Wales politics

Assembly should vote against PM's Brexit law, says Wales' first minister

Mark Drakeford
Image caption Mark Drakeford said Brexit was not a "blank cheque" to damage the Welsh economy

Assembly members should vote down Boris Johnson's Brexit bill when it comes to the Senedd, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Mr Drakeford said while the general election settled the fact of Brexit, it did not amount to a "blank cheque".

The Welsh Labour leader has claimed the deal will damage Wales' economy.

The party lost almost all of its seats in north Wales to the Tories in the December election, when it took a pro-EU stance.

The assembly and the Scottish Parliament are required to give consent to the prime minister's withdrawal agreement under the way devolution in the UK works.

A refusal would not prevent the bill from becoming law, however.

Last year AMs voted against the EU Withdrawal Bill, in a separate symbolic exercise.

The general election saw Welsh Labour lose six seats, including almost all its seats in north Wales bar one.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Drakeford called for a "sensible, productive... relationship with our biggest and most important market"

In his first press conference of the new year, Mr Drakeford said while the general election had settled the fact the UK was leaving the EU, it was not "a blank cheque for the UK government to do things in a way that would do damage to the Welsh economy".

The first minister said his government "will not give up advocating for a form of Brexit that is protective of Welsh interests" and "we cannot recommend that the National Assembly for Wales gives approval to the UK government's (Brexit) bill."

Mr Drakeford ruled out supporting a campaign to rejoin the EU in the short term.

Instead he said the UK government needed to think about how to develop "a sensible, productive... relationship with our biggest and most important market".

He called for an arrangement that recognises "we have left but doesn't throw the baby out with the bath water".

Mr Johnson won last year's general election by promising to pass the legislation taking the UK out of the EU by the end of January.

His majority of 80 MPs makes it virtually certain that he will meet that deadline, irrespective of the votes of Welsh AMs on the matter.

Paul Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said Mr Drakeford and Welsh Labour should "get behind" the Brexit deal "rather than engage in dithering".

"His call for the National Assembly to vote against the prime minister's deal reveals just how hopelessly out of touch Labour is," Mr Davies added.

"There is no other credible deal than Boris', Wales voted to leave the EU, and the Conservatives will deliver on the electorate's wishes."

New Labour leader

Asked about the Labour leadership contest, Mr Drakeford said he would not be supporting any particular candidate because "as first minister you have to deal with whoever is elected".

On the future direction of the party, he insisted: "We need a leader who will regard the manifestos of 2015 and 2019 as scripts to be developed, not abandoned."

Analysis by Felicity Evans, BBC Wales political editor

Mark Drakeford says he is following the precedent set by his predecessor, Carwyn Jones, in not endorsing a Labour leadership candidate.

But while he's not naming names, it's clear from his comments that he wants a candidate who will continue in the direction set by Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Drakeford admitted during the general election campaign that Mr Corbyn was "Marmite on the doorstep".

On Monday, he defended Labour's manifesto saying only that the party wasn't able to simplify the message.

So his analysis appears to be that with a different UK leader, and Brexit out of the way, Labour's fortunes will revive.

With Welsh assembly elections in 18 months, we will soon get a sense of whether or not he is right.

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