Pompous Welsh Politicians Need to Butt Out of Brexit Negotiations

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By David Taylor | 5:22 am, October 7, 2016

The near-hysterical reaction from Cardiff Bay politicians to Theresa May’s statement that the British Government will listen to devolved administrations – but not include them – in the Brexit negotiations shows how the whole process is turning into a grudge match.

It really shouldn’t need saying: the Welsh Government has clear limits to its remit and doesn’t get to “pick and mix” what it takes on.

With some justification, Welsh ministers complain from time to time that Whitehall meddles in its affairs and Westminster doesn’t understand and respect devolution.

It cuts both ways. Britain’s relationship with the European Union is no more a devolved matter than defence.

Cardiff Bay politicians know this, but crippling insecurity means they feel they need to “speak for Wales” on every issue. They don’t.

Brexit will impact on Wales perhaps most significantly through the loss of Structual Funds, the same way it will affect Cornwall and other poorer areas of the UK.

We accept the British Government’s role in negotiating on behalf of Cornwall, for fishermen in Hull and farmers in Shropshire. So, too, will it negotiate for Wales, the fishermen of Anglesey and the farmers of Brecon.

If a majority in Wales had voted Remain – like in Scotland, Northern Ireland or London – a case could be made for some sort of distinctive “Welsh voice” in the negotiations.

I’m not persuaded that such an arrangement would be anything other than fraught with unhelpful contradictions, but one could at least understand the argument. However, that didn’t happen. Wales voted Leave by a decisive margin.

Frankly, it beggars belief that Welsh media and politicians are still entertaining this absurd and phoney argument. There is no case for a Welsh Assembly Brexit veto, any more than there is for it vetoing military action in Syria.

Assembly Members have no mandate from the public to consider such matters, nor does the Welsh Government civil service have the capacity to play a role in negotiations, even if it was asked to.

Were a power of veto conferred, it would create a dangerous precedent and undermine the parliamentary sovereignty – the very sovereignty many people voted to strengthen in the referendum.

Where would it end? Andy Burnham elected mayor of Manchester and vetoing HS2? Hounslow Council blocking a third runway at Heathrow?

Let’s look at what the Welsh Government is really asking for. Imagine a best case scenario where, say, early 2019, the Prime Minister has a Brexit deal in place, agreed by 27 member states, the Commission, the European Parliament, the UK Parliament, Scotland and Northern Ireland boxed off, only for the Welsh Assembly to politely decline consent and scotch the whole thing.

It would never be allowed to happen. So why indulge the idea? Why are so many in the Welsh political class pretending this is a remotely a reasonable position?

It’s the voters who will feel frustrated and lose out. Rowing over this also lets Theresa May and her government off the hook. It’s a “dead cat” argument which distracts politicians or journalists in Wales from focusing on genuine questions about the practicalities and challenges of Brexit.

It allows the Welsh Government to grandstand without taking any responsibility for helping to shape post-Brexit Wales in a way that will benefit the people.

Worse, it gives the media another easy “Wales versus Westminster” row. These days it’s becoming de rigueur to conflate the Welsh Assembly and Wales, and to see UK dealings as almost foreign or colonial.

The fact that Welsh MPs sit in the House of Commons and that there are Welsh members on Theresa May’s team, including in the Brexit department, is largely ignored or glossed over.

This leads to a gaping deficit in scrutiny of the work of Welsh politicians at UK level. Where is the proper media examination of the Wales Office or the voting patterns of Welsh MPs?

The Welsh Government says “it’s not acceptable” if they don’t have a seat at the negotiating table. Well, they’d better accept it, and fast.

David Taylor is a former Labour special adviser to the Secretary of State for Wales. He tweets from @David_Taylor