Unpacking the Welsh Response to Brexit Developments.

Mixed Response: AMs show resistance to Westminster's plans. Credit: Lowri Pitcher

by Maisie Marston

In May, Theresa May was still Prime Minister and the UK had a newly established Halloween deadline for agreeing a Brexit deal. Since then, Boris Johnson has become Prime Minister, Parliament has begun its five week prorogation, two court appeals have reached contradictory conclusions, the longest-serving Speaker since 1943 has resigned, a prolonged game of party musical chairs has ensued, and a general election is back on the cards. But what does Wales make of it all?

Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister 

Although the current PM began his political career in 1997 as a candidate for Clwyd South, his Welsh connections have not endeared him to the First Minister. By vowing to leave the EU on October 31 “do or die” at the beginning of his premiership, Johnson ignored the Welsh Government’s warnings against a no-deal Brexit. 

In response, Mark Drakeford claimed Johnson had “no mandate” to go ahead with a no-deal Brexit, and that such an exit would be “catastrophic for Wales”. Senior Conservative AM David Melding is also among the opponents of a no-deal, who worries about its effects on “the most vulnerable”. Alun Cairns MP retained his role of Secretary of State for Wales after being a vocal supporter of Johnson throughout the leadership race. Similarly to Johnson, Cairns supports leaving the EU at the end of October “no ifs, no buts.”

Prorogation and Court Hearings

At the moment that Parliament was prorogued for five weeks, a mix of Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru MPs protested by singing a rendition of ‘Calon Lan,’ a Welsh song about honesty and goodness, in the Chamber of the House of Commons. 

After the the Scottish appeal court ruled unanimously that Johnson suspended parliament unlawfully, Guto Bebb MP said Boris Johnson should resign if he misled the Queen. On the other hand, David Davies MP believed that the courts were simply trying to interfere. 

Last week, the Welsh Government were represented in the Supreme Court’s three-day hearing about the legality of the prorogation. Drakeford said “We’ll be represented in court in order to explain why proroguing parliament, just at a point when we were relying on that parliament to discharge a whole raft of legislation that will be important here in Wales, was not in the interests of Wales and not carried out in line with the requirements of the law.”

John Bercow announces his resignation

Rhondda’s Labour MP Chris Bryant commented on the incumbent speaker’s conduct last week, saying it “sometimes feels like bullying”. Bryant is reported to be hoping to succeed Bercow. 

Bryant’s party colleague Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West, believes the opposite, saying Bercow “will be remembered as an important reforming speaker who refused to be bullied by the Executive – that in itself is a great achievement.” Among outpourings of support for the Commons speaker was Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly Elin Jones, and MP for Ogmore, Chris Elmore. 

Operation Yellowhammer

After the official publication of Operation Yellowhammer, the government’s no-deal contingency plans, the Welsh government released its own strategy. It includes: 

  • Stacking lorries on the A55 heading for Holyhead en route to Ireland 
  • Stockpiling medical devices
  • Storing banks of animal vaccines in case of a disease outbreak
  • Cooperation with the UK government, police forces, and Royal Navy to stop vessels illegally entering Welsh waters post-Brexit.

General Election

Plaid Cymru is currently in talks about arranging a pact at the next general election with the Liberal Democrats. This collaboration has been tested already at the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election in August, which saw Plaid Cymru give way for Liberal Democrat Jane Dodds to be elected. 

Last week it was reported that Adam Price wanted Plaid Cymru to offer a “clear, Remain choice”, meaning the party would use the general election as a “substitute referendum” to give a mandate to revoke Article 50. This will require a change in policy, so the motion will be voted on at their autumn conference in October.

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