It was 22 years ago, that the then National Assembly for Wales voted unanimously in favour of St David’s Day being made a bank holiday. The Welsh Government has since said it wants one, countless petitions have set up in favour and now the Conservatives in Wales have also said they think it is a no-brainer. Throughout this time, the UK Government has been against it, except the Prime Minister says he wasn’t aware of it.
Boris Johnson was in Newtown on Friday for the Welsh Conservative party conference and we asked him why the people of Wales don’t deserve a bank holiday. His reply was that he didn’t know it was even an ongoing debate. “I’m so sorry. I’m going to have to as pass on that,” he said.
Once we explained it wasn’t a new issue and that in 2000 the Assembly voted for it, and today his group’s leader in Wales has said the same, his director of communications interjected to ask which we would advocate switching – for example, Scotland has a bank holiday for Hogmanay rather than Easter Monday. We replied that that instead of switching one, it could just be an extra bank holiday. Wales and England have eight bank holidays, Scotland has a total of nine, Northern Ireland has 10. You can see all the background here.
The Prime Minister said: “It’s a very, very good question. I’m going to go and look at it. I’ll go and talk about it to the Chancellor and we’ll see where we get to but look it’s what we’re focused on at the moment is getting people back into…”
After we interjected that it wasn’t a new issue, he continued: “Our focus is on getting our economy moving, helping people move the cost of living and getting people into into work. And I think that the most important thing right now is to is to tackle cost of living. And we’re seeing the effects of Covid, the war in Ukraine, pushing up costs, and we need to fix it both short term, medium term and long term commitment.”
He then accepted there was a commitment to look at the issue and we could contact his communications team to ask for any progress, but said Andrew RT Davies “has not raised it with me so far”.
The second issue we raised was HS2. It is classed as a scheme which benefits England and Wales which means Wales does not get extra money as a Barnett consequential leading to an estimated loss of £5bn.
The Welsh Government want it reclassified, something the cross party Welsh Affairs committee agreed with, and now most recently the Welsh Conservatives.
The Prime Minister responded: “The amazing thing about HS2 is that is delivering jobs and growth in Wales.
“The other day I was in Penmaenmawr where they’ve got this unbelievable granite quarry, and they have fantastic quality granite, which is going gangbusters and they’ve had to reopen a station there, they’re massively increasing capacity at the quarry because of the demand for really top quality Welsh granite, which has a particular sort of traction on its surface. It’s got some special quality that makes it virtually unique and that’s just an example of how HS2 is driving jobs in Wales and we continue to invest massively in, in Wales and in Welsh infrastructure by the way.”
But that is not, we said, to the tune of £5bn. “Why doesn’t Wales get that benefit?” The Prime Minister replied: “Well, Wales gets, and will continue to get huge support for, under Barnett for everything that we possibly can.”
Asked if he disagrees with Andrew RT Davies, he said: “HS2 is already generating jobs and growth in Wales. That’s a great thing.” Asked if he accepted that would not be the tune of £5bn, he replied: “You’d probably have to go and tot it all up.”
Asked if he would now discuss that with Andrew RT Davies, he said: “I think it’s a long standing approach…I used to be mayor of London, right, and I was constantly telling the Conservative government that they needed to fund various things and, you know, I said, ‘give me 12 billion pounds Crossrail 2 and that’s him doing his job”.
He would not explicitly confirm he would meet with Mr Davies to discuss this but said he “all these things are up for discussion”.