The Welsh Tories have re-appointed Andrew RT Davies as their group leader in the Senedd following the resignation of Paul Davies in a row over lockdown alcohol rules.
Paul Davies quit on Saturday after it was revealed he was among a group of politicians who drank alcohol in the tearoom of the Welsh Parliament days after a pub alcohol ban came into force.
While he insisted that he had not broken any rules, he said he was standing aside as the issue had become a ‘distraction’.
Mr RT Davies led the Tory group in the Senedd for seven years before he quit in 2018 amid a row over Brexit.
The group chairman Janet Finch-Saunders said his re-appointment had been unanimously endorsed at a group meeting on Sunday.
In a statement Mr RT Davies said his appointment was ‘a great honour and privilege’ and paid tribute to the the work of his predecessor.
‘I’m pleased to enjoy the unanimous support of my colleagues to take us forward after a difficult few days for us all,’ he said.
The Welsh Tories have re-appointed Andrew RT Davies (pictured) as their group leader in the Senedd following the resignation of Paul Davies in a row over lockdown alcohol rules
Paul Davies (pictured) quit on Saturday after it was revealed he was among a group of politicians who drank alcohol in the tearoom of the Welsh Parliament days after a pub alcohol ban came into force
‘There is urgent work in front of all of us and our immediate focus will be continuing to hold the Labour administration in the Senedd to account on vital issues such as the vaccine rollout, and fighting May’s election.’
But Angela Rayner, Labour ‘s deputy leader, criticised the appointment.
It comes weeks after Mr RT Davies accused Sir Keir Starmer of campaigning to ‘overturn democracy’ in a response to the Labour leader’s condemnation of the mob invasion of the US Capitol.
ngela Rayner, Labour ‘s deputy leader, criticised the appointment of Mr RT Davies
She said: ‘Just weeks ago, Labour called on the Conservatives to suspend Andrew RT Davies and remove him as a candidate over his disgraceful and dangerous comments equating peaceful democratic debate in the UK with deadly violence at the US Capitol.
‘The Conservative Party failed to act and he has refused to apologise.
‘It is a disgrace that the Welsh Conservatives have just appointed him leader and their candidate for First Minister of Wales.
‘The people of Wales deserve so much better than this Donald Trump tribute act.’
And Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said: ‘After a car crash the backseat driver returns to put Wales in reverse.
‘Once rejected by his own Senedd team, he will now embark on his pet project of stripping our Senedd of powers and setting Welsh democracy back decades.’
Paul Davies earlier announced he was stepping down as Welsh Tory leader after admitting he downed alcohol on Welsh parliament grounds days after a pub alcohol ban was enforced.
He was accused of drinking alcohol with former Welsh Government minister Alun Davies, Tory chief whip Darren Millar and the party’s chief of staff Paul Smith in a licensed Senedd tearoom in December.
Just four days earlier, Wales banned the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol on licensed premises – although off-licences were allowed to sell alcohol until 10pm.
All four men denied breaking Covid-19 rules and say they observed social distancing while meeting in the Ty Hywel building to discuss working together on a proposed bill.
Paul Davies earlier announced he was stepping down as Welsh Tory leader after admitting he downed alcohol on Welsh parliament (pictured) grounds days after a pub alcohol ban was enforced
But Mr Davies yesterday said the controversy had become a ‘distraction’ and that he was standing down with ‘immediate effect’ despite appeals from colleagues to continue.
He said in a statement: ‘I indicated to the Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament that I wished to resign, but they urged me to reflect further, and we agreed to meet again on Monday.
‘However, for the sake of my party, my health and my own conscience, I simply cannot continue in post.
‘Therefore, I am stepping down as leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament with immediate effect.’
Tory chief whip Darren Millar said he is also stepping down from his frontbench role in the Senedd – Wales’ parliament.
He said he joined working dinners on December 8 and 9, adding: ‘On both evenings I served myself a pre-ordered, pre-prepared meal that was reheated in the microwave and ate it while drinking an alcoholic beverage and discussing work matters with colleagues.
‘Social distancing was maintained throughout these working dinners and it simply did not occur to either me, my colleagues or the catering team that the arrangements may have been inappropriate.’
His statement added: ‘While I am advised that I did not breach coronavirus regulations I am very sorry for my actions, especially given the impact of the tough restrictions that people and businesses are enduring.
Tory chief whip Darren Millar (pictured) said he is also stepping down from his frontbench role in the Senedd.
Earlier this week, Conservative Nick Ramsay (pictured) denied being part of the gathering
‘For this reason, and given that Paul Davies has resigned as Welsh Conservative Group leader in the Senedd, I have decided to step down from my front-bench role in the Welsh Parliament.
‘I am co-operating fully with ongoing investigations and will continue to do so.’
Earlier this week, Conservative Nick Ramsay denied being part of the gathering.
His solicitor declared his client ‘sat on his own’ and ‘had a chicken curry’.
He said: ‘Mr Ramsay did attend the Tea Room on his own at the Senedd, without invitation after work.
‘He sat on his own and was socially distanced. He attended the Tea Room at approximately 6pm. He had a chicken curry.
‘He left at about 8pm. Others came in whilst he was there but it was not a ‘gathering’ Mr. Ramsay was part of.’
The group were served drinks by caterers in the Ty Hywel building which adjoins the Senedd where strict lockdown laws were made.
Labour member Alun Davies has been suspended by his party.
He said: ‘I am very sorry if my actions have given the impression that I am in any way not committed to upholding the regulations which I have consistently supported throughout the last year.
‘The Senedd Commission has already confirmed to me that I did not breach the coronavirus regulations on the consumption of either food or alcohol that were in force at that time.’
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething refused to be drawn on whether the Tory members should stand down or be suspended.
But he said the Labour group’s decision to suspend Alun Davies ‘was the right thing’ to do.
He said: ‘Any sense of people not all being in this together, isn’t helpful in terms of message that we all need to follow.’