Warn­ing of loom­ing bat­tle over de­vo­lu­tion as May be­gins ‘lis­ten­ing’ tour

The Guardian - - NATIONAL -

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

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