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Friday, January 15, 2021

Liberal Democrats need to stop reinforcing Johnson's anti-devolution agenda

It is noticeable that whenever Boris Johnson makes a statement in the House of Commons, is interviewed or delivers a press conference or broadcast on a devolved topic he fails to mention that he is only speaking for England and often talks as if he is representing the whole of the UK, when he clearly isn't.

This has become more marked in recent days when inadequate food parcels worth no more then £5 were delivered to children on free school meals in England, despite the company concerned being awarded £30 for each delivery. It was a failing of government procurement, but above all it was a political failure, where ministers sought to deflect responsibility by joining in the public outrage.

In all the media reporting of this debacle, we have been given the impression that this was a UK wide issue, when in fact it just applies to England. In Wales, where there is a Welsh Liberal Democrats Education Minister, up to £7 million of additional funding has been given to local authorities to urgently provide financial assistance to families of pupils who rely on free school meals, but are unable to receive them due to school closures. And unlike England, that provision will continue through the school holidays.

Naturally, this is a major campaigning opportunity for the Liberal Democrats, who believe passionately that children should be properly supported and adequately fed through this pandemic, but why does the party, which is allegedly the most devolution-friendly of all the UK parties and which operates as a federal entity, keep reinforcing the Prime Minister's anti-devolution agenda?

A petition launched by the Liberal Democrats calls for free school meals to be provided to every pupil whose parents or guardians are in receipt of Universal Credit, food vouchers for every one of those pupils in every school holiday and during any period of lockdown, and free school meals to pupils from low-income families whose parents or guardians have no recourse to public funds and to destitute asylum seekers. I urge everybody to sign it. But at no point does this petition make it clear that these issues only relate to the English situation, because a Liberal Democrats Minister in Wales is already on top of this agenda.

Tweets and press statements issued by the Liberal Democrats English Education spokesperson are equally remiss in this regard, giving the impression her criticism is UK-wide. It only takes a little care and thought to get these things right and yet the errors continue.

It is time the Liberal Democrats lived up to its stated commitment to devolution and federalism and started to reflect the asymetric political responsibilities of the various nations in its statements and campaigns. Our MPs and spokespeople need to stop reinforcing Boris Johnson's agenda and begin to pull him up on his misrepesentation of the responsibilities he has as Prime Minister.
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