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Henry Hill: GERS Day: Scottish Government’s own statistics punch fresh hole in the case for independence

Unionists pounce as Scottish Government data reveals huge deficit

This week has marked one of the big events in the constitutional debate calendar: GERS Day. This is when the Scottish Government publish the annual figures for ‘Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland’.

GERS – which, again, are compiled by the Scottish Government – at one point formed the basis of the SNP’s prospectus for independence. But these days they’re enough to whip the separatist movement into a frenzy.

Why? Because they reveal that the distribution of wealth around the UK creates a ‘Union dividend’ for every Scot worth almost £2,000 a year, calculated from the amount extra that Scotland receives in public expenditure versus what it generates in revenue.

They also show that Scotland is currently running a public account deficit seven times higher than that of the UK as a whole. Were it an independent country it would have amongst the highest in the EU, and the Scottish Government would face an unenviable choice between swingeing public service cuts or eye-watering tax rises – probably both. No wonder the Scottish Conservatives have accused Nicola Sturgeon of going into hiding.

Unionists have not been slow to jump on these figures: Kevin Hague is the man to follow for number crunching, but Sam Taylor of pro-Union group These Islands has also written up a handy explainer on the benefits of the UK common market for Reaction.

But although the latest GERS figures are undoubtedly a boon to unionists fighting off what might be the imminent prospect of another independence referendum, they do highlight a strategic weakness in the pro-UK case: that it is so dependent on cash transfers and other, rather mercenary benefits. What will they campaign of if (when?) Scotland becomes a net contributor, and is asked to fund fiscal transfers to other parts of the UK?

Electoral Commission trips up the push for a Scottish referendum

But the GERS figures weren’t the only snares to trip the campaign for a re-run of the 2014 plebiscite on independence this week. Two more were laid, this time by the Electoral Commission.

First, the Commission wrote to MSPs to tell them that it would need to assess the wording of the question in any referendum – even if the wording was identical to the previous one. This opens the door for them rejecting a ‘Yes/No’ question, which pro-UK campaigners insist unfairly benefited the independence campaign in 2014.

It could also mean that the question might be altered to refer to both what might be gained and what would be lost, again in line with the new standards set in 2016. The EU referendum wording (“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”) thus offered a more complete picture of the proposition than that on the ballot paper in Scotland two years previously (“Should Scotland be an independent country?”).

A more muscular approach to such questions by unionists is long overdue. David Cameron adopted a strategy of conceding to the SNP more than he needed to – on both the wording and timing of the referendum – in the hope that it would settle the issue. This was a mistake.

Further to its need to assess the wording, the Commission has also informed the Scottish Government that there ought to be nine months between the completion of any legislation to conduct another referendum and polling day. The Guardian reports that this could scotch proposals to hold another plebiscite next year – although the far bigger hurdle seems to be that the legislation has only been tabled in the Scottish Parliament, which has no authority to authorise one.

Corbyn doubles down on wooing separatists

Last week, this column covered how civil war has broken out inside the Labour Party after both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell appeared to rewrite the Opposition’s policy on Scottish independence and declared that they would not stand in the way of another vote.

One week on and, despite some apparent back-tracking on whether or not Labour would seek an arrangement with the SNP in the Commons, the issue hasn’t gone away. Indeed, not only has Corbyn doubled down on his willingness to allow another independence referendum, but ITV report him saying that he wouldn’t be a barrier to one in Wales, giving a shot of publicity and credibility to what remains a very marginal campaign in the Province.

Not coincidentally, the Express revealed that the Labour leadership were in talks with the SNP about collaborating against No Deal at Westminster. The SNP’s willingness to install Corbyn as caretaker Prime Minister has also given them a stick with which to beat the Liberal Democrats – one reason why I suggested this week that the Nationalists might be the real, and indeed only, winners of abortive attempts to set up an anti-Brexit ’emergency government’.

