Welsh Government’s Brexit ‘Warning Shot’ Is Deluded and Dangerous

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By David Taylor | 7:32 am, September 9, 2016

In a “major intervention” in the Brexit debate, the Welsh First Minister has “fired a warning shot” at the UK government – claiming that Brexit could lead to full-blown Welsh independence.

Under the guise of a “trade mission” to the US, Carwyn Jones, unwisely, is seizing on the referendum result to provoke yet more constitutional wrangling.

Jones claims last week that his urgent visit is to give “reassurance” and “show Wales is open for business”. Yet he has made the focal point of his visit a speech to US businessmen on the risk of the break-up of the UK.

It’s difficult to see how this is designed to inspire investor confidence.

Of course, the First Minister is right that constitutional tensions are now possible, perhaps inevitable – but why on earth is the Welsh Government deliberately stoking them?

It’s hard to see how issuing histrionic warnings from Chicago about the potential break up of his own country will appear statesmanlike, but leaving that aside, his “warning” reads more like a threat – albeit a hollow one.

It’s a struggle to understand how the Welsh Government can interpret a Leave vote as mandate for a more federal UK, any more than it was a vote for free ice cream – so it’s deeply unfortunate that they are framing their Brexit response through this prism.

As I have said previously, the Welsh Government is in a very different, and many ways more challenging, situation to the Scottish Government and the Mayor of London, because Wales voted Leave in the EU referendum.

It is, therefore, hard for a Remain-backing Welsh Government to claim they have any legitimacy to negotiate for Wales in the same way on Brexit.

They have no formal role in negotiations or power to set red lines, and little claim to it. So I suppose they calculate that making threats about independence is the only card they can play – but it is a very dangerous one.

If a constitutional crisis of the kind the First Minister has been warning about for many years should occur, he is implying some Wales may opt for independence.

This is the heart of the argument, which transcends party politics: if devolution were to fail and Wales pushed into a stark binary choice between a pre-1997 Welsh Office or independence, it is far more likely in my view that we will see the end of the devolved Assembly.

That view has only strengthened post-Brexit. Like it or not, Wales voted with England far more than with Scotland.

Let’s consider the following points:

  1. Support for independence in Wales has fallen since devolution
  2. Support for abolishing the Assembly has always been higher than independence
  3. The Assembly hasn’t won hearts and minds, nor become ingrained into public life like the British Parliament or even our local councils. People remember life before, and can conceive life beyond it.

I fear some senior Tories understand this and are setting a trap for the First Minister – one that he is walking right into.

Not only is he obliging, but he is doing so in the most ostentatious way possible.

Anyone who believes in devolution really shouldn’t be trying to stoke the fire at this time.

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