The Brexit deficit

Jess Blair argues that current political pressures show the need for increasing the capacity of the National Assembly for Wales

If there was a ‘word cloud’ of popular news topics over the last twelve months then ‘Brexit’ would be front, centre and in bold. Since last June’s referendum the topic has dominated headlines, been the focus of family discussions over the dinner table, and of course the workloads in Westminster and beyond.

 

On Monday the Institute for Government published a report highlighting the dominance of Brexit on the agenda in the Commons and Lords. The report found that an additional 15 new bills in addition to the Great Repeal Bill could be required to deliver Brexit. It also outlined the extent to which Brexit is already putting pressure on proceedings. There are 55 current select committee inquiries taking place across the two Houses of Parliament, with 21 of the 26 committees who undertake such inquiries currently looking at Brexit related issues.

 

The additional strain that delivering Brexit brings will not just be felt in Westminster.

A substantial number of policy areas that will be significantly impacted by the UK leaving the EU are devolved to Wales. These include but are not limited to agriculture, cohesion policy, fisheries and marine policy, the environment and energy and climate change, with some impact to be felt on areas like health and education.

 

A specific committee, the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, has been established to “examine the implications for Wales of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union”. Three other committees are also considering the implications within current inquiries; the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee and the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.

 

It is clear that Brexit has already had an impact on the Assembly’s working, despite the fact that Article 50 won’t formally be triggered until 29th March. Perhaps another sign that we live in different times is that the traditional cornerstones of Welsh political discourse – health and education – are being pushed out at all levels by the discussions on Brexit.

 

All of this is only likely to increase once a deal is agreed. On top of this if plans for boundary changes take place, bringing MP numbers down from 650 to 600, then Wales will have just 29 MPs.

 

It’s worth noting that the number of peers alone taking evidence on Brexit eclipses the entire membership of the National Assembly. The National Assembly currently has just 60 members, a fact brought into question by a report from ERS Cymru for the UK’s Changing Union Project in 2013. A follow up report, published last November, looked at how an increased Assembly might be achieved.

 

While we’ve been making these arguments on the size of our assembly for a while, current and impending political challenges as outlined by the Institute for Government now make this an urgent issue. The next few years will be a game changer. To face it effectively we need a game changing Assembly.

 

An expert panel on electoral reform has been established by the Llywydd, Elin Jones AM, and is being led by Professor Laura McAllister. The panel will consider a raft of issues including the size of the assembly.

 

This is a crucial step forward in the maturing of our Assembly. And it’s a vital measure to ensure that our democratic processes can effectively meet the challenges that will come.

 

Arguing for more politicians isn’t easy, but the changing nature of Wales and the UK means it really is now essential.

We could so easily fall into the easy dismissal that ‘now is not the time’ or ‘we can’t afford more’ AMs in these straitened economic times. But when looking at the sheer scale of challenges ahead and potential opportunities for Wales, the work to be done in mapping the post-Brexit terrain, and the vital role in speaking up for Wales with less representation in Westminster – can we really afford not to deal with this?  

Jess Blair is the Director of ERS Cymru

8 thoughts on “The Brexit deficit

  1. This is ‘conjecture’ based on ‘uncertainty’. The UK to survive in a free market world will have have a very efficient agriculture sector and this will allow food in from whole world and as such must be decided at UK level,not the parish pump.

  2. While I support the need for an increase in the number of AMs in order for the Assembly to avoid becoming dysfunctional, There is one aspect of our constitution which needs addressing. It came as quite a shock in 2016 when It became clear that Nathan Gill was legally entitled to be both an AM and an MEP simultaneously. This was followed by the current situation where Neil McEvoy wishes to be both an AM and a Cardiff Councillor. Add to this, both Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas and Baroness Morgan are members of the House of Lords.

    So the question is this. If the current AMs are so overwhelmed by the workload worked, how is it possible for them to have a second job? Elin Jones has stated that increasing the number of AMs is going to be a hard sell. Well, if they are free to decide for themselves how many hours they devote to the work of the National Assembly and how many to other political jobs, then it’s going to be an even harder sell.

    Professor McAllister will be chairing the the Electoral Reform Commission which reports in the autumn of this year. I would like to think that this question will be addressed but I suspect that the personal views of voters do not merit attention in these circles.

  3. If you want to link the future of the Welsh Assembly to BREXIT then it’s time to get rid of it! Originally it was never anything more than a part of Heath’s Regionalisation process agreed before he signed the Treaty of Rome 60 years ago this weekend. Every UK NUTS1 Region was to have an elected legislature, a development agency, and 2 seats on the Committee of the Regions. The Welsh Assembly was the legislature for Region UKL. It also gained the WDA and the 2 seats on the CoR.

    The plan fell apart when the canny people of the North East Region (UKC) voted down Prescott’s proposal for a NUTS1 elected legislature there on the 4th of November 2004. The North West (UKD) and Yorkshire & the Humber (UKE) were due to be next in line but they killed it off in the North East with a lot of help from their friends. I wonder how few people now remember how much the UK still owes to those NO campaigners?

    It’s time now to put the EU’s other 4 Regional legislatures to the sword! UKI (Greater London), UKL (Wales), UKM (Scotland) and UKN (Northern Ireland) should all be axed as part of BREXIT. They have all failed the people they were meant to enslave yet the madness goes on…

  4. I am generally in favour of a larger Assembly and am persuaded by several arguments that the current membership is too small to give adequate scrutiny to legislative and administrative functions. Having said that there are measures that could be taken to improve matters within the current membership, longer hours and a smaller executive come readily to mind.
    I am not sure how Brexit effects the debate one way or other. The Brexit pressure falls now and over the next few years (perhaps longer). A larger Welsh Assembly couldnt be enacted during this time and preparing and passing a bill to approve it will only add to pressures in the short to medium term.
    The LLywydd, Prof. McAllister and Jess Blair all want a larger Assembly (as do I) but Brexit is being used as a timely hook to hang an entrenched position.

  5. Trade policy will certainly be decided at UK level. Brexit will eliminate 80 per cent of the market for the Welsh meat industry and free trade in New Zealand lamb and Argentinian beef would polish off much of the rest. The UK government is unlikely to spend much time worrying about the consequences for rural Wales so any policy assistance or palliatives will have to come from the Welsh government. They did a good job dealing with the foot and mouth outbreak but this will be a stiffer challenge.

  6. With regard to AMs who are also members of the House of Lords, this need not have an impact on their time in the Assembly since attendance at the House of Lords is voluntary. Also, I believe that membership of the House of Lords by Morgan and Elis Thomas proved useful during the passage of the latest Wales Act. They were able to initiate amendmends in the Lords to improve this rather flawed Act. Under the Act, the Assembly will have power over its own constitution so it would be able to increase the number of AMs without reference to Westminster. When the number of MPs are being reduced to 29, because more Welsh affairs are being handled in the Bay instead of Westminster, it would seem to be a good time to argue for an increase in the number of AMs.

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