Andrew RT Davies is once again the leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Senedd after the resignation of former leader Paul Davies following an alleged breach of COVID-19 restrictions.
RT Davies previously led the Welsh Conservatives from 2011 before resigning in 2018 after tensions surrounding comments made following the Brexit referendum result. Paul Davies later took over the group’s leadership.
The change in leadership comes after Paul Davies – and three other Senedd members – reportedly breached the Welsh Government’s COVID-19 restrictions in December 2020.
Just a day before his resignation, the Welsh Conservatives had given their unanimous support for Davies and his leadership. He then stood down on January 23, stating that his actions “damaged the trust and respect that I have built up over 14 years in the Welsh Parliament”.
RT Davies described his re-selection as the group’s leadership as a “great honour and privilege”, as well as announcing a shadow cabinet reshuffle.
Former shadow education minister and Chief Whip, Darren Millar was also caught up in the COVID-19 restrictions breach; he resigned his post shortly after Davies stood down and does not feature in the latest shadow cabinet.
With him back at the helm, the Welsh Conservatives will “will put forward a positive plan to get Wales moving again” said RT Davies.
Providing the election isn’t delayed, the Senedd election is due to take place on May 6.
RT Davies says his leadership will “unleash our country’s potential”. In 2016, when RT Davies was leader at the time of the last Welsh Assembly election, the Welsh Conservatives lost three seats.
A “possible breach” of COVID regulations
News that several Senedd members had met despite public health restrictions came to light on January 19.
Three members from the Welsh Conservatives – Davies, Millar and MS for Monmouth, Nick Ramsay – were reportedly involved.
Labour MS for Blaenau Gwent, Alun Davies was also allegedly present. He was later suspended from the Labour Senedd group.
At the time, Welsh Labour said: “A member has been suspended from the privileges of Senedd Labour group membership while an investigation takes place into this alleged incident.”
Unlike Alun Davies, the members from the Welsh Conservatives were not suspended.
All four deny breaking any Welsh Government restrictions, however the group was reported to have consumed alcohol in the Senedd tearoom on December 8. This was four days after a ban on the sale of alcohol on licenced venues came into place, as part of the Welsh Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nick Ramsay denied any breach of the coronavirus regulations. His solicitor said: “[Mr Ramsay] sat on his own and was socially distanced.
“Others came in whilst he was there, but it was not a ‘gathering’ Mr Ramsay was part of”.
After resigning from his frontbench role, Darren Millar accused the media of “wildly inaccurate and unfair” reporting of the incident.
“While I am advised that I did not breach coronavirus regulations I am very sorry for my actions, especially given the impact of the tough restrictions that people and businesses are enduring,” he said.
After an investigation, the Senedd authorities have referred a “possible breach” of COVID-19 restrictions to Cardiff Council – who oversee licenced premises in the city – and its own watchdog.
More drama to come?
It’s been a messy couple of weeks for the Welsh Conservatives.
Shortly before the alleged breach of coronavirus restrictions was unearthed, members expressed their disappointment that MS for South Wales West Suzy Davies had not been re-selected for the regional list.
Rather she would be standing in the constituency seat of Bridgend; a seat currently held by former Welsh Labour leader and First Minister Carwyn Jones, with a majority of more than 5,000.
Though Jones does not intend to stand at the 2021 Senedd election, it’s not certain that Davies would be elected in his place. She would, however, have likely been guaranteed a seat had she been placed on the regional seat.
Political Editor for ITV Wales, Adrian Masters has since tweeted that the Welsh Conservatives are seeking someone to fill a place in Bridgend, indicating that Suzy Davies has chosen to step aside.
Following the insurrection at the US Capitol, now-leader RT Davies also came under fire after equating those storming the Capitol to those seeking a second referendum over Brexit.
Replying to a tweet from Labour leader Keir Starmer, RT Davies said:
To be honest I’m not sure you’re in the strongest position right now given you campaigned to overturn democracy and the will of the British people. https://t.co/dKV1PuB6VB
— Andrew RT Davies (@AndrewRTDavies) January 6, 2021
The response attracted criticism from both sides of the aisle and led deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner to write to the chairwoman of the Conservative Party, Amanda Milling.
RT Davies’ tweets are unlikely to have won around more liberal members of the Welsh Conservatives. Whether he can help bring the party together, at a time when a number of prospective members have expressed the desire to abolish the Senedd altogether, is yet to be seen.
Either way, he has just 5 months before the election, and the returning leader is unlikely to want to see a repeat of the party’s last electoral performance.twitter Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics. Politics Morgan Perry