Wales politics

Welsh first minister obsessed with power, says Cairns

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Media captionAlun Cairns claimed Carwyn Jones was working with Scottish nationalists to divide the UK

Carwyn Jones is obsessed with process, bureaucracy and power, the Welsh secretary has said.

Alun Cairns made a personal attack on Wales' first minister in his speech to the Tory conference in Manchester.

He said Labour in Wales was "pursuing an agenda which aims to derail Brexit" and accused Mr Jones of being "duplicitous".

Mr Jones is embroiled in a public row with the UK government over the Brexit bill, calling it a "power grab".

The Welsh secretary said the first minister had "even been described as standing shoulder to shoulder" with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

"A duplicitous approach when Wales voted to Leave," he said to applause from conference delegates on Monday.

"At a time when our economic interests need to be our priority, when we should be reaching out to new markets, securing new trading opportunities and increasing our exports, the first minister is obsessed with process, bureaucracy and power."

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Image caption Severn crossing tolls are due to be scrapped in 2018

Mr Cairns said Mr Jones "seems to spend most of his time working with the nationalists in Scotland - seeking to divide the UK, rather than working in the interests of every constituent part".

He said the first minister "should be concerned about his longer waiting lists, or his widening wealth gap, and his record-breaking council tax rises".

During the speech, Mr Cairns hailed the UK government's decision to scrap the Severn Bridge tolls, saying it "brings the opportunity to bind the south west and south Wales ever closer together", developing Bristol, Newport and Cardiff and creating "on the western side of the UK a new powerhouse".

He challenged the Welsh Government to "empower" councils "as we develop the North Wales Growth Deal" and give them "the capacity to compete with the new mayors in Manchester and Merseyside".

Qatar claim 'untrue'

The Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth Stephen Doughty accused Mr Cairns on Twitter of an "absurd and overtly personal attack" that was "demeaning of office".

The party also disputed a claim by Mr Cairns that the UK government was responsible for securing a planned new daily route from Cardiff Airport to Qatar, branding it "simply untrue".

Meanwhile, the Welsh Government says it will consider the implications of a UK government decision to freeze tuition fees at English universities at a maximum of £9,250 a year.

A spokesman said the Welsh Government would continue to watch the position "closely".

"We have been clear that the Welsh and English higher education systems do not operate in isolation," he said.

Analysis by Nick Servini, BBC Wales political editor

This unusually personal attack by Alun Cairns on Carwyn Jones is a sign of the simmering frustration felt in the Wales Office towards the Welsh Government in relation to Brexit.

Until this point, the criticism normally levelled at the first minister when he makes statements opposing the way Brexit is being carried out is that he should focus on the day job.

At its heart is the regular behind-the-scenes complaint from Mr Cairns's team that the meetings between the UK and Welsh governments actually go better than Mr Jones portrays them in news conferences afterwards.

This ramps up the rhetoric further - and makes any agreement on the EU withdrawal bill more distant than ever.

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