Welsh first minister says UK 'is over' in blistering attacks on No 10's handling of devolution

First Minister Mark Drakeford speaking at a press conference in Cardiff ahead of Wales entering a tw

First minister Mark Drakeford speaking at a Covid press conference in Cardiff, Wales - Credit: PA

Mark Drakeford has told a Welsh Affairs Committee that the union "is over" and a new one was needed to reflect a "voluntary association of four nations".

The first minister also condemned Downing Street's approach of bypassing the devolved administrations through levelling up funds.

He stated: "For the first time since devolution, we are dealing with a UK government which is aggressively unilateral ... and that there is outright hostility to the fact of devolution at the heart of the government ... and a belief that the best way to deal with [devolution] is to bypass it, to marginalise it, to act as if devolution didn’t exist."

Downing Street has confirmed plans to unilaterally administer funds over key areas such as regeneration and transport, rather than handing that responsibility to the devolved governments.

Drakeford added that the break-up of the UK was possible if politicians only offered a "tweaking of the status quo", and said Boris Johnson’s lack of engagement with the devolved nations undermined efforts to keep them together.

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He told MPs a new devolution settlement was needed after the pandemic had caused a rise in polarised opinions about Wales' future.

This comes as a new poll by ITV's News Tonight showed support for Welsh independence was at its highest ever level.

The poll conducted by Savanta ComRes found after that excluding the "don't know" answers, 39% of respondents in Wales favoured independence from the rest of the UK, citing reasons such as its people having different social attitudes to the rest of the UK, and it being historically a separate nation.

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Last year, the pandemic saw an increase in support for Welsh independence group YesCymru. Their membership went from just over 2,000 in February 2020 to more than 14,000 by November that same year.

Drakeford called for "an entrenched form of devolution which cannot be unilaterally rolled back by any one party" and blasted No 10's "relatively random basis" for engaging with the devolved government.

"There is no institutional architecture to make the United Kingdom work," he said.

"It is all ad-hoc, random, and made up as we go along. And I’m afraid that really is not a satisfactory basis to sustain the future of the UK.

"And if I have an anxiety about the lack of regular engagement between the prime minister and other parts of the UK, it is more that I think without that then the security of the future of the UK becomes more difficult.

"Without the prime minster playing his part in all of that, I think it undermines the efforts of those of us – and I include myself certainly in this – who want to craft a successful future for the UK."

Drakeford also described his relationship with Johnson as "remote".

"Both in the sense that I’ve met him only once myself – I’ve been at a number of meetings where there’s been large numbers of other people present – and he is yet to call a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee of first ministers and himself," he said.

"In that sense I would say I’ve had a very modest level of contact with the prime minister. And the remoteness isn’t just in that way, I’m afraid we rarely have a meeting of minds."

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