Future of UK in doubt, says Welsh leader

9 May 19

The Welsh first minister has expressed doubts about the future of a United Kingdom as a result of Brexit.

Mark DrakefordIn a keynote speech today, Mark Drakeford [pictured right] told an Institute for Government event that there is a “real prospect” that the UK may break up.

“For the first time in my political life, there is real prospect of the UK not surviving as a four-way nation,” he said.

He cited a potential second Scottish independence referendum and an Irish border poll as factors that could split up the UK.

In his speech marking 20 years of devolution, Drakeford slammed Westminster for its “deep and profound ambivalence to devolution”.

He said that the Welsh government is “fiercely devolutionist” but that Westminster had taken a “grace and favour approach” whereby powers are devolved as long as the nations do as Westminster wishes.

Drakeford said this approach was on display in a recent speech by Michael Gove to the Scottish Conservative conference.

In his speech the environment secretary outlined plans for Westminster to be allowed to spend Treasury funds in Scotland on traditionally devolved matters like education. 

The Welsh first minister compared Gove’s suggestions to the Scottish government announcing that they wanted to set up an army base in Hampshire.

“While devolution in Wales and Scotland has been transformative, Westminster has stood still,” he added.

Drakeford said that the Whitehall of 2019 was “unrecognisable” compared to the Whitehall of 1999 which began the process of devolution.

He called for a “fundamental rethink and repositioning of the way Whitehall’s response to devolution is shaped in the future”.

The Welsh Labour leader mooted the idea of a common space for negotiation and agreement for the four countries and declared that the Welsh government “must be in the room” for any future trade negotiations that affect Welsh competencies.

He warned that the point of devolution is not to enter into competition as to who can provide the best public services, and claimed that the UK government has often tried to portray the Welsh NHS as worse than that of England.

“I am allergic to the idea of devolution where England is set out as the gold standard,” he told delegates.

An IfG report from March also warned that Brexit would have a “huge impact” on the devolution process.

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