Theresa May’s last-ditch Brexit plea backfires after false Welsh Assembly claim

PM expected to claim 1997 referendum was 'accepted by both sides' 

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 14 January 2019 11:35 GMT
Theresa May compares the vote to the Welsh Assembley: 'We've never had a referendum in the United Kingdom that we've not honoured the result of'

Theresa May’s last-ditch attempt to persuade MPs to back her Brexit deal has backfired after a pre-briefed extract of her speech contained a false claim about a previous referendum.

A key section of the address claimed the result of the 1997 Welsh Assembly referendum was “accepted by both sides” and the “popular legitimacy of that institution has never seriously been questioned”.

More than two decades ago the referendum was won by those advocating the creation of the assembly by a margin of 0.3 per cent – a majority of 6,721 votes.

But the prime minister was accused of “utter hypocrisy” after it quickly emerged that after being elected to parliament in 1997, Ms May voted against a bill that sought to implement the result of the referendum.

Parliamentary records show that Ms May was among 144 MPs who voted for an amendment which would have blocked the Government of Wales Bill giving effect to the referendum result.

And in 2005, the Conservative party in its general election manifesto stated: “In Wales we will work with the assembly and give the Welsh people a referendum on whether to keep the assembly in its current form, increase its powers or abolish it.”

Delivering the speech on Monday, however, the prime minister dropped the claim from her speech, replacing it with the fact the result was “accepted by parliament”.

It comes as the prime minister also outlined in her address that no Brexit now appears more likely than a no-deal scenario, as she urges MPs to “consider the consequences of their actions”.

At a factory in Stoke-on-Trent, she had been expected to claim: “On the rare occasions when parliament puts a question to the British people directly we have always understood that their response carries profound significance.

“When the people of Wales voted by a margin of 0.3 per cent, on a turnout of just over 50 per cent, to endorse the creation of the Welsh Assembly, that the result was accepted by both sides and the popular legitimacy of that institution has never seriously been questioned.”

“Parliament understood this face when it voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50. And both major parties did so too when they stood on election manifestos in 2017 that pledged to honour the result of the referendum.”

Responding to the pre-briefed extract, Leanne Wood, the former leader of Plaid Cymru, posted on her Twitter account: “But this isn’t true. The Tories did not accept the assembly referendum result in Wales in 1997.

“They continued to campaign against devolution. Theresa May voted against in parliament after the referendum result. #StopLying.”

Labour MP for Cardiff Central Jo Stevens said the development had exposed “yet more utter hypocrisy from the PM, who, with other leading Brexit Tories, voted against legislation giving effect to the result of the Welsh referendum before it was implemented”.

And Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty, a leading supporter of the Best for Britain campaign for a second referendum, said: “This is a very strange example for the PM to use – not least given she herself voted against implementing the Welsh referendum result, and the Tories continued to oppose it for years afterwards.

“But unlike Brexit, the Welsh Assembly grew in public support after the referendum. Brexit has headed decisively in the opposite direction – which is why the people should have the final say.”

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