Welsh ministers don’t even know their own rules

By refusing to follow England out of lockdown, the Welsh government has created needless confusion.

Marcus Stead

Topics Politics UK

The ongoing pandemic has exposed the fundamental flaws of Welsh devolution, in ways more obvious than at any time in the 20 years since its inception. At best, it has led to comical absurdities. At worst, it has led to dangerous levels of incompetence among the Welsh government and confusion among the population.

During his Sunday evening TV address, Boris Johnson outlined his plan to ease the lockdown restrictions in the weeks and months ahead. There was a great deal of confusion at first. But the following day, the UK government published a 60-page document outlining its plans in depth. That afternoon, Johnson addressed the House of Commons, and in the early evening he gave a news conference to offer further clarity.

Things were even more confusing in Wales, where, on bank holiday Friday, first minister Mark Drakeford held a little-watched news conference to announce a three-week extension to the lockdown, with some very minor loosening. Only a small minority of Welsh people would have interrupted their bank holiday to watch the briefing. Some may have seen snippets on TV news bulletins, but a very large number would have been completely unaware it ever took place.

Last Monday, on the day the UK government published its proposals, Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, challenged Drakeford to outline his plan for easing the lockdown. The plan was eventually published on Friday, but it was thin on detail and offered no dates. In Westminster, Labour leader Keir Starmer had been demanding a detailed plan from Johnson for weeks. Yet the same standards don’t appear to apply to Labour in Cardiff Bay.

Worse still, Drakeford didn’t even seem to be aware of what lockdown rules were already in place. He wrongly said at a news conference that, ‘The rules in Wales are that two people can meet providing they observe social distancing’. He then dug himself into a deeper hole by adding that two people have been able to interact in that way throughout the lockdown. He said he had always seen people meeting whenever he bicycled through one of the major fields in Cardiff on his way to his allotment.

Embarrassed civil servants were forced to clarify that people can only leave home for five specific reasons: to take exercise, to go to work if it’s not possible to work from home, to shop for ‘necessities’, to address a medical need, or to provide care for a vulnerable person. But they added that pre-arranging to meet friends and family, even one at a time, is not a ‘reasonable excuse’. Anyone following Drakeford’s incorrect advice might have potentially received a fine from the police.

Furthermore, what on earth was Drakeford doing making journeys to his allotment? Tending to an allotment is a hobby and so it doesn’t meet his own criteria for leaving home. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’, seems to be the mantra from Wales’ nanny-in-chief.

And Drakeford wasn’t the only one caught out. Last Tuesday, pictures appeared in the Sun showing Wales’ health minister, Vaughan Gething, eating chips with his wife and child in a picnic area of Cardiff Bay. Conveniently, the guidance was altered a day later and having something to eat in a park while out exercising is now permitted.

If Boris Johnson or Matt Hancock had made similar gaffes or had broken the rules in this way, the London media would have demanded their resignations. But there was barely a squeak from the supine Welsh media, who have a dangerously cosy relationship with the Cardiff establishment.

Thanks to the easing of the lockdown, in recent days we have witnessed heart-warming scenes on news bulletins of people in England meeting up with their parents for a walk or a chat on a park bench, while keeping two metres apart. Drakeford and his government have cruelly decided that the Welsh cannot do this. They have yet to explain why we can be trusted to keep two metres apart from the person in front of us in the supermarket queue, but cannot be trusted to keep two metres apart from our own mothers in a public park.

The divergence in approaches of the UK and Welsh governments has led to some crazy situations, particularly as large numbers live within 20 miles of the border with England. A person living just over the English side of the border in Lydney, Gloucestershire, can now legally drive for four hours to a beach in East Anglia, but cannot drive to a beach less than an hour away in Barry, South Wales.

None of this confusion would have been an issue 25 years ago, in the pre-devolution years, when there would have been one clear plan, and one set of instructions applying to the whole of the UK.

Marcus Stead is a journalist based in Cardiff.

Picture by: Getty.

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Mike Coops

24th May 2020 at 4:43 pm

The Labour WAG are totally inept.Drakeford is clueless. You can go fishing golfing and exercise twice a day,but you can’t go to work. I can’t see the people tolerating the idiots running the Wag once they realise the aftermath of the lockdown and the state of the economy. Watch out for the next bumbling statement from the tortoise. The money the Wag have wasted on failing business prior to the pandemic seems to have gone unnoticed however wait for the business and job losses to come. Wales all the more poorer for Drakeford and Labour.

Andrew Mawdsley

20th May 2020 at 2:24 pm

It’s very wearing to constantly hear about how much better off the devolved governments would without being part of the union. It would be very interesting to know how many of the population of England would opt to retain the current situation (with all of the financial commitments it entails), and how many would elect to cut the devolved areas loose.

