In Parliament I stood up for the UK’s global reputation, and for Welsh devolution in the debate on the Internal Market Bill. I warned of Tory plans to channel the Shared Prosperity Fund (former EU cash) direct to Tory seats – pork-barrel politics at its worst!
Here is my speech:
Every once in a while, a piece of legislation comes that goes to the very heart of our character as a country. The internal market Bill is one such piece of legislation. It goes to the very heart of our economy, our national identity and our constitution. There is no doubt that the legislation is necessary. We need a strong internal market so that businesses can trade freely across the UK’s four nations, which will be vital for our shared prosperity, and we want the Government to get on and deliver what they promised: an oven-ready Brexit deal in place for 1 January, so that we can get on with tackling the coronavirus crisis.
However, whether seen through the prism of the economy, of our national reputation or of our constitution, the Bill is fundamentally flawed. On the economy, it creates the conditions for a race to the bottom. Mutual recognition of standards without common frameworks in place simply opens the back door to hormone-injected beef and chlorinated chicken becoming the norm.
Internationally, the Bill will severely damage Britain’s standing in the world. The Government have freely and openly confirmed that the Bill will breach international law by overriding elements of the withdrawal agreement signed only nine months ago by the Prime Minister himself. As the Foreign Secretary himself stated in January:
“global Britain is…about continuing to uphold…our heartfelt commitment to the international rule of law…for which we are respected the world over.”—[Official Report, 13 January 2020; Vol. 669, c. 768.]
Our country’s reputation is on the line. Surely, we want to be seen as a trustworthy nation with which other countries can do business in good faith. Surely, we want to strike good trade deals across the world. Surely, we want to be able to stand up to the world’s authoritarian regimes with credibility. I know many Government Members are extremely concerned about the damage the Government are doing to Britain’s standing in the world. I hope that that concern will be reflected in the Division Lobby this evening.
As a Welsh MP who believes passionately in a strong Wales within a strong United Kingdom, I am profoundly concerned that the Bill risks the integrity of our Union. Devolution is based on the principle of informed consent, but the UK Government are hellbent on cutting the devolved Administrations out of the conversation. Surely, one of the lessons of the covid crisis is that the overcentralised control freakery of this Government is simply not working. The days of being able to sit behind a desk in Whitehall, pull a lever and expect it to deliver the desired outcomes in places such as Aberavon are over. Modern Government should be built on consultation and co-operation, not top-down diktat. As chair of the all-party group on post-Brexit funding, I am profoundly concerned that this approach will be applied to the shared prosperity fund. There is a risk that the UK will undertake both a money grab and a power grab from the devolved nations with regard to how that development funding will be spent. Further still, we hear that the Government plan to funnel money directly into Conservative seats in what can only be described as the worst sort of pork-barrel politics.
The Prime Minister loves to present himself as a Churchillian patriot, but is it patriotic to divide our country? Is it patriotic to tarnish our country’s reputation overseas? Is it patriotic to undermine our economy and the standards we hold so dear? Absolutely not. The key elements of the Bill are holding our country back. We need competence and consensus, not bluster and bullying. We need to deliver on this deal and move forward.