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The PM’s revisionist history of referendums helps no one

3 min read

Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts writes that the Prime Minister's Stoke speech "shows a disregard for Wales, devolution and democracy, but today’s Brexit mess extends much beyond one dishonest speech".

The chaos on display in Westminster right now has perhaps been best encapsulated by yesterday’s bizarre behaviour from the Prime Minister.  

A key section of Theresa May’s plea to MPs to support her dying deal was changed at the last minute after someone with at least a rudimentary knowledge of modern Welsh history pointed out that a comparison she planned to make was, as we say, sbwriel [rubbish].

Whether out of ignorance or incompetence, the Prime Minister distastefully and hypocritically sought to compare the referendum some two decades ago which created the Welsh Assembly to that which gave us this Brexit mess in the first place – a stretch by any reasonable measure. The Prime Minister set out to claim that all parties backed the creation of the Welsh Assembly after a narrow referendum result.  

This is simply not true.

In 1997 she herself voted against legislation to establish the National Assembly for Wales and in 2005 stood on a manifesto calling for a second referendum that include the option to overturn the result of the first. Incidentally Mrs May and her Conservative colleagues also voted against the creation of a Scottish devolved legislature in 1997, despite the Scottish referendum on this issue having been won by a landslide 74% result in favour. 

The hypocrisy is self-evident. 

Media reports seem to indicate that No. 10 couldn’t be bothered to ask its own Welsh Ministers before including this untruth. Certainly, such disregard rings true with her Government’s general attitude to the devolved nations. 

Not content with ignoring Wales in EU negotiations, it now seems that Mrs May is continuing in this habit as she gets to the tail-end of her doomed project.  

And although the offending section of the speech was removed, the Prime Minister stuck to her guns when I questioned her in the Chamber of the House of Commons, saying: “We respect and made clear at the time we respected it, and anybody who sees the Welsh Assembly today and what it has been doing in recent years will recognise that was the right decision.”

Again, this is objectively false.

Unlike the rainbow-and-unicorn fantasies of the Brexit referendum, the 1997 devolution vote posed a clear question, with a clear outcome and clear, predictable consequences. The only party to attack its legitimacy after the fact was her party, the Conservatives. 

Following the exchange, I raised a Point of Order – a question to the Speaker regarding procedure in Parliament – in the House of Commons, asking for clarification. It obviously cannot stand that this Prime Minister or any other can blatantly mislead the House and then just walk away without consequence.

Mrs May's revisionist history shows a disregard for Wales, devolution and democracy but today’s Brexit mess extends much beyond one dishonest speech.

It is part of the truth-bending, fake news mindset that has underpinned Brexit and the Prime Minister’s own premiership from the very beginning. 

I hope that the Prime Minister will apologise for misleading the House and, more importantly, I hope – likely in vain – that this will mark the end of her Government’s dishonesty on Brexit. 

Liz Saville Roberts is Plaid Cymru's Westminster Leader and MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd

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