Theresa May has been accused of lying after claiming the ‘Yes’ vote to create a Welsh assembly was “accepted by both sides” – when in fact she was among the MPs who tried to stop it being enacted.
The prime minister was making a last-ditch bid to save her Brexit deal when she compared the 2016 Leave vote to the 1997 referendum for a devolved assembly in Wales – which saw ‘Yes’ win with a tiny majority of 0.3%.
She was due to warn on Monday of “catastrophic harm” to faith in the democratic process if MPs failed to act on the 52% Leave vote, because, she claimed, the “popular legitimacy” of the Welsh assembly was “never seriously questioned”.
Her speech in Stoke was later changed to say “we’ve never had a referendum in the UK that we’ve not honoured the result of”.
The wording switch came after parliamentary records showed that May herself was among 144 MPs who voted for an amendment which would have blocked the Government of Wales Bill.
She was joined in the voting lobbies with other prominent Brexiteers Liam Fox, Sir John Redwood, Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson, Bernard Jenkin and John Whittingdale.
And in 2005, the Conservative manifesto, which May campaigned for and was elected on, pledged a re-run of the Welsh referendum - a move which could have overturned the 1997 result.
Second Brexit referendum advocates have called May’s use of the Welsh vote “very strange” while Plaid Cymru accused the PM of “utter hypocrisy”.
“On the rare occasions when parliament puts a question to the British people directly we have always understood that their response carries a profound significance,” the PM said in her Stoke speech on Monday.
“When the people of Wales voted by a margin of 0.3%, on a turnout of just over 50%, to endorse the creation of the Welsh Assembly, that result was accepted by both sides and the popular legitimacy of that institution has never seriously been questioned.”
She added: “I ask MPs to consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy.
“Imagine if an anti-devolution House of Commons had said to the people of Scotland or Wales that, despite voting in favour of a devolved legislature, parliament knew better and would overrule them. Or else force them to vote again.”
But the 2005 Conservative manifesto made clear that the party did suggest that the people of Wales should vote again, stating: “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.”
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.”
Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster Liz Saville Roberts said May should retract the statement and apologise.
She said: “The Prime Minister’s Brexit desperation has led to her either having a selective memory, deploy wilful hypocrisy or simply lie about the referendum on Welsh devolution.
“The Conservative Party campaigned against devolution and then promised a second referendum six years after it was established.”
May’s Brexit deal will go before MPs on Tuesday but it is widely anticipated that it will be defeated with Labour and other opposition parties joining with backbencher Tory Brexiteer and Remainers to vote against it.
Wales voted in 1997 for the creation of a devolved assembly by a margin of 559,419 to 552,698 – 50.3%-49.7%. The Assembly was brought into being in 1999.