On Monday, I wrote about how Theresa May must bring balance to our constitution by standing up for the centre and insisting that the devolved administrations showed the same respect for Westminster’s prerogatives as they demanded for their own.
Then on Wednesday our Red, White, and Blue column relayed how Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, was trying to lay down ‘red lines’ to the Government for the Brexit negotiations.
Yesterday, the Welsh Labour leader went a step further when he called for any Brexit deal to require ratification by all of the UK’s devolved assemblies, as well as Parliament.
This is quite predictable. As I have outlined before, Jones is assiduous in pressing at every turn for an increase in his own – I mean, Wales’ – power. Not even Wales voting Leave paused these efforts for very long.
But the Government has already been quite clear that none of the devolved territories – until now primarily Scotland – will have a veto on Brexit. This ratification proposal is a backdoor route for the same thing, and May must say “no”.
The same logic applies here as to denying a second national referendum: if Brexit is a done deal, the best shot for all involved is to collaborate. If it can be derailed, the incentives for intransigence multiply dramatically.
The Prime Minister has quite rightly indicated that she will consult widely during the coming negotiations and make sure devolved governments are included. She will find that relationship much more productive if she sets reasonable limits on it.
We must also remember that part of the reason we had a referendum on this issue – and the result was so seismic – is that it allowed the democratic will to bypass parliamentary systems which are, in this instance, highly unrepresentative.
Does anybody think that Jones’ Labour-Liberal Democrat administration, propped up by Plaid Cymru, is going to be accurately representing the Welsh leave majority when its members all refuse to countenance sharing power with pro-Leave parties?
In Scotland the situation is even worse: two in five Scots voted to leave the EU with the support of only a handful of MSPs and no Holyrood party.
That every party bar the Tories – and even they weren’t taking a pro-Leave stance – rowed in tightly behind the First Minister over a policy directly rejected by 40 per cent of their electorate ought to trouble those who think that devolution leads to more representative government.
May must be sure not to allow the pro-Remain establishments of Holyrood or Cardiff Bay to monopolise representation of Scotland and Wales during the negotiations. Their Leavers must be counted too, and the British Government is entirely within its rights to have its own direct relationship with British voters in all parts of our country.
Finally, over the past few decades, the House of Commons has been greatly diminished as power has drained from it, both “upwards” to Brussels and down to Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Belfast.
As this article lucidly argues, this has led to institutional atrophy and a concomitant “decline in the standing of both parliament and of parliamentarians.”
(Can the author be the same Robert Salisbury whose Constitutional Reform Group proposes hollowing Parliament right out again and replacing the UK with a threadbare confederacy? Surely not.)
Brexit offers us an unparalleled opportunity to restore respect and vitality to our national Parliament. But if we want to shift the attitudes of voters we must first see a shift in the attitudes of Westminster politicians.
May should no more surrender the UK Government’s prerogatives to our country’s component parts than would Barack Obama to the states or Angela Merkel to the lander.
Devolutionaries like to talk about federalism, but one feature of both those thriving federations is the balance and stability provided by a self-confident and assertive centre – and voters will never respect a Parliament the Prime Minister won’t stick up for.