News in Brief:

  • Deep concern in SNP over prospect of cybernat party – The Times
  • Johnson accuses Brussels of jeopardising peace in Ulster – Daily Telegraph
  • Scottish Government failed to audit £500,000 paid to Salmond – Daily Record
  • Pro-UK group call for ‘truth commission’ to fact-check referendum campaigns – The Scotsman
  • PSNI call for ‘progress’ after republican bomb attempt – BBC
  • Tycoon lambasts Scottish Government over ‘expropriated’ shipyard – FT

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Henry Hill: Wallace rejects amnesty for Ulster veterans, but wants inquiries restrained

Wallace rejects amnesty for soldiers but wants inquiries curbed

This week Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, revealed that he is opposed to offering an amnesty to members of the Armed Forces who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Whilst arguing that they should receive “the very best legal advice and support”, the former Security Minister is reportedly concerned that any amnesty would also need to be extended to paramilitaries and terrorists. According to the Times, he said:

“We must make sure we don’t let off the hook the murderers that are still out there and need to be hunted down and convicted of the killings that they took part in.”

This will be controversial due to the previous scandal over so-called ‘comfort letters’, which were issued by the Blair Government and are widely viewed to have given a de facto amnesty to IRA terrorists. They came to light after collapsing the trial of John Downey, who was being prosecuted over his role in the Hyde Park bombing.

However, Wallace did offer ex-servicemen some hope. The Daily Mail reports that he doesn’t want any new investigations to proceed unless actual new evidence emerges against individual soldiers. He also stated that he did not intend to allow the history books to be ‘rewritten’, and that the Armed Forces should be proud of what they achieved in Ulster.

This is addressed directly at the concerns of many unionists, who worry that the historical inquiries process is unfairly targeting the Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary and thus bolstering a republican narrative of the Troubles.

Labour’s civil war on the Union deepens

Last week, I wrote about how John McDonnell had opened a rift in the Labour Party over their stance on a second Scottish independence referendum.

In what looked like a fairly shameless bid to woo the SNP, the Shadow Chancellor announced that a Corbyn-led government would not stand in the way of a second referendum.

This sparked huge controversy because McDonnell appeared to be unilaterally re-writing Labour policy on the issue – and cutting Scottish Labour off at the knees to boot.

Although he initially doubled down on his remarks, this week opened with Labour officially ruling out entering into any formal alliance with the Nationalists to oust the Tories, instead committing to governing as a minority government in such circumstances.

If true, this suggests a remarkable amount of strategic incoherence. Such an announcement is unlikely to undo the damage McDonnell has likely done to Labour’s standing with its unionist voters, whilst ruling out an alliance appears to rule out any potential dividend from his actions. Of course, it does invite us to speculate as to what constitutes a ‘formal alliance’…

Meanwhile the Scottish party has condemned the national leadership, and Labour MSPs have vowed to ignore the Shadow Chancellor’s new policy – although left-wing allies of McDonnell hit back at ‘kamikaze unionists’ in a leak to a separatist site. The surprise departure of Brian Roy, the General Secretary of Scottish Labour, added to the turmoil.

On the Tory front, David Mundell has cropped up to suggest that it would be very difficult for the Government to resist legislating for a second referendum in the event that separatist parties won a majority at the 2021 Scottish election. (He is mistaken.) Meanwhile a poll found that only two fifths of Scottish voters think another referendum should be granted in the next five years.

Salmond paid half a million by the Scottish Government

It is often suggested that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP pursue independence so vociferously in part to distract from the hash they are making of governing Scotland. This week provides yet another raft of embarrassing headlines which lend weight to that suspicion.

First, and most shockingly, it emerged that the Scottish Government has paid out almost half a million pounds to Alex Salmond, the former First Minister, over its mishandling of its official inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him. This money was to cover his legal costs after he mounted a successful legal challenge on the matter.

