First Minister Mark Drakeford this week said that he would “resist” any attempts by Westminster to overturn legislation passed in the Senedd, after it was revealed that a 2017 law passed in Cardiff was to be scrapped by Westminster.

The National has looked into how the Welsh Government could try and resist any such moves.

The tension has been caused by Westminster’s plan to repeal a Senedd law which bans the use of temporary agency workers to cover staff who are striking.

The Senedd was granted law-making powers by Westminster following a referendum in 2011 where an overwhelming majority of voters backed the move.

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has said that attempts to undermine legislation passed by the Senedd from Westminster could be “potentially devolution’s breaking point”.

In an interview with The National earlier this month, Prof Richard Wyn Jones - director of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre - said that there was an “air of unreality” around the debate on constitutional matters in Wales presently.


Professor Wyn Jones was referencing the lack of discussion around practical matters in terms of enacting constitutional change, so when Mark Drakeford said he intends to “resist” any power grab by Westminster one question needs to be asked - how?

When we asked the Welsh Government to answer this question they did not comment.

The National Wales: Rhys ab Owen MS represents the South Wales Central region for Plaid Cymru in the Senedd. He is the party's constitution and justice spokesperson.Rhys ab Owen MS represents the South Wales Central region for Plaid Cymru in the Senedd. He is the party's constitution and justice spokesperson.

Rhys ab Owen MS represents Plaid Cymru in the Senedd and before his election was a barrister - one of his areas of interest is the constitutional and legal issues surrounding Welsh politics.

We asked him about the legal basis on which Mr Drakeford could resist encroachment from Westminster and his answer was simple: “There’s not much the Welsh Government can do”.

It echoes comments made to The National by Professor Wyn Jones who said: “There's a continuum here, of taking away powers, and there's not much that the Welsh Government can do in that context - well, there's nothing it can do in constitutional terms.”

Mr ab Owen warned that he believes even if Labour could win a UK general election the party in Wales and its Westminster leadership have different aspirations, meaning a Labour government wouldn't necessarily unlock the path to a stronger constitutional future for Wales and the Senedd.

READ MORE: 'A stronger Senedd isn’t a nice-to-have – it’s an absolute must'

“The Labour party in Wales are hoping that they’ll win a Westminster majority like the one in 1945 that transformed the country, however this is unlikely to happen and the Labour party doesn’t want that transformational constitutional change. They don’t have a plan B for enabling constitutional change without winning a majority in Westminster”.

Of the 21 general elections held in the UK since the Second World War, Labour has won a majority in only eight of them.

“People are starting to wake up and realise that the devolution settlement is under siege, and that it’s been under attack for a while with legislation like the Internal Markets Bill. The devolution settlement could be weaker still by the time of the next general election, too”, said Mr ab Owen.

It’s thought that the Conservative government have decided to overturn the Welsh law in response to last week’s RMT union strikes.

More strikes are expected over the coming weeks and months with unions representing teachers, postal workers, firefighters and more holding votes on whether or not to strike over pay cuts, jobs and working conditions. Enabling the use of agency staff will weaken union members’ bargaining position and potentially the rights of Welsh workers.


If the Welsh Government were to challenge Westminster repealing its legislation, it’s not clear on what legal grounds they would attempt to do so, and the lack of a Welsh judiciary would most likely work against any Welsh Government attempt.

As Prof Wyn Jones said: “I think it's impossible to imagine the current Supreme Court ruling against the UK government in a case brought by one of the devolved governments -  I think they’ve bought into this post-Brexit notion of unfettered parliamentary sovereignty, where basically the UK Government gets to do what it wants to do”.

This week’s events have brought a sharp focus onto the Welsh constitution, or lack thereof, and created existential tension within Welsh politics. For Rhys ab Owen the intended legislation could be monumental: “Boris Johnson’s attempts to break the unions are looking more likely to break the Union”.

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