Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford on Sunday demanded more powers for the Cardiff parliament as he warned the UK risks break up unless Boris Johnson increases devolution.
Drakeford welcomed an invitation from the UK prime minister to a summit to discuss recovery after the coronavirus pandemic, but said more powers should be handed to the devolved administrations in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.
As leader of the pro-UK Welsh Labour party, Drakeford oversaw its strong performance at the May 6 election, when it secured 30 of the 60 seats in the Cardiff parliament.
Labour will continue to govern Wales, as it has done since the parliament was established in 1999, although Drakeford did not rule out another party helping to form the next devolved administration.
The Welsh Labour election manifesto called for the Cardiff parliament to take responsibility from Westminster for criminal justice and policing, and also have a say over taxation. One possibility is the right to vary income tax thresholds.
“We need home rule for Wales, more powers, a position where devolution cannot be pulled back by the whim of a prime minister,” Drakeford told the Financial Times.
He claimed Johnson was undermining devolution by taking control of powers and funding repatriated from Brussels after the UK left the EU.
These include economic development funding, which flowed direct from Brussels to Cardiff but will now be dished out by London, and powers over agriculture and education.
Johnson’s approach is “adding to the stresses and strains that are undoubtedly on the UK”, said Drakeford. “The action by the UK government to take powers away from Wales . . . is a recipe to turn the interest in independence in Wales into something more fundamental,” he added.
Support for independence in Wales currently stands at 28 per cent, according to the Financial Times’ poll tracker, about double compared to seven years ago, although it is far from the levels recorded in Scotland.
Drakeford said there was “breathing space” after the May 6 elections to put the UK on a footing that would guarantee its “long term stability”, even though the pro-independence Scottish National party will continue in government in Scotland and is preparing to push for a referendum to break its union with England.
He said a cross-party constitutional convention should be established to recognise the UK’s four nations had voluntarily pooled their sovereignty and proposed that the devolved administrations in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast be handed far more powers.
Richard Wyn Jones, professor of politics at Cardiff university, said Johnson’s Conservatives have become an English nationalist party, while Labour was adopting a similar stance in Wales.
“We have got three different dominant parties in the different nations of Britain,” he added. “They are all nationalist parties. That has huge implications for the future of the UK.”
Drakeford said he was willing to consider a coalition administration in Cardiff to ensure “stable, progressive” government.
While Labour could govern alone “if there are others who would be willing to work alongside us to give us that extra degree of stability I would want to explore it”, he added.
One possible partner are the Liberal Democrats, who won one seat in the Welsh parliament. The other is Plaid Cymru, the pro-independence party, which secured 13 seats.
The Conservatives won a record 16 seats. Anti devolution parties, which won seven seats at the last Welsh parliament election in 2016, lost all of them on May 6.