OPINION: BORIS MUST BE STOPPED:
Cavalier Boris Johnson is on a mission to smash devolution and must be stopped, argues Political editor-at-large Martin Shipton
WALES is facing an existential crisis. The publication by Boris Johnson of the Internal Market Bill is forcing us to confront what many would prefer to avoid.
It demonstrates two things.
The UK Government has embarked unapologetically on a mission to dismantle devolution.
And by signalling its intention to tear up the EU Withdrawal Agreement, it has traded in its status as a respected international power for that of a rogue state whose word cannot be trusted.
With both elements colliding, those of us who care about Wales should no longer ignore what is happening, whether we have seen ourselves until now as unionists or nationalists – or even something in between.
Some of Mr Johnson’s detractors have sought to play down the significance of his latest moves, seeing the challenges posed by the Internal Market Bill as no more than a continuation of his past duplicitous behaviour.
But while there is an element of truth in that, the fact is that he has crossed a Rubicon which most of us hadn’t dreamt he would dare to do.
In a single piece of legislation he is seeking to smash devolution and declare economic war on the world’s largest trading bloc, of which the UK was until earlier this year a leading member.
The two elements are entwined.
Mr Johnson’s delusional view of a powerful Britain outside the EU is dependent on a strongly centralised UK.
Devolution, with the progressive accrual of more powers for the administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is a block to such a vision, and has to be rolled back.
For Mr Johnson, demands from the likes of Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford to be treated with respect and as equals are a mark of their impertinence. They need to be slapped down.
So far as he is concerned, the distinctly different approach of David Cameron – which entailed granting income tax-varying powers to the Welsh Government almost against its will – represented no more than the appeasement of nationalistic rhetoric whose popular appeal had been over-estimated.
Mr Johnson probably intends to ignore calls for another Scottish independence referendum, even if the SNP does as well in next May’s closely
Scottish Parliament election as polls suggest.
Meanwhile he intends to trample over the devolution settlement to spend money in Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland on populist projects that he believes will rally support for his party.
In Wales, it seems clear that he will seek to build the M4 relief road around Newport – a project that has support locally and from elements of the south Wales business community.
Doing so would be a very tangible way of demonstrating to his supporters, and to those beyond his base, that the UK Government is prepared to deliver what the Welsh Government wouldn’t.
But the principle of overriding the First Minister’s decision on the matter is a shocking development that undermines the very purpose of devolution – something even those who want an M4 relief road should deplore.
Next time the UK Government may impose a project which is clearly opposed by local residents. It is likely that commercial interests will lobby Westminster to get approval for a future project that would bring them considerable profits.
The UK Government’s ability to intervene in matters which hitherto have been the responsibility of administrations based in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast will remove democratic accountability and make corruption and questionable behaviour short of criminality more likely.
This is a direct assault on the result of two referendums that successively established the National Assembly and granted it primary law-making powers.
No self-respecting institution or population can tolerate it.
At the same time, a cavalier Prime Minister who fought last December’s General Election with a manifesto commitment to implement a Withdrawal Agreement the UK had negotiated with the EU now intends to tear the deal up and replace it unilaterally with an invention of his own that trashes our reputation for honourable dealing and threatens peace in Northern Ireland.
Such a disgraceful turn of events needs to be resisted. But how?
Where are the voices of Tory MPs elected just nine months ago on a pledge to deliver the deal agreed with the EU?
They have gone silent.
None of them fought the election promising to repudiate the Withdrawal Agreement or to destroy the devolution settlement.
Yet that presumably is the course they intend to pursue as slavish followers of Mr Johnson and every disreputable step he takes.
He has a large Commons majority and will be able to push his bill through.
It will leave us in Wales with a Senedd whose recent upgrade in terms of status has proven to be a farce.
Many of us who may have been Indy Curious for a while will be pushed in the direction of an upgrade to that status too.