Mick Antoniw, the Welsh Government’s Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, has criticised the UK Government’s unilateral and destructive approach to devolution.
It comes ahead of a speech to the Constitutional and Administrative Law Bar Association’s annual conference, delivered 24 years to the day since the National Assembly for Wales – now the Welsh Parliament – came into existence.
Mick Antoniw said that during this period the devolution settlement has never been under as much strain as it is now, citing the UK government’s regular breaches of the Sewel Convention – which sets out that the UK’s Parliament will not normally legislative in devolved matters without the consent of the devolved parliaments.
Recent years have seen the UK Internal Market Act, the Professional Qualifications Act and the Subsidy Control Act come into force without consent from the Senedd. In recent months the Senedd has also voted to refuse consent for the Retained EU Law Bill and the Illegal Migration Bill, which are currently going through the legislative process.
Mick Antoniw said:
“Despite our efforts to work collaboratively, the UK government has chosen a centralised, unilateral and destructive approach to the devolution settlement.
“It has repeatedly pushed ahead with legislation in devolved areas without the consent of the Senedd. In doing so it disrespects a democratically elected body and denies the people who elected its members of accountability. We have never seen this level of strain in the devolution settlement during the entire 24 years of its existence.
“And these attacks on the devolution settlement are not the only way the constitution is under strain. The UK government is actively undermining parliaments and the courts, institutions that provide vital scrutiny as well as checks and balances. Civil liberties are under attack, including through the Public Order Bill which risks weakening fundamental freedoms around the right to protest. And the introduction of Voter ID saw around 14,000 turned away from polling stations in English local elections, raising real concerns over the integrity of the electoral system.”
Mick Antoniw added:
“Carrying on with the status quo is not an option, and the foundations for reform are in place. The Commission on the UK’s Future, chaired by Gordon Brown, set out a series of radical proposals for constitutional reform at the end of last year – including a new legally binding formulation of the Sewel convention. And by the end of this year the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales is due to publish its final report, building on its interim report after extending its conversation with the people of Wales.
“It is incumbent on all politicians to build on these foundations, listen to the views of the people we serve, respect the constitution and deliver reformed structures that can improve outcomes and strengthen communities.”