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Conservative leader in Welsh Assembly quits after Brexit row

Andrew RT Davies was forced out in a spat over jobs and is being replaced by Paul Davies until a leadership contest can be held.

An interim leader has taken over the Welsh Conservatives after Andrew RT Davies was forced out in a spat over Brexit.

Paul Davies has taken the helm in the wake of Mr Davies’ shock announcement that he was quitting after seven years in the job.

Opponents claimed the outgoing leader was the first casualty of Tory Brexit in-fighting as “sensible” Conservatives began to “fight back” against hardline Brexiteers.

Andrew RT Davies had been accused by a Government minister of making “inflammatory” comments about the warning of aircraft manufacturer Airbus last week that it could quit the UK over Brexit, which he dismissed as “hyperbole”.

He tendered his resignation “with deep regret” after a meeting of all Tory Assembly Members on Wednesday morning.

Paul Davies, Preseli Pembrokeshire AM, takes over as interim leader after seven years in the deputy role.

He paid tribute to the “huge contribution” made by the outgoing leader and said nominations for the top job would open shortly.

Labour’s Owen Smith claimed “sensible” Conservatives were “at their wits’ end” and were now “starting to fight back”.

The Pontypridd MP, who supports anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign, said: “This is just the first casualty in the Tory Brexit war that threatens to drag our whole country down.

“Mr Davies’ reckless dismissal of the legitimate concerns of Airbus, one of Wales’ most important employers, is the immediate cause of his forced resignation, but it speaks to deeper tensions in the Tory government.”

Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who backs the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, said the risk Brexit poses to jobs and investment in Wales “is hitting home”.

“But if Mr Davies has to quit because of his hostility to business telling the truth about the risk Brexit poses – surely the same question should now be asked about Jeremy Hunt and, above all, Boris Johnson,” he added.

“As her own team fight each other in the open in the run-up to Chequers, does Theresa May have the courage to boot the enemies of jobs, business and prosperity from her Cabinet?”

Airbus, which employs 6,400 people in Wales, has said it may have to reconsider the future of operations in the UK if Britain leaves the single market and customs union.

In response, Mr Davies said the company was “doing a disservice” to the workers which had made it successful, adding: “You’d think that Airbus was the first company to entertain slashing costs and by extension standards – and it doesn’t usually end well.

“We are getting to the business end of the negotiations and there is a lot of hyperbole flying around.”

UK defence minister Guto Bebb, who represents the Welsh seat of Aberconwy, called on him to retract his “inflammatory” comments, saying: “Shooting the messenger is an unworthy position for a politician to take not least when that politician aspires to lead a government in Wales.”

Speaking after Wednesday’s meeting, Mr Davies said: “It is my firm belief that any leader of the Assembly group should secure the same mandate in a full ballot of the grassroots and I hope that my successor will emerge in that manner.

“I look forward to supporting whoever emerges from the contest to replace me and I will continue to place all of my efforts into advancing the Welsh Conservative cause both here in Wales and Westminster.”

Prime Minister Theresa May thanked Mr Davies for his service and said the Welsh Conservatives had provided a strong opposition to Labour in Cardiff Bay under his leadership.

“I know he will continue to be a passionate champion for the people of South Wales Central in the Assembly, as he has been for more than a decade,” she added.

Labour’s First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, said: “Despite our obvious political differences, I always found Andrew to be good company and he never broke the confidences I shared with him as leader of the opposition.

“That is the sign of a decent and honest politician. Andrew has made his mark in Welsh politics and his jovial and larger than life personality has always been a breath of fresh air during Assembly proceedings.”

Mr Davies was first elected to the Welsh Assembly as member for South Wales Central in 2007 and previously held shadow portfolios for transport and education.

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