Adrian Mason is a lawyer and a former Deputy Chair Political of the North Wales Conservatives.
Looking for good news in Wales at the moment has become a difficult task. We are living under a Covid 19 cloud with an incompetent Welsh Labour Government (WG) meting out disproportionate diktats on what seems like a daily basis. Sadly, these measures are having a devastating effect on the Welsh economy, no more so than in North Wales where the lifeblood of the tourism industry is being drained away by lockdowns and government-sponsored anti-English sentiment.
Welsh Labour has never been a friend of North Wales – not enough votes here to cause them any electoral issues. It must be remembered that the WG is a hard-left regime, the living embodiment of Corbynism. It believes in state control, with its inevitable over-regulation and high taxes. It has little interest in our tourist industry, and this has been borne out in successive policy announcements. Even before Covid 19 they were planning to introduce a tourism tax. 20 years of failure, with a health board in special measures for the last six years, an education system bottom of the pile of UK nations, and a chronic lack of infrastructure expenditure has left our region all the poorer and gives precious little for the WG to shout about.
So, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (IMB) currently going through Parliament has the potential to redress the balance of years of WG neglect and should be great news for North Wales.
In all the hullabaloo over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the real essence of the IMB is often overlooked. Part 6 of the Bill allows Westminster to administer internal funding that was previously undertaken by the EU. All those signs you see with the EU flag proudly claiming that a project had been part-funded by Brussels. Well, that wasn’t really EU funding at all; it was British taxpayers’ money, top sliced by the EU and handed back to the UK regions. The IMB will allow Westminster, not Brussels, to carry out that task. Under S.46 of IMB, a Minister of the Crown has the power to allocate money provided by Parliament, to promote economic development in any area of the United Kingdom within a number of specified areas. These include the promoting of economic development, culture, sport, and provides far reaching financial support in areas like transport, health, education, and housing.
David Jones, a former Secretary of State for Wales, said:
“The Bill is of prime importance to businesses and consumers in Wales, as in every other part of the country. Indeed, those businesses and consumers would be horrified if they thought that there was any prospect whatever of there being a threat to the integrity of the internal market post-transition. The interests of economic prosperity require that producers in every part of the UK should have unfettered access to consumers in every part of the country. This Bill ensures that will happen.”
The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford though, has recently stated that the IMB represents a “smash and grab” on the devolution settlement and takes back powers that have been devolved to Wales. This is simply untrue. Wales didn’t have those powers in the first place as they were vested in the EU. To state that these powers are now being removed from them is disingenuous. Part 6 of the IMB is just another layer of funding and does not impede upon competencies enjoyed under devolution.
What is undoubtedly annoying Drakeford is that the EU previously handed over this funding directly to the WG whereas under IMB, ministers in Westminster will now decide this based on merit across the whole country. The WG was quite content to allow an unelected unaccountable EU Commission to hand out funds but now squeals like a scalded cat at the thought of Westminster doing the same.
This is a view shared by Paul Davies, the Leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament who said:
The Welsh Government are quick to claim that Part 6 is some sort of power grab and that the UK Government simply wants to neuter devolution – well that couldn’t be any further from the truth. [Welsh] Government Ministers were all too happy to receive funding from Brussels and so it begs the question, why on earth would anyone object to more investment and more jobs in Wales at a time of looming economic crisis. Let me make this clear – Wales will not lose any powers as a result of the Internal Market Bill.”
The fact is that this is excellent news for us here in North Wales. No longer having to contend with a WG discriminating against us, we will have just as much chance of receiving funding as those in South Wales. With seven Conservative MPs here in North Wales, the aspirations of the people will be better represented than through a remote WG. It will, in fact restore democracy and not ‘attack’ it, as claimed by Welsh counsel general and minister for European transition, Jeremy Miles. Over time, IMB should level the playing field.
There are plenty of contenders for funding in our region. We need to develop our transport links, both rail and road, so that we can take full advantage of the Northern Powerhouse. Better links to Manchester Airport, full fibre broadband, and the development of our HE/FE sector too. Crucially, we need additional funding to regenerate the region after years of WG neglect. Our tourism industry will need major restorative surgery after the disgraceful treatment it has received from Cardiff Bay, not just through the draconian Covid measures but stretching back years. Schools and hospitals will be able to apply for targeted funding and our service industries will be able to tender for funds free from WG bias.
Sadly, in its own ‘mission creep’ the WG’s posturing over IMB is telling. There was not a hint of criticism when the unelected EU was administering funding and yet, the thought of an elected Westminster government now doing the same is now seen by them as ‘undemocratic’. The UK Government needs to stand firm and not concede an inch to a Welsh Labour Government that has such a disgraceful record of incompetence. First Minister Drakeford is on record as saying that Wales’s support for the union is ‘not unconditional’. Criticism by his government of IMB has all to do with Welsh politics and nothing to do with preserving the Union or crucially, sensible and prudent financial administration of UK taxpayers’ funds.