June 23, 2016. A date which will live in infamy? Today's Senedd debate showed the deep divides over that referendum are yet to heal, at least among Wales' elected representatives.

Five years ago, more than 1.6 million voters went to the polls in Wales. Some 854,572 would vote for Brexit, while 772,347 would vote to remain in the European Union.

Welsh Conservative MS Darren Millar told the Senedd the referendum result was an "historic moment" that "sent shockwaves through the Welsh establishment".

His party group chose to mark the anniversary with a debate on Brexit's legacy in Wales.

The Tory motion was not tabled "with the intention of opening up the divisions of the past that emerged during the Brexit debate [but] ... to have a full and frank debate that the opportunities that Brexit presents for Wales," Millar said.

Those opportunities, he added, included new funding streams for Welsh councils – a policy the Welsh Government previously called "an assault on devolution" – and UK trade deals worth more than £890 billion.

"Boris Johnson and his team have pulled the rabbit out of the hat," Millar told the Senedd. "I know you don't like it, but that's the truth."

But despite the Clwyd West MS' assertions that today's debate would allow the Welsh Parliament to "move on from all of the division of the past five years," the Senedd is very much still a house divided when it comes to Brexit.

There was little of substance today regarding the opportunities that leaving the EU has – or hasn't – presented to the people of Wales. When Labour's Joyce Watson referred to Brexit as a "toxic wedge issue," that description was probably as appropriate for today's debate as for anything heard in June 2016 or in the months that followed the referendum.


Amid the to-and-fro over whether to mark today's anniversary as "wonderful" or as "ill-starred", the main question was around Brexit's constitutional legacy, and the chance to revisit arguments about the prime minister's attitudes to the four nations and his party's motives for schemes like the 'levelling-up' agenda.

Plaid Cymru MS Rhys ab Owen argued the momentum from the 2016 referendum was now being used by Johnson's government to consolidate its own power, at the expense of devolution.

"We know what the 'leave' campaign meant when the rally cry was 'take back control' – it was take back control to Westminster," he said. "Wales wasn't on the agenda. From the beginning, Wales did not feature."

Ab Owen said this was an ongoing issue. Wales' economy minister had been invited to UK-EU trade negotiations but was not allowed to speak, he said.

"Does that show respect to our government here in Wales?" he asked the Senedd.

This was challenged by the Welsh Conservatives. Millar accused Labour and Plaid of trying to "peddle the myth that the UK government has been undermining devolution since Brexit, but nothing could be further from the truth".

The 66-minute debate was heated and at times bad-tempered, punctuated with heckling, raised voices and party slogans harking back to the referendum campaign.

Jane Dodds, the sole Welsh Liberal Democrat in the Senedd, told MSs she was "surprised at the tone of some of the remarks".

"People want us to stop getting at each other, to work with each other, and to concentrate on the future of the people of Wales," she said.

"Brexit was divisive and painful – let's rise above those times."

Rhun ap Iorwerth, of Plaid, told MSs that "a lot of what we have heard today has been pretty desperate jingoism, and Wales and the Senedd deserve better than that".

At voting time, the Tory motion was defeated in favour of a Welsh Government amendment that was critical of Westminster's approach to post-Brexit relations with Wales.