That case is separate to the criminal case against the former SNP leader, who is charged with two attempted rapes, nine sexual assaults and two indecent assaults. He denies all wrongdoing, but the case remains a time bomb ticking under the Scottish Government – Sturgeon was Salmond’s protege, and it was her administration that presided over the botched inquiry into his conduct.

If that weren’t enough, elsewhere this week we learn that once again the Nationalists’ university fees policy has seen Scottish pupils missing out on places offered to applicants from elsewhere in the United Kingdom; the SNP Health Secretary has announced that an embattled £150 million hospital may not be open by the end of 2020, following concerns about the construction process and reviews of its safety; and a pro-Nationalist business magnate is furious that the Scottish Government may be about to nationalise a shipyard he rescued.

This week in commentary

There has been quite a bit of interesting commentary on Union-related issues this week, so rather than scatter them throughout the rest of the column I’ve collated them here.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Warner suggests that Brexit has made Scottish independence more difficult (only two years after ConHome considered that point proven, but still). Rather than be bullish about the implications of this he chooses to finish on a maudlin note, but that’s unionism for you.

From his new vantage point at the Atlantic, the excellent Tom McTague (formerly of Politico) sets out why Brexiteers are right to be deeply concerned about the Irish backstop. The analysis isn’t perfect, but it’s a rare sympathetic take on the pro-UK position.

In the Scotsman, Brian Monteith – now a Brexit Party MEP – suggests that Ruth Davidson’s decisions have imperilled the UK, whilst Paul Hutcheon writes in the Herald that the biggest threat to the Union is Scottish Labour’s collapse.

Finally, Iain Martin has decided that the way to save the UK is radical constitutional reform including devolution to England, a senate, and the rest. As is traditional for advocates of this position, he appears to just assume it will work, and makes no attempt to explain why identical assumptions about the last two decades of the devolution project have all come to nothing. Sigh.

News in Brief:

  • Varadkar ‘opposed to direct rule’ as he prepares to meet Johnson – iNews
  • Controversial cybernat blogger to launch new separatist party – The Times
  • Lib Dems and Greens to join anti-Brexit alliance with Plaid – The Spectator
  • SDLP sparks row after querying Union Flags on Tesco fruit – Belfast Telegraph
  • Scottish Court to hear ‘fast-tracked’ legal challenge to Brexit – FT
  • Ex-Plaid leader criticised over comments on carrying knives – The Sun
  • RBS ‘will move to England’ in the event of independence – The Scotsman

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Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead.

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

In the wake of Boris Johnson’s visit to Edinburgh last week, I polled Scots to measure support for a second independence referendum and to gauge opinion on independence itself. I found a small majority in favour of a new vote – and the first lead for an independent Scotland for more than two years.

I found 47 per cent agreeing that there should be another referendum on Scottish independence within the next two years (Nicola Sturgeon has demanded a new vote by 2021), with 45 per cent disagreeing.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.08.17 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   While more than nine in ten Conservatives oppose a referendum, a return to the polls is favoured by more than one third of 2017 Labour voters, more than half of EU Remain voters, and by more than one in five of those who voted No to independence in 2014.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.09.52 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   Asked how they would vote in such a contest, 46 per cent said they would vote Yes to independence, and 43 per cent No. Excluding those who say they don’t know or wouldn’t vote, this amounts to a lead of 52 per cent to 48 per cent for an independent Scotland. This is the first lead for independence in a published poll since an Ipsos MORI survey in March 2017, and the biggest lead since a spate of polls in June 2016, shortly after the UK voted to leave the EU.

