Hard Brexit like religious fundamentalism, says Welsh PM | carwyn jones

Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones called the pursuit of a hard Brexit a “kind of religious fundamentalism”.

Jones also compared Westminster’s approach to devolved nations on Brexit to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s attitude to the Eastern Bloc.

In an interview to mark the 20th anniversary of the referendum that led to Welsh devolution, Jones told the Guardian he thought Wales was more successful and confident than two decades ago.

He said, however, that Brexit created challenges both for devolution and for the union.

The people of Wales have voted to leave the EU, but Jones said the Tories’ poor performance in this summer’s general election across the UK showed that people did not want a hard Brexit.

“There were a lot of people who voted for reasons that have nothing to do with the EU,” he said. “A lot of people said to me on the doorstep, ‘We’re going to kick David Cameron. Don’t worry, we’re still Labour. I heard that more than anything. The EU was a minor issue in the EU referendum.

Jones, who has been prime minister since 2009 and is the leader of Welsh Labour, said that when people voted for decentralization in the 1997 referendum the details of its operation had been published.

“People could see what it would look like,” he said. “The problem with the [EU] referendum was that the vote had to go, but there were a number of interpretations about what that meant.

“The narrative of the outgoing hardliners is that the only interpretation you can give to this is a hard Brexit. It is a kind of religious fundamentalism. It is the only true way. No one can disagree with us. This narrative needs to be challenged. People were offered the chance to vote for a hard Brexit in June and didn’t. »

The Labour-led Welsh government is working with the SNP in Scotland to fight what both administrations see as a “naked power grab” by Westminster in the Brexit bill. The UK government has said devolved administrations will be asked to approve the bill.

“They said they wanted the consent of the devolved legislatures for the bill to go forward. We welcome that,” but “they can’t say, ‘Yes, you can make the decision as long as you agree with us,'” Jones said. “It’s not consent, it’s the Brezhnev-era doctrine of limited sovereignty.”

He said the Welsh government needed to ensure Brexit did not interfere with the delivery of the public services it runs, such as health and education.

“People want to see improvements in the health service, our GCSE results are improving. They want the school building program to continue, but Brexit remains in the background,” he said.

“We can only be successful if we have the best possible access to the single market. It is extremely important for us, 67% of our exports go there. Any obstacle and we lose jobs. It’s so simple. We don’t need to have the kind of Brexit the Tories are proposing.

“The problem with the Westminster government is that I have no idea of ​​their point of view. They have no collective point of view. There are different points of view according to ministers. My fear is that the UK is no longer seen as a serious player, and that is bad for all of us who live in the UK As for the Prime Minister, she is not visible.

Asked if this is a dangerous time for the future of devolution and the union, Jones said: “I think there are big challenges for the UK. In my view, the EU was part of the glue that held the UK together.

“As someone who wants the UK to stay united, I don’t want stupid decisions like the current bill to cause the UK to collapse. I am a devolutionist who believes in the union. I don’t think they get that in Whitehall.

“I think some of them think the UK is the same as it was in 1972, a unitary state with one government. There’s been no devolution for 20 years, and there’s a danger to that.We cannot allow people to think that the choice is between a centralized state and independence.

“There is a wiser and more sensible choice, which is devolution in the UK context. Does this mean federalism? It means something close to it. Federalism is difficult because of England. What about England? But that means the UK is a four-nation partnership, not one that imposes its will on everyone. »

It’s ironic that Brexit concerns led Jones, a union champion, to work with the independence campaigning SNP.

“There’s no reason the union can’t stick together,” Jones said. “There are all the possibilities of creating a modern democratic state where there are different centers of democratic accountability rather than just one, London.”

He summed up the impact of devolution on Wales in one word: trust.

“In the 1990s, people in Wales were completely lacking in confidence. At the time of the referendum, people said to me: “It’s a good idea but we are not really capable of it”, as if we were completely stupid and could not make our own decisions”, he said. he declares.

“It affected the opinion people had of themselves. Welsh youngsters did not see a future for themselves in Wales. Now they stay here. They can see their future here. There are opportunities here that didn’t exist in the 90s.”

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