of the Conservative Party and all its old hostility to devolution rises back to the surface.

“That’s what happened yesterday when the Prime Minister thought he could show off in front of a few Conservative MPs from the North of England.

“But we have the Senedd because of the Labour Party and this Labour Party will continue to make sure that we use all of the powers that we have here.”

Johnson sparked outrage on Monday evening when he said that “devolution has been a disaster north of the border”, and described it as Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake”, during a meeting of the northern research group MPs.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross responded to the remarks by saying: “Devolution has not been a disaster. The SNP’s non-stop obsession with another referendum — above jobs, schools and everything else — has been a disaster.”

Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray declared: “This confirms that Boris Johnson doesn’t believe in devolution and would put the future of the UK at risk.

“His government should have been working in partnership with the devolved governments during this crisis. Instead, people across the UK have been paying the price for his failings.

“Devolution is one of Labour’s proudest achievements and we will always fight for a strong Scotland in the UK. Scotland deserves better than two governments obsessed by division – Labour will work to bring our country together.”

Downing Street issued a clarification just hours after reports of the initial comments surfaced: “The Prime Minister has always supported devolution but Tony Blair failed to foresee the rise of separatists in Scotland.

“Devolution is great — but not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK.”

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham criticised the comments from the Prime Minister this morning, emphasising during an interview the negative impacts of the “London-centric” style of government in the UK and calling for a more federal system.

Welsh Labour tweeted on Monday evening: “Labour created devolution to rebalance power across the UK, away from Whitehall and closer to communities in Wales. It has been endorsed by the people of Wales in two referendums.”

The party added: “You can’t trust the Tories. Welsh Labour will always stand up for Wales and for devolution.”

Jeremy Miles MS said: “The PM’s comments are shocking but sadly not surprising. It has been clear for some time that this Conservative government is not remotely interested in respecting the devolution settlements across the UK.

“The prime minister is also minister for the union – but the conduct of his government is actually the biggest threat to the future of the union.”

The Welsh general counsel added: “If they [the UK government] want to demonstrate that they are prepared to relent, and respect the will of the people in the devolved nations, they should immediately overhaul the internal market bill, with its assault on devolution, and finally commit to working with, not working around, the Welsh government when it comes to the shared prosperity fund [which is designed to replace EU funding] and future funding for Wales.”

The controversial internal market bill, which makes provisions to break international law, passed its third reading in the Commons with a majority of 84 in September as MPs voted 340 to 256 in favour of the legislation.

Miles discussed the proposed law, which would centralise currently devolved powers to the UK government in Westminster, and the implications for Wales with LabourList earlier this year.

The Welsh parliament in Cardiff currently has devolved control to legislate on areas such as environmental standards, food regulations and animal welfare, and Miles protested that this bill would stop it exercising those powers.

He explained that the legislation could stop the devolved Welsh Labour administration from banning single-use plastics, continuing to prevent “hormone-injected beef” being sold in supermarkets, or introducing landlord licensing.

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