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May changes speech after comments on Welsh devolution called into question

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May changes speech after comments on Welsh devolution called into question
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UK Prime Minister Theresa May dropped comments from her Brexit speech on Monday after several lines received widespread criticism of "complete hypocrisy."

According to extracts released just before delivering her speech in Stoke-on-Trent, May was due to use the 1997 referendum on the creation of the Welsh National Assembly as reason to support her Brexit deal.

"On the rare occasions when Parliament puts a question to the British people directly, we have always understood that their response carried a profound significance," the extract from the planned speech read.

"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."

However, many politicians pointed out that the Conservative Party, and, in particular, Theresa May herself did not support the creation of the Welsh Assembly.

According to parliamentary records from 1997, Theresa May voted in favour of an amendment that would block the Welsh devolution.

Further, in 2005, the Conservative Party manifesto included a section that sought for a second referendum, allowing the Welsh population to decide on the future of its National Assembly, including a decision on whether to abolish it.

"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," the manifesto read.

Reaction to the comments

There was no shortage of online reaction to the comments in May's scheduled speech.

After pointing out the discrepancies, Wales' Plaid Cymru party said May and her Conservative Party had "undermined the will of the people of Wales since the 1997 referendum."

Cardiff Labour MP Jo Stevens said the comments were evidence of "breathtaking arrogance and complete hypocrisy."

"It demeans the office of the prime minister," she added. "How can anyone trust anything she says?"

In reply to a tweet about proofreading procedures in the UK government, former civil servant Lauren McEvatt said no Welsh government special advisor "worth their salt would have let this line through."

"I am therefore being charitable and presuming they never saw it," she said. "Stopping howlers like this is a pretty big reason the Wales Office is still around and No10 should have made use of them."

Richard Wyn Jones, the Director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, pointed out that the fallout from the result of the Welsh referendum was completely different to that of the EU referendum, noting that the small voter margin was taken into account in the former.

"[Welsh devolutionists] realised that the referendum result was only a fragile mandate on which to build a new constitutional dispensation for Wales. That mandate had to be shored up. Undergirded. Supported," he wrote on Twitter.

"And the only way to do that was to be cross-party and to do what they could to reach out to and address the concerns of their opponents."

"The fundamental point was that they realised that the narrowness of the referendum result meant that they simply had to make every effort to build consent among those who had been opposed as well as those who just hadn't bothered to participate in the vote."

But concerning Brexit, "May's government has made practically no effort to secure the consent of those who voted Remain."

"Remoaners; Saboteurs: Remainers were simply meant to suck it up whilst the fantasies of the Brexiteers were indulged (those idiotic 'red lines')."

"Loser's consent has not been forthcoming in part because Theresa May and her government has made absolutely no attempt to generate it."

May's revised speech

It appears the speech's critics were heard by Downing Street as May delivered a revised version of the extracts in her speech on Monday morning.

Speaking to factory workers in Stoke-on-Trent, May dropped her comments about the result of the 1997 Welsh referendum being "accepted by both sides," and "never seriously [being] questioned."

Instead, she used a more limited phrase: "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 Parliament."

May delivered her speech as a final attempt to rally support on her Brexit deal, which parliament is due to vote upon on Tuesday.