Political debate continues over essential items debacle

Supermarkets and the government have come under file for not selling essential items in Wales.
Source: Vladimir Kirakosyan, via. Wikimedia Commons.
By Morgan Perry | Political Editor

Politicians in Wales continue to be split over a ban on the sale of essential items in supermarkets during Wales’ “fire break” lockdown.

Mark Drakeford announced the 17-day “fire break” lockdown on October 19. The public health restrictions were put in place on Friday, October 23, and will last until November 9.

Currently, all non-essential retail, including clothing, book and chocolate shops are closed. Supermarkets, however, can remain open, and many larger outlets were, until the rules were clarified, selling non-essential items. 

However, the Welsh Government has since sought to make clear that supermarkets in Wales should not be selling non-essential items – including clothing, appliances and electronics – during this period. 

Despite this, the Welsh Government’s response has led to calls from those across the political spectrum for the rules to be scrapped. 

“Very confusing”

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies called the restrictions “very confusing” and suggested that the measures should be scrapped due to the “anger” shown by people in Wales. 

The First Minister, Mark Drakeford appeared to remain determined to keep the ban in place and met with supermarket leaders earlier this week to clarify what can and cannot be sold in this period. 

“Only selling essential items during firebreak is to discourage spending more time than necessary in shops. It should not stop you accessing items that you need,” the Welsh Government tweeted on Monday, October 26. 

The tweet came after images of a Tesco store restricting access to feminine hygiene products was shared on Twitter, with the supermarket suggesting that it was as a result of Welsh Government restrictions. 

It later came to light that the products were inaccessible due to a break-in at the store earlier that morning. This was partially confirmed in a tweet from South Wales Police and Tesco have since apologised for the mistake. 

However, despite the First Minister’s reassurances, opposition politicians remain unconvinced.

Adam Price, Leader of Plaid Cymru, said that the debacle had “eroded public trust” and was “entirely avoidable”. 

To support, or not to support?

Whilst the debate continues, some have highlighted that it appears the Welsh Conservatives had originally appeared to have been supportive of a ban on the sale of non-essential goods in Wales, mainly in the name of helping to support local Welsh businesses. 

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Business, Russell George suggested in the Senedd that “it felt wrong and disproportionate” for small businesses to shut, whilst larger businesses were allowed to remain open. 

The Member of the Senedd then asked the First Minister to clarify whether the new guidelines would “incorporate a fairer approach in terms of which businesses are required to close”. 

In response, the First Minister said that the Welsh Government would be “making it clear to supermarkets that they are only able to open those parts of their businesses that provide essential goods”. 

The Welsh Conservatives do not appear to have yet responded to the claims that they appeared to originally support a ban on the sale of non-essential items in supermarkets. 

So far, there hasn’t been any change in direction from the Welsh Government, despite viral images of half-closed supermarkets shared on social media, and a Senedd petition which has been signed by more than 65,000 people. 

The Senedd petitions website states that those with more than 5,000 signatures will be considered for debate in the chamber. Whilst the Senedd is in recess, however, there does not appear to be any chance of this happening. 

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

Politics Morgan Perry

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