Conservative leader in Welsh Assembly quits after Brexit row

Outgoing Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies

The Conservative leader in the National Assembly for Wales has quit the post after seven years following a spat over the future for Welsh jobs after Brexit.

Andrew RT Davies said in a statement that he had tendered his resignation "with deep regret" following a meeting of all Conservative Assembly Members (AMs) this morning.

Prime minister Theresa May sent her best wishes, saying she knew Mr Davies would "continue to speak up for the best interests of Wales as we leave the European Union and forge a new role for the whole United Kingdom on the world stage".

Mr Davies was last week accused by a government minister of making "inflammatory" comments about the warning of aircraft manufacturer Airbus that it could quit the UK over Brexit, which he dismissed as "hyperbole".

Airbus, which employs 6,400 people in Wales, has said it may have to reconsider the future of operations in the UK if Britain left the single market and customs union.

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In response, Mr Davies said the company was "doing a disservice" to the workers which had made it successful, adding: "You'd think that Airbus was the first company to entertain slashing costs and by extension standards - and it doesn't usually end well.

"We are getting to the business end of the negotiations, and there is a lot of hyperbole flying around."

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UK defence minister Guto Bebb, who represents the North Wales seat of Aberconwy in Parliament, called on him to retract his "inflammatory" comments, saying: "Shooting the messenger is an unworthy position for a politician to take not least when that politician aspires to lead a government in Wales."

It has been a huge privilege to serve as leader of @WelshConserv - and to have enjoyed the endorsement of the party membership in Wales. Our members work exceptionally hard for our party - and I look forward to continuing to work to deliver electoral success across Wales.

-- Andrew RT Davies (@AndrewRTDavies) June 27, 2018

Speaking after today's meeting, Mr Davies said: "It has been a huge privilege to serve in this position since 2011, after securing the mandate of the party in a ballot of the membership.

"It is my firm belief that any leader of the Assembly group should secure the same mandate in a full ballot of the grassroots, and I hope that my successor will emerge in that manner.

"I look forward to supporting whoever emerges from the contest to replace me, and I will continue to place all of my efforts into advancing the Welsh Conservative cause both here in Wales and Westminster."

Mrs May thanked Mr Davies for his service, adding: "Under Andrew's leadership, the Welsh Conservatives have provided a strong opposition to Labour in Cardiff Bay and a strong voice for the people of Wales, both at home and in Westminster.

"I know he will continue to be a passionate champion for the people of South Wales Central in the Assembly, as he has been for more than a decade - and will continue to speak up for the best interests of Wales as we leave the European Union and forge a new role for the whole United Kingdom on the world stage."

Welsh Labour MP and former leadership challenger Owen Smith, a champion for the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said: "This is the just first casualty in the Tory Brexit War that threatens to drag our whole country down. "Mr Davies' reckless dismissal of the legitimate concerns of Airbus, one of Wales' most important employers, is the immediate cause of his forced resignation, but it speaks to deeper tensions in the Tory government. "They used to call themselves the 'party of business', now they are the party who declare 'f**k business'. Sensible Conservatives who want to see Britain and all our businesses prosper are at their wits end and are now clearly starting to fight back."

But Labour's first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, said: "Despite our obvious political differences, I always found Andrew to be good company, and he never broke the confidences I shared with him as leader of the opposition.

"That is the sign of a decent and honest politician. Andrew has made his mark in Welsh politics, and his jovial and larger than life personality has always been a breath of fresh air during Assembly proceedings. I wish him well in the future."

Mr Davies was first elected to the Welsh Assembly as member for South Wales Central in 2007 and previously held shadow portfolios for transport and education.

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