One third of Labour voters, a majority of EU Remain voters and 18 per cent of those who voted No to independence last time round said they would vote Yes. Again, more than nine in ten Tories said they would vote No, as did just over one in ten of those who backed independence in 2014. A majority of voters up to the age of 49 said they would vote Yes, including 62 per cent of those aged 18 to 24.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.11.04 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   Overall, a majority of Scots thought that if a second referendum were to be held, the result this time would be an independent Scotland. Only three in ten – including just two thirds of Conservatives and fewer than half of 2014 No voters – thought Scotland would vote to remain part of the UK. A further 18 per cent said they didn’t know.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.12.08 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   More than six in ten Scots – including 38 per cent of 2017 Conservatives and two thirds of Labour voters – said they think Brexit makes it more likely that Scotland will become independent in the foreseeable future. Indeed, more than half of 2014 No voters think this is the case, with 32 per cent of them saying it makes independence much more likely.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.14.09 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   Just over half – including a majority of Labour voters, nearly one in five Tories and two thirds of EU remain voters – say Brexit strengthens the case for Scotland to become independent.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.22.36 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   Nearly half (46 per cent) of all Scots agree with Sturgeon’s claim that a No Deal Brexit would be disastrous for Scotland, including half of Labour voters and nearly one in five Tories. A further three in ten (including most Conservatives) think the risks have been exaggerated but there would be some difficulties.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.23.54 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   Asked what their preferred Brexit outcome would be, most 2017 Conservative voters backed Boris Johnson’s position that the UK should leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal – though one in five said they would be prepared to wait longer than October for a better deal, and nearly a quarter said they wanted to remain in the EU. Remaining is the most popular outcome, though favoured by only half of all Scots.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.24.35 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   Scottish voters are closely divided as to whether – if it were not possible to do both – it would be more important for Scotland to remain part of the UK, or to remain in the EU. While 43 per cent would prioritise the Union, 45 per cent would prioritise the EU. While Conservatives and SNP voters were leaned heavily as one would expect, Labour voters were split: 46 per cent would choose the UK, 40 per cent would choose the EU, and 14 per cent say they don’t know.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.25.33 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   More than half of Scots said there should be a second referendum on EU membership, including 69 per cent of SNP voters, more than half of Labour voters and one in five Conservatives. Should this take place, 67 per cent of those giving an opinion said they would vote to remain.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.27.15 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   As for Boris Johnson’s first week as Prime Minister, while nearly half of Scots said they expected him to do badly, a quarter of those said he had done better than they had anticipated.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.28.07 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   While only just over one third of 2017 Conservatives they expected him to do well and he had, a further one in four said they had had low expectations but been pleasantly surprised.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.29.15 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   Compared to other politicians, Boris Johnson ranks relatively low among Scottish voters – though still above Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. He scores well below Ruth Davidson, both among Scots as a whole and, to a lesser degree, 2017 Conservatives.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.30.15 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   Asked which of the two most likely candidate would make the better Prime Minister, 29 per vent of Scots named Johnson, 23 per centnig said Corbyn, and nearly half said they didn’t know. Fewer than four in ten 2017 Labour voters said they thought Corbyn would make the best Prime Minister.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.31.07 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   Despite this, when forced to choose, Scots said they would prefer a Labour government with Corbyn as Prime Minister to a Johnson-led Conservative government by 57 per cent to 43 per cent. A quarter of Labour voters said they would prefer the latter, as did the same proportion of SNP voters – perhaps calculating that this circumstance held out the best prospect of independence for Scotland.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-08-04-at-22.31.55 Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead. SNP Scottish referendum Scottish Labour Scottish independence Scottish Conservatives Scotland Ruth Davidson MSP Richard Leonard MSP Nigel Farage MEP Nicola Sturgeon MSP Liberal Democrats Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Highlights Green Party Europe EU Conservatives Comment Brexit Boris Johnson MP   3Those who voted SNP in 2017 are the most likely to say they will stick with their party in a new general election. They put their mean likelihood of turning out for the party at 88/100, compared to Conservatives’ 71/100 chance of voting Tory again; 2017 Labour voters put their chance of voting the same way in a new election at just 56/100. Some Tories were tempted by the Brexit Party (their mean likelihood of voting this way being 35/100), and some by the Lib Dems (26/100). The SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens all held some appeal for Labour voters. In terms of overall mean likelihood to vote for the party, both Labour and the Tories ranked behind the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens, whose score was boosted by an average likelihood of 55/100 among 18-24 year-olds.

