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Mark Drakeford on Brexit and Devolution

Cathy Owens
Cathy Owens

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford gave a speech at Cardiff University last night, to an audience of mainly enthusiastic Remainers, hosted by Wales for Europe.

Of course, anything that Mark has to say these days has added currency as he is currently the only declared candidate for the leadership of Welsh Labour, and the bookies will have short odds on him being First Minister in December. It was interesting to see some of his key leadership campaign supporters were also in the audience. Unsurprisingly, however, he managed to deftly swerve some of the pitfalls of kicking off an election campaign too early, and skilfully weaved between what he could say as a minister on behalf of the Welsh Government, and what he wanted to say as in his own right.

He began by describing Brexit as inescapably harmful to Wales’ prosperity and leading the diminished role of the UK in World. He was challenging of the EU project, however, and decried Labour’s failure in the referendum campaign to make the case for Remain to Reform.

He was scathing of UK Ministers dealing with Brexit, saying they seemed out of their depth, unprepared, strategically weak and unable to deal with the scale and scope of the change required in government activity, legislation and deal-making.

He used the analogy of Welsh ministers grabbing hold of a car boot and digging in their heels to slow down a car, as the drivers were intent on speeding over the nearest cliff.

He was particularly angry at the way in which Brexit had seemed to put the UK at risk as never before. Having been involved in devolution for 20 years, and now in detailed negotiations with the UK Government and the devolved administrations, he noted how Brexit had highlighted the fissures between the home nations, and that a significant degree of and change in political will and governance arrangements will be needed post-Brexit to ensure the UK works well for its constituent parts.

It was on this point that he faced some challenge from a significant section of the audience unhappy with the agreement he has reached with the UK Government on post-Brexit powers. But he made a very robust defence of his position, arguing that as a party with a stake in making the UK work after Brexit, he knew that arrangements must be agreed on how powers will be shared, and made a strong case that the administration of those powers can only change with the agreement of devolved assemblies.

He made the case that neither the SNP nor Plaid Cymru have any interest in making the UK work after Brexit, and noted that the Scottish Government had not agreed even transition arrangements, as their perspective remained that Scotland voted to remain.

In looking forward he made a case for a new constitutional convention, saying that it is absolutely vital that the home nations develop a better way of agreeing disputes over powers and regulations in the future. He also talked about a new relationship with a reformed Europe, where current members each had different positions on how centralising the EU should be. In a future EU, he argued, which could in the future have a number of members at its core, with others on the periphery – having a different levels of buy in. He would want to see the UK developing a new relationship, and praised the concept of the ‘Association Agreement’ suggested by Guy Verhofstadt.

In summary, he did not to leave the EU and is very concerned about its impact on Wales, but that he and fellow ministers are working very hard to find practical solutions to mitigate the worst problems. He wants the softest of Brexits, and already expects the transition period to be extended. And he wants to see a new ‘rule book’ for how the UK is governed in future.


For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.

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