Welsh leader attacks ‘aggressively unilateral’ UK government

Mark Drakeford calls for urgent reset to protect ‘fragile’ union, and for Wales to get control of its own policing

The Welsh first minister has launched a fierce attack on the UK government’s attitude to the devolved nations, accusing it of favouring “flag flying” over constructive thinking and acting in an “aggressively unilateral way”.

Mark Drakeford argued that it was time for relations between Westminster and the devolved governments to be reset to protect the “fragile” union, and called for Wales to be allowed to take control of its own legal system and policing.

In his strongest attack yet on the approach of Boris Johnson’s government to the union, Drakeford said: “Wales’ future is best served by having strong devolution – so decisions about Wales are made in Wales – and by being an equal partner is a strong and revitalised United Kingdom.”

But he said reform was needed quickly. “The way the union works must change. And the need for change is urgent, the union has never been this fragile. If matters continue in their current vein, the case for the breakup of the UK will only increase.

“Too often we see the UK government act in an aggressively unilateral way, claiming to act on behalf of the whole UK, but without regard for the status of the nations and the democratic mandates of their government.”

Drakeford claimed this approach created “anger and alienation”, adding: “It’s time for relationships to be reset.”

He was speaking before the publication of a plan called Reforming Our Union that the Welsh government argues will make the UK stronger and work for everyone.

A similar plan was published in 2019, which has been updated following the Welsh and Scottish parliament elections and in the light of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, which critics believes centralises power in Westminster at the expense of the devolved nations.

Changes outlined in the Welsh government’s plan range from creating an independent public body to oversee how the devolved nations are funded, and the devolution of justice and policing to Wales – as it already is to Scotland and Northern Ireland. It also calls for ministers of the devolved nations to be closely involved in UK negotiations over trade and international relations.

Laura McAllister, a professor at Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, said Drakeford appeared to be “emboldened” by Labour’s victory in the Welsh parliament elections last month. She said: “A serious constitutional conversation initiated in Wales was always part of Labour’s post-election plans. This constitutional conversation has gained pace and will have greater force following Welsh Labour’s success in May’s Senedd elections. Drakeford has been emboldened by this.”

The Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies, said people would be “scratching their heads” at the timing of the report, which he called an “unwelcome and unnecessary sideshow”.

Separately, the Welsh government has announced a package of measures that it says will help make Wales the most LGBTQ+-friendly nation in Europe.

The measures include establishing a new Wales-wide fund to support Pride grassroots events across the country, and securing the devolution of as many aspects as possible of the Gender Recognition Act. It is also commissioning legal advice on all available powers to ban conversion practices in Wales.

A UK government spokesperson said: “Choosing to prioritise constitutional issues in the middle of a pandemic is an irresponsible and unwanted distraction.

“We are strongest when we work together as one United Kingdom, and our full focus must remain on recovering from the challenges the pandemic has created.”


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Welsh first minister calls for coronavirus cash injection
Mark Drakeford says funding should reflect ‘older, sicker’ population in Wales, as Gwent cases soar

Steven Morris

30, Mar, 2020 @4:43 PM

Article image
Welsh Labour is readying for snap general election, says Mark Drakeford
First minister claims Tories in Westminster are ‘staggering’ and could be months away from collapse

Steven Morris

01, Jan, 2023 @2:41 PM

Article image
Jeremy Corbyn thanks Welsh first minister who quit after ‘darkest times’
Labour leader heralds ‘tireless’ work of Carwyn Jones, who announced departure after pressure over the death of Carl Sargeant

Steven Morris

22, Apr, 2018 @4:18 PM

Article image
‘Covid is a big part of this election’: Welsh Labour pushes for votes amid greater scrutiny
Pandemic has raised profile of Mark Drakeford and made more people aware of Cardiff’s policy powers

Steven Morris

25, Apr, 2021 @10:09 AM

Article image
'A disaster': Boris Johnson adds to his devolution problems
We analyse the likely impact the PM’s remarks are likely to have around the country

Libby Brooks, Steven Morris, Rory Carroll and Nazia Parveen

17, Nov, 2020 @4:24 PM

Article image
Labour should embrace local identities, says Welsh leader Drakeford
First minister says wherever people live, party needs to emphasise it’s ‘on your side, working for you, earning every vote’

Peter Walker Political correspondent

16, Jun, 2022 @4:00 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson accused of plan to 'emasculate' UK devolution
Senior figures in Scotland and Wales warn Brexit is bringing a ‘statutory fist crashing down’

Libby Brooks, Steven Morris and Lisa O'Carroll

12, Jul, 2020 @2:44 PM

Article image
Welsh government tables bill to overturn Trade Union Act
Labour-led administration in Wales is concerned Westminster legislation will undermine relations with public sector

Steven Morris

16, Jan, 2017 @12:01 AM

Article image
Welsh first minister defends trip to World Cup in Qatar
Mark Drakeford insists people of Wales would want nation’s leader to attend despite controversies

Steven Morris and agencies

20, Nov, 2022 @12:50 PM

Article image
Scottish government to challenge Westminster decision to block gender recognition bill in court – as it happened
Nicola Sturgeon says her government will be ‘vigorously defending’ democracy as well as the bill passed in Scotland

Tom Ambrose and Andrew Sparrow

17, Jan, 2023 @8:01 PM