Full data tables for the survey are available at LordAshcroftPolls.com.

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Iain Dale: There are good ministers left behind by the Government’s drastic shuffle

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

The reshuffle is finally complete. Looking through the final line-up of ministers in each department it’s clear that this really wasn’t just a reshuffle, it was a clearing of the decks. The number of non-Boris supporters left in government is minimal, although the balance of Remainers versus Leavers is still uncomfortable for some. Some of the decisions, though, are quite baffling.

Why on earth would anyone think it a good idea to move Robin Walker from the Brexit department to be a minister in both the Scottish and Northern Irish offices? Why wasn’t keen Boris supporter and superb media performer Nadhim Zahawi promoted to Minister of State? He goes out to bat in the media where angels fear to tread, and whenever I see him I greet him by saying: “Ah, it’s the Minister for Sticky Wickets.” There are plenty more strange appointments and injustices I could mention.

Looking through all the different departments, I’d say the strongest ministerial line-ups are at Business, Education and the Home Office. There is strength in depth in all three departments.

There are a few names in the ministerial list, where you look at them and scratch your head in bewilderment. I’ll spare their blushes here…

– – – – – – – – – –

Two junior appointments caught the eye and, in a way, they reflect what I said about the Prime Minister recently – that he’ll be a shit or bust prime minister – either brilliant or utterly useless. The appointment of Zac Goldsmith as an Environment Minister and Nadine Dorries to the Department of Health will, in retrospect, be seen as inspired or whatever the opposite of inspired is. Both have the ability to really shine, but many will suspect they won’t have the self-discipline to curb their natural rebellious natures. We’ll soon see. Nadine has mental health under her policy remit. She has the personality to really make a difference here. I remember another junior minister hailing from Liverpool who was sent to the Department of Health in the late 1980s. We all remember what happened to Edwina Currie, but we forget the fact that until her resignation she had been doing a brilliant job in promoting public health.

– – – – – – – – – –

Some of the stories I have heard about the way the government was formed are hair-raising indeed. There were stand-up rows in Number Ten with ministers who had assumed they were going to be promoted to a higher rank than they were offered. Flounces were had. Tanties were experienced. I could name names, but apart from satisfying readers’ prurience I’m not sure what purpose it would serve.

One of the interesting things about this government will be to see how CCHQ operates. As I understand it, the new co-chairman Ben Elliott is in control of things day to day and is effectively the replacement for Sir Mick Davies, who departed last week as chief executive. James Cleverly will take on a much more front-facing role and become the Minister for the Today Programme. In some ways this is the more traditional role for the chairman. Going back to the 1980s and 1990s the chairman would effectively be the lightning rod for the Prime Minister. Being a co-chairman, though, is never quite the same as being Chairman on your own. I understand James wasn’t consulted about having a co-chairman and I do wonder how this relationship will pan out.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’m writing this in my rather inglorious student digs in Edinburgh, where I’m spending the next ten days hosting my ‘Iain Dale – All Talk’ show at the Fringe. Yesterday was the first day of previews and I hosted two shows featuring three ex Conservative Party Chairmen: Sayeeda Warsi, followed by Eric Pickles and Brandon Lewis. If James Cleverly is reading this, he now knows what lies in store for him! Both shows went well, with, I think, the right mix of light and shade. It was just a relief to get the first day done with. This evening I’ve got new Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey. It’ll be interesting to see how on message Johnny Mercer can stay. I do hope ministerial office doesn’t ruin his natural enthusiasm and sense of mischief. As regards Len McCluskey, one thing I do want to know is this. A friend of mine was in his office recently and noticed he has two chess sets on display. One I can understand, but two? It’s a bit like Boris writing two articles on Brexit before deciding which way to jump. Sort of.

