Wales politics

Voters would reject devolution now, says Andrew RT Davies

Political leaders on stage at the Welsh College of Music and Drama in 1997
Image caption Triumphant political leaders after Yes won the referendum to establish the Welsh Assembly in 1997

Welsh voters would turn down devolution now if a referendum were held on the assembly's existence, Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies has said.

He said it would be "hugely challenging" given current "strong anti-establishment thinking".

No such poll is taking place, but his comments come after others warned of threats to devolution in Brexit's wake.

In response, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said the EU result should not be read as a vote to "centralise" power.

During the referendum campaign Labour, which leads the Welsh Government, and official opposition Plaid Cymru campaigned to stay in the European Union, while Mr Davies campaigned for Leave.

Leave won in Wales, and since the June vote First Minister Carwyn Jones has called for any future Brexit deal to be put to Britain's devolved legislatures, saying he would set up an advisory group on the issue.

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Media captionWelsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies warns it cannot be "business as usual" for the assembly after the Brexit vote.

Mr Davies said there was "no great warmth or affection" towards the assembly.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement programme, he added: "This thought came to me when I was having an innocent conversation with a fellow farmer, we were talking about Brexit.

"He posed the question to me that if the referendum for the assembly was re-run today, could it be won?

"If you reflect on it and the state of politics at the moment, I don't think it could be won, to be honest with you.

"The more and more you travel around Wales, and I say this with a heavy heart... sadly people feel very remote from the institution.

"While people indicate in polls they want decisions taken here in Wales, it's not necessarily through the vehicle of the National Assembly."

Image caption Leanne Wood said Brexit was an 'opportunity' for more devolution

Three referendums have been held on Welsh devolution. The first, in 1979, rejected an assembly for Wales with 79.4% of voters opposing the idea. Some 58.8% of the electorate turned out.

But in 1997 a further referendum produced the opposite outcome with a victory for Yes - 50.3% to 49.7% - but on a turnout of 50.1%.

A poll was also held in 2011 on whether the assembly should have powers to make law in areas it has jurisdiction. This was also won with 63.5% of the vote, but with a turnout of 35.6%.

Plaid's Ms Wood said: "Brexit provides an opportunity for the nations to take more power and responsibility from the UK.

"The referendum result shows how Westminster rule has left many communities behind. It should in no way be interpreted as a vote to centralise more power in London.

'Timid or ashamed'

"No self-respecting country should be timid or ashamed of governing itself. It's disheartening to see such a negative attitude from some in Welsh politics."

A spokesman for the first minister said: "We have announced our key priorities for a future (Brexit) deal, established a new business confidence fund to help businesses through this uncertain period and we've announced the establishment of a new department in government, alongside a new external EU advisory group.

"We've met with the prime minister, chancellor, Brexit ministers and the agriculture minister - we've brought together all the devolved governments in Cardiff and summoned a special Council for Economic Renewal. We have demanded, and secured some certainty about future funding, though there is still a way to go on that.

"The narrative the Welsh Tories want to develop simply isn't borne out by the facts."

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