Warning of looming battle over devolution as May begins ‘listening’ tour
launches a “city deal” for Swansea, which has attracted £1.3bn of investment.
No 10 said the deal would pave the way for 9,000 new jobs and infrastructure investment in the Bay area, including a new waterfront “digital district”.
“The deal is a great example of what can be achieved when the UK government, the Welsh government and local authorities work together to secure a deal that benefits the city and the whole of Wales,” the prime minister said before her visit.
A Downing Street source said the prime minister would be unlikely to make any commitments on devolution during her visit today. “We’ve been listening to the views of all different regions through the joint ministerial council,” the source said.
“On the powers coming back from Brussels, we have said that first it will come back to Westminster. And then when it is appropriate to devolve further, we would. That decision will be taken at a later date.”
Jones said there was much the Welsh and Northern Irish governments were still in the dark over, including which courts would arbitrate on state aid and any new regulations covering devolved arrangements such as agriculture, which had previously been the domain of the European court of justice.
Welsh ports could also suffer, he said, if the government allowed a softer border arrangement between Northern Ireland and the EU than existed for the rest of the UK, meaning Irish exporters would be far more likely to use Northern Irish ports than Welsh ports. “We are going to end up in court on that unless we can sort this out,” Jones said. “Our devolution settlement says agriculture is devolved, full stop. We are never going to accept Brussels is replaced by London. Their heads are not around this yet.
“There was as much frustration on the doorstep about the UK government as about the EU [during the referendum]. At the end of the day, it’s not as if Westminster and Whitehall were fantastically popular.”
Jones’s demand that Downing Street look again at the complex nature of trading arrangements after Brexit echoed concerns expressed by the former prime minister Tony Blair in an interview over the weekend.
Blair said that even he had underestimated the seismic changes that would need to take place to replace the European single market. “I didn’t understand how complicated this is going to be,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. “If they’re going to try and deliver exactly the same benefits as we have now in the single market and customs union, this is an endeavour of unparalleled complexity.”
Blair, who launched his own centrist institute last week, said he believed leave voters would eventually begin to question whether having control of EU immigration was worth the upheaval. “People start to think, is this really going to be the thing that is going to be important? And then when you look at Scotland, you see another strain on the constitution of the country as a result,” he said.
Sturgeon hinted yesterday that she was prepared to continue compromise talks with the UK government, saying she was willing to have a “reasonable” discussion with May to delay a Scottish independence referendum, but insisted it could not be put off for long in the face of Brexit.
“[May] said she does not agree with that timescale,” the first minister told Peston on Sunday. “I think it is for her then to say what timescale she thinks would be appropriate and I’m happy to have that discussion, within reason. If she’s talking in the spring of 2019, a bit later perhaps than I was suggesting, there may be some room for discussion around that.
“But it seems to me to be just fundamentally unfair for a UK government, with Brexit having sunk the ship, trying to puncture Scotland’s lifeboat as well.”
Sturgeon said a delay until after the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2021 would not be acceptable. “I don’t think that is reasonable because by that point Scotland has been taken out of the EU.
“Presumably there is divergence opening up between the rules of the EU and the single market and where the UK is going. I think it then gets much harder for Scotland to seek a different course.”
Theresa May’s tour of the four nations would ensure the government was ‘listening to people from right across the nation’, No 10 said