– – – – – – – – – –

As you read this, I might face an enormous logistical challenge. If the Liberal Democrats have won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, their new leader Jo Swinson will naturally want to visit to reflect in the glory. However, she’s due to be with me in Edinburgh at 6pm. I do hope the Lib Dem ops team are on form, otherwise I’ll be having a conversation with myself.

If you’re in Edinburgh between now and 11 August do pop along to see my show. The full guest line-up can be found here.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Tories hope that ‘Boris bounce’ will save them in Brecon and Radnorshire

Welsh voters go to the polls in Brecon and Radnorshire by-election

Boris Johnson faces his first electoral test as Prime Minister today as Welsh voters head to the polls in a by-election which could cut his razor-thin Commons majority even further.

Despite speculation that he might avoid visiting Brecon and Radnorshire, where the incumbent Chris Davies is expected to lose after being successfully recalled over his expenses, the Daily Telegraph reveals that the Prime Minister committed to campaigning there within minutes of winning the Tory leadership.

Moreover, despite the candidate himself being accused of ducking hustings, word on the ground is that the Conservatives might have done better than expected.

Liberal Democrats are reportedly concerned that the sheer size of the rural seat has prevented them applying their usual ‘pavement-pounding’ tactics to full effect, and the party’s failure to manage expectations has elevated the contest to ‘must-win’ territory. Tories have also been given hope by the ‘Boris bounce’, a polling boost which has put them ahead of Labour in Wales’ Westminster voting intention as the Opposition record their lowest-ever result.

In fact, Labour appear to be being squeezed from both directions, losing poll position to the Conservatives at Westminster and to Plaid Cymru, the nationalists, at the Assembly. Mark Drakeford, Labour’s small-n nationalist First Minister, has responded to the latter by desperately trying to drum up the threat of independence.

Apart from illustrating once again the absurdity of claiming that devolution has weakened the separatists and strengthened the UK, the sharp divergence between these two Welsh polls also highlights a point I previously raised in my analysis of the Welsh Tories’ struggles at the Assembly: lots of pro-UK, pro-Tory voters don’t turn out for devolved elections. Leaning into this devocrats’ playground, which is the inclination of the current Assembly leadership, risks leaving space for a more committedly unionist party to start eating their vote.

But as we know, devocrat narratives exist independently of evidence or experience. Thus, two years after I asked whether Remainers would ever admit that Brexit was clearly proving much better for the Union than they had allowed, we have the Guardian’s Martin Kettle asking if Johnson might not end up being the handmaid of, of all things, Welsh independence. Spoiler: no.

Johnson vows not to be neutral on the Union as he woos the DUP

Wales wasn’t the only part of the UK to feature in the Prime Minister’s whistle-stop tour this week. He also visited Scotland (of which more below) and Northern Ireland.

His efforts in Ulster appear to break down into a few broad categories. First, the inevitable exercise in trying to get Stormont back on its feet. Second, providing another opportunity to square off against Leo Varadkar over the question of the backstop. Third, nurturing his relationship with the Government’s Democratic Unionist allies.

Devolution isn’t coming back anytime soon, and nobody seems to have squandered many column inches suggesting otherwise. At the very least, Sinn Fein have no reason to re-establish the Northern Ireland Assembly until Westminster has imposed liberalising moves on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Johnson’s tough line with Dublin hasn’t changed – and Owen Polley has mounted a strong case for it on CapX this week – but it has led to a fresh confrontation with Sinn Fein after the republicans demanded a referendum on Northern Ireland’s accession to the Republic in the event of a no-deal Brexit. They also warned the Prime Minister not to be the DUP’s ‘gofer’, picking up earlier criticisms about the close working relationship between the two parties.

In response, the Prime Minister hit back by insisting that he would never be neutral on the Union – echoing David Cameron’s language on the subject – and he denied being complacent about the peace process.

