The UK Government’s refusal to adjust its furlough scheme for Wales’s firebreak lockdown will go down in history as the moment that put the country “on the path to independence”, the leader of Plaid Cymru has said.

Adam Price said he could hear “three million pennies dropping” when Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to bring forward a newer scheme by a week so people could be supported while their workplaces were forced to shut.

Wales’s request for flexibility over the job support scheme for its 17-day lockdown, between October 23 to November 9, was rejected by the Treasury before the firebreak came into force.

But England’s subsequent decision to enter its own four-week lockdown from November 5 coincided with Mr Sunak announcing furlough would be extended for the whole UK until March 2021.

On Friday, Mr Price said: “When historians come to write the history of an independent Wales, I think that moment when Westminster refused to extend the furlough, despite the fact we needed it in order to protect lives, that will be the key moment that put Wales on the path to independence.

“It was a moment when you could hear the sound of three million pennies dropping.

“When the scales fell from our eyes and we realised how little we mattered to them.”

UK Chanchellor Rishi Sunak.

UK Chanchellor Rishi Sunak.

Mr Price said the UK Government’s concern about the break-up of the union was down to “their post-imperial fantasy of Britain being a superpower” as well as its seat at the United Nations Security Council.

“Losing Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland is a real threat to their ambition to being a player on the world stage.

“But that delivers nothing to our people.

“It never has and it never will,” he said.

“We are an appendage that is useful to them in order to boost up the landmass and their ability to project the UK as a powerbroker.

“Only in that narrow sense to they care, and fear, Welsh independence.

“But they don’t care about the people of Wales.”

Last year’s initial job retention scheme was only available for workers who were furloughed for at least three weeks prior to June 30, and was to run up until a newer support scheme was launched on November 1.

First Minister Mark Drakeford wrote to Mr Sunak to say Wales’ lockdown from October 23 meant some workers not eligible for support until the newer scheme kicked in faced redundancy if their employers were unable to access financial support to pay their wages.

Mr Drakeford later told the Welsh Parliament he found it “difficult” to understand why Mr Sunak had rejected his request to bring forward the JSS scheme by one week.