By Harry Yorke
The Welsh Labour leader has suggested the Union “is over” in its current form and should be reinvented as a “voluntary association” of four nations.
In comments rejected by Downing Street, First Minister Mark Drakeford complained of a lack of interaction with Boris Johnson and claimed there was “no institutional architecture to make the United Kingdom work”.
Appearing before the Commons Welsh affairs committee, he added: “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.”
Mr Drakeford also described his own relationship with Mr Johnson as “remote” and claimed that the limited number of meetings during the pandemic had made the “security of the future of the UK” more difficult.
Calling for a new devolution settlement after the crisis, he added: “I do think the effect of the pandemic and the last 12 months has been to polarise opinion in Wales about the way it should be governed.
“What we have to do…is we have to recognise that the union as it is, is over. We have to create a new union.
“We have to demonstrate to people how we can recraft the UK in a way that recognises it as a voluntary association of four nations, in which we choose to pool our sovereignty for common purposes and for common benefits.
“Without the Prime Minister 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.”
Mr Drakeford’s comments appear to put him at odds with Sir Keir Starmer, who has sought to enhance Labour’s position as a unionist party since becoming Labour leader in April last year.
Asked about the intervention, the Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters he “absolutely” did not share Mr Drakeford’s view on the Union.
A Downing Street spokesman added later: “We have confronted this virus as one United Kingdom, working with the devolved administrations and local partners. This will continue as we move to build back better together.
“There have been hundreds of meetings and calls with the devolved administrations and local partners since the pandemic began – including the weekly calls between the first ministers, deputy first ministers and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
“This has also included COBR meetings, committees and dozens of other meetings with UK Government Ministers and officials. This will continue to be a key part of the planning and communication of the overall response.
“The PM has always fully supported devolution and this government continues to put the union at the heart of everything we do.”
Separately, Number 10 also pushed back against claims that a second Scottish independence referendum could take place by the end of this year.
It came after the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford suggested a new poll could take place just months after the Holyrood elections in May.
Responding, a Downing Street spokesman said: “We’ve been very clear on our position; the PM will be the voice of the majority of Scottish people who voted decisively to remain part of the UK. He will stand against anyone trying to break our United Kingdom.
“Scottish people have been clear that what they want to see is the UK Government and devolved administrations working together to defeat this pandemic.”