He also held a private meeting with senior DUP figures, including Arlene Foster, their leader, Nigel Dodds, who heads up their Westminster group, and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, their Commons chief whip. The former First Minister insisted that the terms of the two parties’ cooperation were not discussed, although as I wrote yesterday they will surely be renegotiated sooner rather than later.

If so, the DUP should press the Prime Minister on his commitment to protect ex-servicemen who served in Northern Ireland. This week Julian Smith, Johnson’s uninspiring choice of Northern Irish Secretary, refused to endorse his leader’s promises on the question. Has he gone native already, at a Government ministry already accused of ‘pandering to republicans’?

Johnson and Davidson call a truce in the face of separatists within and without

Not to be left out, Scotland also witnessed its first visit of Johnson’s premiership. Here his mission was not only to face down Nicola Sturgeon but also to try and mend relations with Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Tories, who are reportedly furious after his decision to dismiss David Mundell from the Cabinet.

He hit a bad note on both fronts by ignoring his Scottish leader’s warning not to attend on the First Minister at her official residence, Bute House. This gave nationalist activists the opportunity to stage a protest and boo Johnson for the cameras, an act immediately (and inevitably) interpreted by pro-Remain commentators as a spontaneous and organic event.

Nonetheless, media reports suggest that the two Tories have managed to put together a “fragile truce”. Davidson is striking a tough line against a no-deal Brexit but, as has been pointed out elsewhere, as she isn’t in Cabinet she isn’t required to support it. Furthermore Adam Tomkins, an MSP and close ally of Davidson, has taken to Twitter to set out that the Scottish Conservatives nonetheless agree that we must leave the EU in October. ‘Pursuing’ a no-deal exit is not the same as ‘preparing’ for one.

Meanwhile, Murdo Fraser and Andy Maciver have got their 2011 band back together and once again started pushing to split the Scottish Conservatives away from the UK party. This comes off the back of several articles by Stephen Daisley in which Tory sources – almost certainly MSPs – suggest that the Holyrood (and presumably local government) divisions of the Party could split off. Coincidentally, that is also Fraser and Maciver’s new proposal.

This has the air of a solution in search of a problem – it was supposed to be the only path to a centre-right revival in Scotland until Ruth Davidson delivered one by doing precisely the opposite -but the new plan is at least less damaging to the Union than the 2011 proposal, which involved taking the MPs with it and which I made the case against on CapX this week. However, the idea that ‘federalism’ will save the UK getting another airing this week – in the Daily Telegraph, of all places.

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Ex-PM: BoJo may end up the first Prime Minister of England

Westlake Legal Group bojo-hands Ex-PM: BoJo may end up the first Prime Minister of England Wales United Kingdom The Blog Scotland Republic of Ireland Northern Ireland no-deal Brexit Leo Varadkar European Union Brexit Boris Johnson backstop

The comment’s a few days old, but as prophecy it might be gaining some traction. Boris Johnson has gone on a tour of the United Kingdom to build support for his no-retreat strategy on Brexit, only to find little unity among the other three nations of the union. As Gordon Brown quipped last week, Brexit might take on a whole new meaning, and even Johnson’s Tory colleagues wonder about it:

May’s de facto deputy prime minister, David Lidington, told the BBC this month that the union “would be under much greater strain in the event of a no-deal.”

He added, “My view comes not just from Scottish nationalism and pressure for Irish unification — it comes from indifference among English opinion to the value of the union.”

Gordon Brown, a former Labour Party prime minister, said at an event in London last week that Johnson could be remembered “not as the 55th prime minister of the U.K. but as the first prime minister of England.”

Now that Johnson has wrapped up his first four-nations tour, the returns suggest that disunity may become a very big problem if a hard Brexit takes place on Halloween. Johnson got booed in Wales and Scotland, the latter of which intends to push a new independence referendum in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Johnson stayed away from public forums on his visit to Northern Ireland, but the political parties in deadlock over forming an executive showed a lot more consensus when it came to Johnson’s Brexit plans:

The party leaders were united on one thing: They warned Johnson that his threat to take Britain out to the European Union without a deal, without a trade pact or a transition period, was folly, or worse.

