Clearly, many people will be disappointed by the way in which the Welsh Labour government has simply rolled over in relation to the so-called ‘Brexit power-grab’ by London. Whatever excuses they come up with, and however they attempt to present it, they have unquestionably conceded the key principle that London has been demanding from the outset, which is that the way to devise common frameworks in certain areas post-Brexit is for London to do it. Insofar as London has conceded anything in return, it is an acknowledgement that they will have to seek legislative consent from Cardiff before imposing their framework, but they retain the right to impose that framework even without consent.
For what it’s worth, I never for one moment believed that they would agree to the demand from the devolved administrations that new frameworks should be devised by discussion and agreement rather than decided in London. After all, to the extent that there’s any logic in Brexit at all, it is that the UK Government would be able to make its own rules rather than have to consult with anyone else first and would never need to compromise with all those horrid Europeans. Why on earth would they ever want to break free of the need to consult with one group of governments only to accept a constraint that they need to negotiate with another set of governments?
The Scottish Government is showing rather more spine on the issue – but the strange thing is not that the apparent unity between a Labour Government in Wales and an SNP Government in Scotland has now been shattered, but that the unity lasted so long in the first place. It was always an unlikely pairing. Perhaps the Scottish Government will be able to wring further concessions out of London; perhaps not. I suspect that London will be more willing to simply ignore Scotland now it stands alone than it would have been had Cardiff also held its nerve. It’s not only Wales that Labour have let down.
The bottom line, though, remains where it has been from the outset: power devolved is power retained. ‘Devolution’ does not – and never can – bestow equality of status on the devolved parliaments. Whilst London, as they have shown, would very much prefer to have the consent and compliance of the administrations in Cardiff and Edinburgh (who wouldn’t prefer an easy life if it’s an attainable option?), they don’t really need that because they can – and always could – simply legislate anyway. The ‘concession’ obtained by the Welsh Labour government doesn’t change that, and is close to worthless.
What the whole affair underlines, yet again, is the underlying weakness of the devolution model and the inherent fragility of a set of powers which are only ever on loan to Wales and which can be over-ruled at any time. If we don’t want a government in Cardiff which is beholden to Westminster, we need to do more than simply whinge when they do exactly what the devolution model entitles them to do.