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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Is the UK Government seeking to roll back devolution?

The row over the list of powers the UK Government plan to 'temporarily retain' following Brexit is a rather dry discourse which is unlikely to create any ripples in the pub on a Saturday night, but it is important nevertheless because whatever the Brexit referendum gave the UK Government authority for, it did not give them carte blanche to roll back the devolution settlement.

Part of the problem of course is that devolution has not delivered all that was expected of it. The Welsh NHS is in crisis (as of course is its counterpart over the border in England), our economy continues to struggle to achieve any of the ambitions set out for it in 1999, and people still struggle to get onto the housing ladder.

There are explanations for this. Firstly, we should not associate the failings of the Welsh Government with that of the devolution process and, secondly, we are still very much in hock to the UK Government both in terms of macro-economic policy and funding.

That does not mean that successive Welsh Governments should not have done better, they should have. And because of those failings, it is difficult to engage even the most sympathetic observer in the Lilliputian-style dispute currently underway over powers.

Over on the BBC website, there is a list of the 24 areas the UK Government propose to pull back into its own legislative and administrative bosom. These include, Agricultural support, Animal welfare, Animal health and traceability, Genetically modified organisms marketing and cultivation, Food labelling, Food and feed safety and hygiene law and Public procurement.

These have some very real implications. Will Welsh lamb now be rebranded British lamb for example? Will the very specific needs of Welsh farmers be taken into account in devising a UK subsidy scheme and will the Welsh Government's current emphasis on the environment and diversification be continued?

Will the current ban on genetically modified crops in Wales now be overridden by the UK Government? Will they extend their failing badger cull across Offa's dyke? What will happen to the very specific 'scores on the door' approach in Wales to restaurants telling people about their hygiene standards? And how can the UK Government do a better job on public procurement in Wales when it's main interest is the English economy?

The UK Government has no right to assume control over these matters on what seems to be an indefinite basis. There should be agreement or the Welsh Government will be within their rights to do what they can to block this Brexit bill. In the meantime I will watch with interest how Welsh MPs vote on these clauses.
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