A key section of Theresa May’s final plea for MPs to support her Brexit deal has been called into question after it emerged a historic comparison she made – that all parties backed the Welsh assembly after a narrow referendum agreeing it – is not strictly true. May makes last-ditch bid to win over Commons…
A key section of Theresa May’s final plea for MPs to support her Brexit deal has been called into question after it emerged a historic comparison she made – that all parties backed the Welsh assembly after a narrow referendum agreeing it – is not strictly true.
In fact, while the assembly was created after 1997 referendum, in which the winning margin in favour of devolution was just 0.3% – a majority of 6,721 votes – when the relevant bill was put to the Commons many Tory MPs, including the then-newly elected May, voted against it.
More uncomfortable still for May’s arguments against a second referendum, the Conservatives went into the 2005 general election with a manifesto pledging a new vote for the people on Wales, to include an option to abolish the assembly.
The comparison was to be made by the prime minister on Monday in a speech at a factory in Stoke-on-Trent, where May is to urge MPs to back her deal, saying that if it is rejected Brexit might not happen, which she said would be a betrayal of voters.
“On the rare occasions when parliament puts a question to the British people directly we have always understood that their response carries a profound significance,” she was expected to say, in extracts of the speech released in advance.
“When the people of Wales voted by a margin of 0.3%, on a turnout of just over 50%, to endorse the creation of the Welsh assembly, that result was accepted by both sides and the popular legitimacy of that institution has never seriously been questioned.
“Parliament understood this fact when it voted overwhelmingly to trigger article 50. And both major parties did so too when they stood on election manifestos in 2017 that pledged to honour the result of the referendum.”
When the extracts were released, however, journalists and academics questioned the veracity of this account.
Parliamentary records show that in December 1999, May was among a large number of Conservative MPs to vote against the second reading of the government of Wales bill, as did Brexiters who strongly back the 2016 referendum such as John Redwood, and Owen Paterson.
While the assembly was established, copies of the 2005 Conservative manifesto, under which May stood, with Michael Howard as party leader, states: “In Wales we will work with the assembly and give the Welsh people a referendum on whether to keep the assembly in its current form, increase its powers or abolish it.”