I have no issue with independent nations following their own paths and agendas (it’s the reason I voted for Brexit), but the never ending carping about how downtrodden and put upon they are is disingenuous to say the least, particularly when countries like Scotland refuse to levy the same tax burden against their own people (free prescriptions, university education etc) that the UK government does against theirs.

All the while the devolved states take the UK Shilling and bitch about the fact they’re hard done by. An English referendum is needed.

Karen Gibson

23rd May 2020 at 2:23 am

I’m a unionist, so please don’t think I am defending anyone here, but I have to point out that we do pay more tax in Scotland than anywhere in the UK – so the free prescriptions are not really free. I also can’t remember the last time I went to a GP to benefit from any free prescription, I must have been aged 10 so it’s a couple of decades ago at least. Most medicine for common ailments are available over the counter and we pay for these – paracetamol, ibuprofen, cough medicine etc. Of course I am more than happy to contribute towards the healthcare of those who really need it and can’t afford it, but unfortunately the system is really abused. We’re even funding people’s cosmetic surgery and it’s ludicrous. I’ll probably get shot down if I say I’d rather only the most vulnerable (and those who have no means to pay) get NHS care, and no cosmetic surgery unless there is a genuine need for it. A less than perfect nose or breast enhancement shouldn’t count as genuine. A disfigurement would. I would pay less in tax, and have enough spare money to put towards a monthly private healthcare plan. It would in turn take pressure off the NHS and would mean people in full time employment can get seen relatively quickly and be able to go back to work. The waiting times here during flu season can be up to a month, which is why people run to A&E if they are in so much pain they can’t wait. The system doesn’t work out for many of us yet we still pay, a lot.


20th May 2020 at 2:23 pm

It has been stated by members of the Welsh Assembly people in Lydney cannot drive into Wales. This means that people driving legally from Lydney to Bristol should detour via Gloucester to avoid driving from the northern edge of Chepstow to the Severn Bridge (a couple of miles). According to the Welsh Labour Party’s website: “Wales will accept the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommendation for a 95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”, best laid plans of mice…

Mike Jackson

20th May 2020 at 1:27 pm

I would be tempted to challenge the assertion that an allotment is only a “hobby”. Apart from being valuable physical exercise and mental relaxation there is the possibility of being (close to) self-sufficiency in vegetables which is a serious consideration for some.

We have yet more example of how governments increasingly seem able to get the simplest things wrong. They condemn what they call “populism” without any realisation that this is a reaction to their culpable ignorance of what is important to the ‘populus’. Half of Whitehall and probably half of Westminster couldn’t tell a trowel from a dutch hoe and have no understanding of why that makes them unpopular in certain quarters.

Most people were prepared to accept — for the obvious reasons — the suspension of their choir practice, their darts league, and the senior citizens’ tea dance. But their allotment?! Nobody gets within 20 metres of another allotment holder most of the time.

But easier just to ban everything! Makes you look decisive. No, just demonstrates ignorance.

John Pretty

20th May 2020 at 9:57 am

lol, oh, we’re out of lockdown are we!

Thanks for the laugh.

Mor Vir

20th May 2020 at 9:26 am

“The divergence in approaches of the UK and Welsh governments has led to some crazy situations, particularly as large numbers live within 20 miles of the border with England.”

Wales is a separate country, so that is to be expected. It is like complaining about borders between France and Spain.

More incongruous is the artificial British border in Ireland and the disruption to Irish border communities caused by dual administrations.

The most congruous path forward is Irish unity and Scottish and Welsh independence, then everyone will know where they are.

Mor Vir

20th May 2020 at 9:11 am

Polls show that less than a quarter of Wales supports an end to devolution, and meanwhile support for Welsh independence continues to rise to its highest ever levels. Only 8% think that the devolved administration has too many powers. There are many English settlers in the east of Wales and that likely scews polls in favour of the union.


20th May 2020 at 2:51 pm

“There are many English settlers in the east of Wales and that likely sc[r]ews polls in favour of the union.”

There must be a lot of ‘settlers’ to overcome the implied 75% in favour of devolution.

Jonnie Henly

20th May 2020 at 3:02 am

“If Boris Johnson or Matt Hancock had made similar gaffes or had broken the rules in this way”

Like how Dominic Raab contradicted Johnson’s advice the day after Johnson first published it? Funnily enough I haven’t seen anyone from the media demanding his resignation.

Constantine Sotiriou

20th May 2020 at 9:18 am

Jesus. Give it a rest. For your own sake. Go and read something you actually enjoy and stop wasting your time. He doesn’t even mention Dominic Raab so how can you make that comparison? Maybe they would say that if it was either of the two mentioned it more than likely would be.

Jonnie Henly

20th May 2020 at 4:53 pm

Christ, you get so upset by my comments don’t you?

He mentions two government ministers. What makes Raab different?

Actually say something worthwhile for once or don’t bother replying in future.

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