Coronavirus: Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford says Boris Johnson government is 'undermining devolution'

·3 min read

The embattled Welsh first minister - under attack over shops in Wales refusing to sell tampons, books and clothes - has bitterly attacked Boris Johnson over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In his second powerful attack on the prime minister in 10 days, Mark Drakeford accused Mr Johnson of deliberately centralising power in Westminster and placing devolution under serious threat.

"Unfortunately, relations with the UK government are not as we would wish them to be," Mr Drakeford complained in a scathing report on COVID-19 relations between the Welsh government and Westminster.

"Sometimes carelessly, and sometimes deliberately, in its desire to centralise power and remove obstacles in all branches of government to exercising that power, the UK government is undermining devolution.

"The constitutional settlement that has been supported by the people of Wales in two referendums is under serious threat."

Mr Drakeford's attack followed his plea to supermarkets in Wales to use discretion in the sale of "non-essential" goods, after strict lockdown rules caused chaos and provoked a furious public backlash.

Since Friday, Wales has been under a 17-day "firebreak" lockdown, while Mr Johnson rejected calls for a similar "circuit breaker" lockdown in England and imposed local and regional restrictions instead.

But Mr Drakeford, who complained in his report that the Joint Ministerial Committee of UK and devolved government ministers had not met to discuss COVID-19, hit out.

"Crises require flexibility and inventiveness," he said.

"Engagement across the UK has not been reliable or regular enough, and has exposed the weakness in the inter-governmental arrangements which are intended to sustain a devolved union."

He claimed: "COVID-19 has raised awareness of the respective responsibilities of the UK government and the Welsh government.

"It has shown that Wales can, and should continue to, benefit from the decisions made by our devolved institutions, based on our circumstances, as well as wider measures across the UK.

"The association of nations in which we have been able to share risk and reward in these unprecedented times has also been to our advantage.

"To secure those advantages for the future we need radical reform of the UK, making it authentically a voluntary association of nations where sovereignty is held by each nation and then pooled for common purposes.

"Our proposals for joint intergovernmental working include a series of regular and predictable meetings at head of government, portfolio minister and official levels, to consider the UK response to the pandemic.

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"This means co-ordinating decision-making and communications so that the public understand what rules apply to them and why some restrictions are the same across the UK and some are different.

"We need dialogue with the prime minister on why the freedom of movement of people from England is more important, in his view, than the protection of people in Wales from the virus."

Mr Drakeford's attack followed his declaration at an online event with Gordon Brown earlier this month that "the way the UK has operated in the pandemic has been a wing and a prayer".

"The prime minister calls us together randomly, at short notice, with very little preparation and then nothing happens for week after week, after week," he said.

"The underpinning of the UK has been so neglected by this government. The pinnacle of intergovernmental relations is meant to be the Joint Ministerial Committee. It hasn't met once.

"Not a single time in the whole premiership of Boris Johnson. Now Mrs [Theresa] May, she was a careful attender to intergovernmental relations."