Cameron u-turn as Tories split on Welsh referendum date

David Cameron has used his first visit to Cardiff Bay since coming to power to give way to Wales on his plans to begin cutting this year.

On the day George Osborne and David Laws announced how the Lib-Con government planned to detail £6 billion of cuts on Monday, David Cameron used his first visit to Cardiff Bay since coming to power to give way to Wales on his plans to begin cutting this year.

Writing in the Western Mail before his visit, the prime minister said:

“If your leaders decide that it would be better for the people and businesses of Wales to put off for a year the savings we need to make as a country, then they can. That will be a decision for them to take – but these savings will have to be made.”

His concession will be seen a sop to his Lib Dem partners. Speaking in March, Nick Clegg dubbed Tory plans to embark on deep cuts this year as “economic masochism”.

As he met with Labour’s first minister, Mr Cameron added:

“I wanted to come to Wales in my first week of being Prime Minister to show the respect that I have for devolution and trying to make sure that we make devolution work even better in the future. The respect agenda to me really means something. I want there to be respect between the Welsh Assembly and the Westminster Parliament.

However, the first test of the new “respect” agenda will come when the UK Government names a date for referendum granting the Assembly full law making powers.

When AM’s voted to support a referendum, both the Lib Dems and Tories raised their concerns that a vote should not be held on the same day as Assembly elections next May out of concern that a cross-party yes campaign would be near impossible to win when political parties are competing with each other for seats at the Senedd.

At the time, Tory leader in Wales, Nick Borune, quite clearly said:

We should all be moving towards having a referendum in the autumn. It seems to me the only realistic window of opportunity we have in this Assembly term.”

Mr Bourne’s views seem to place him on a collision course with his party colleague, the new Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan. Writing on her blog, BBC’s Wales political editor Betsan Powys reported:

“We don’t know for sure but must now strongly suspect that there is no chance of a referendum being held in the Autumn. Mrs Gillan didn’t say so outright but in her interview this morning she came as close to ruling it out without actually saying so, as it is possible.

“The potential of holding it on the same day as the Assembly election next May was again whispered in my ear last week in London. Somebody had better whisper it pretty loudly in Nick Bourne’s ear, given his public opposition to holding the two votes on the same day.”

Given these contradictory position, it begs the question, who speaks for the Welsh Conservatives? Nick Bourne or the Welsh Secretary, who, as Peter Hain has said does not represent a Welsh seat.

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