Campaigners are calling on the Welsh Government to "defend democracy" by refusing to enforce "authoritarian" Westminster legislation.

People's Assembly Wales, a group originally formed to campaign against austerity, has warned that new laws passed by the UK Government are a "direct attack" on human rights, democracy and devolution.

It comes after a number of controversial Bills - introducing measures such as mandatory voter ID, heightened restrictions on public protest, and UK Government control over the Electoral Commission - were passed into law.

"Personally I find it extremely scary, what's happening," campaigner Len Arthur told The National.

"It's very important to understand that these pieces of legislation are not separate initiatives - they are a systematic, strategic attack on our human rights and democracy.

"Every week they turn the screws."

People's Assembly Wales says it has identified 20 key areas at risk from the new laws, including devolution, disability rights, the ability to vote in free elections, and the rights and safety of immigrants and refugees.

As well as the Welsh Government, the group also wants, councils and elected police and crime commissioners to push back against Westminster by choosing not to enforce its legislation.

"A lot of the legislation that the Tory government has introduced goes way beyond what they were saying they were going to do in terms of their manifestos," Arthur said.

"Although they keep saying they have a mandate to do these things, I would argue they're going far, far beyond what that means.

"We've also now had two sets of elections - the Senedd elections last year and the local government elections now - both of which have decisively showed a rejection of what the Tories stand for in Wales."

The group has put together a petition, which can be viewed here.

The National Wales: TUC General Secretary Shavanah Taj marches with People's Assembly against the 2017 Trade Union Act, which introduced new restrictions on unions. (Picture: Adam Johannes)TUC General Secretary Shavanah Taj marches with People's Assembly against the 2017 Trade Union Act, which introduced new restrictions on unions. (Picture: Adam Johannes)

What UK Government Bills have passed recently? 

Among the laws singled out for concern by the group was the Elections Act, which passed into law around two weeks ago. 

This Act means that people will only be able to vote in future UK General Elections if they can show a valid form of photo ID, such as passports or driving licenses, at polling stations. Photo ID would also be required for police and crime commissioner elections in Wales, which are run under rules set in Westminster, but not for Senedd and council elections under Welsh control.

Voter ID is often criticised as discriminatory, as Black and Minority Ethnic people and people on low incomes are less likely to have the necessary documentation.

A Cabinet Office-commissioned study released last year found that Voter ID requirements could shut out more than 2 million people from future elections.

The Act also gave the UK Government executive control over the Electoral Commission - the formerly independent watchdog responsible for ensuring elections are conducted freely, fairly, and legally.

The National Wales: Labour enjoyed success in Wales during the recent local elections. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Labour enjoyed success in Wales during the recent local elections. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

"Elections are supposedly the way in which we regularly hold those who have power to account," Arthur said.

"They're undermining that democratic process."

People's Assembly Wales recently ran a successful campaign to expand free school meals to all children, and was also involved in the campaign to save the A&E service at Rhondda Cynon Taff's Royal Glamorgan Hospital.

The group says that these wins may not have been possible under new protest restrictions introduced by the UK Government's Policing Act, which has also now passed into law.

"In all of these campaigns, the ability to be critical of those in power, the ability to organise demonstrations, the ability to occupy - all of this is really, really important in order to effectively campaign and hold power accountable," Arthur added.

READ MORE:

"This raft of authoritarian laws that the Tories are introducing are aimed at curbing, if not stopping, that.

"We're very, very concerned about this."

Harsher restrictions on protestors - including protest banning orders that could see activists restricted from seeing certain friends or using the internet - were cut out of the Policing Act by the House of Lords earlier this year, but the government intends to reintroduce these measures in a separate Public Order Bill.

You can find more detail on those measures in our deep-dive here.

The National Wales: Teachers at a Cardiff school protest pension cuts, 2022. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Teachers at a Cardiff school protest pension cuts, 2022. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

The Nationality and Borders Act, meanwhile, will allow the UK Government to ship refugees to a camp in Rwanda for processing, and prosecute asylum seekers who travel to Britain without a visa - often the only option for refugees in times of bureaucratic backlogs.

The Home Secretary will also now be able to strip people with dual nationalities of their British citizenship, without prior warning.

The Welsh Government officially declined consent for parts of both the Borders Act and the Policing Act, on the basis that the laws conflict with the Welsh Government's Nation of Sanctuary policy - but the laws passed regardless.

The Welsh Government has also said it is exploring a possible Welsh Bill of Rights to protect existing rights in response to plans, in Westminster, to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of rights.

READ MORE: 

The Internal Markets Act, which set out post-Brexit regulations for trading between the UK's four nations, limits future lawmaking powers on the part of the Welsh Government, even in devolved areas, - and as a "protected enactment", only the Westminster government can make changes to it in future.

A recent FOI found that the Welsh Government had spent £92,440 on a legal challenge against the Act.

"This is what's happening to us," Arthur said.

"We're facing an increasingly authoritarian government, and these hard-won human rights and democracy, if lost, rarely return to what they were before. 

"It can be depressing to watch, but they want you to feel crushed - so what's important for us, as the People's Assembly, is to say that we can do something about this.

"We'll continue to protest and challenge the UK Government, but we want councils, and the Welsh Government in particular, to look at non-implementation of these laws.

The National Wales: Protests against the UK Government's Policing Act have been ongoing in Wales since last year. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Protests against the UK Government's Policing Act have been ongoing in Wales since last year. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

"In other words, we want them to protect the people of Wales who are affected by these laws by not implementing them.

"In a sense, the Welsh Government has already started this process, but on legal technicalities - what we want them to do is to take that further.

"We think that we can challenge [the UK Government] on behalf of people both in Wales and across the UK."

Citing Labour's recent electoral successes, he added: "Our elected representatives in Wales have a perfect legitimacy to go ahead and challenge these laws, and that legitimacy seems to increase year-on-year."

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.