“We are in a crisis, and Brexit is adding to the chaos,” said Naomi Long, a leader of the Alliance Party.

Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Fein president, said Johnson’s plan for a no-deal Brexit has increased the likelihood that the United Kingdom will splinter — by boosting the case for Irish reunification.

“Traditionally, the argument and the discourse has been between green and orange, between Irishness and Britishness. But Brexit changed that and added a new dimension, a critical dimension, which is European or not? Inside the European Union or not?” McDonald told BBC Radio on Wednesday morning.

The hard-left Sinn Féin warned Johnson that a hard Brexit will trigger a plebescite on Irish reunification. The Northern Ireland vote on Brexit had been solidly negative in 2016, and the worries over the impact on the Good Friday agreement has only made it less popular:

It would be “unthinkable” if a no-deal Brexit was not followed by a poll on Irish reunification, the leader of Sinn Féin has warned Boris Johnson, also telling the prime minister that no one believed he was impartial on Northern Ireland.

“In the longer term, we have advised him that constitutional change is in the air. He can’t say that he hasn’t been told,” Mary Lou McDonald said after meeting Johnson at Stormont on Wednesday morning.

Any Brexit, but particularly no deal, “represents in anybody’s language a dramatic change of circumstances on this island, and … it would be unthinkable in those circumstances that people would not to be given the opportunity to decide on our future together”, McDonald said.

A generation ago, the success of such a move would have been nearly unthinkable. It’s becoming a lot more thinkable now, not just because of Brexit but also because of demographic changes in Northern Ireland and a sense of dislocation over its present political stalemate.

It’s not helping matters that Johnson is demanding that Irish PM Leo Varadkar drop the backstop and back reopening negotiations that already took place in large part on Ireland’s behalf. Johnson’s allies in the UK have taken to accusing Varadkar and his government of being “bought by Brussels” for insisting on solid guarantees of a soft border after Brexit. Varadkar in return shot back today that Ireland was not about to be “bullied” by the UK into submission:

New British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for Ireland to scrap the border “backstop” clause in the deal negotiated under his predecessor Theresa May.

“Ireland isn’t going to be bullied on this issue and as a government and as a country, I think we are going to stick by our position,” Varadkar said in an interview with the Irish Daily Mirror newspaper.

Varadkar said Ireland had “total support” from other EU countries on the backstop, designed as an insurance policy to prevent border controls between EU-member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland but which Johnson says will keep Britain tied to EU customs rules.

Johnson essentially told Varadkar, trust us:

Johnson also told Varadkar he wants the controversial backstop plan to protect the Northern Irish border scrapped.

“He [Johnson] said that in all scenarios, the government will be steadfast in its commitment to the Belfast Agreement and will never put physical checks or physical infrastructure on the border,” the statement from Downing Street says, adding: “The prime minister made clear that the government will approach any negotiations which take place with determination and energy and in a spirit of friendship, and that his clear preference is to leave the EU with a deal, but it must be one that abolishes the backstop.”

Ahem. Don’t expect the Irish to exhibit a sudden swell of trust in the Brits when it comes to borders and unilateral actions regarding sovereignty. Besides, as Varadkar told Johnson, Brexit is the UK’s idea, not theirs. It’s up to the UK to meet all of its international obligations while pursuing it:

Brexiters have had three years to come up with a plan to avoid import/export controls over the border without having an actual border and checkpoints, and so far they haven’t come up with a workable plan. Why would Ireland simply trust that Johnson will magically work it out in the next few weeks? Especially without a concrete legal commitment to the consequences of failure?

Johnson’s demand may well end up backfiring where it counts. The backstop issue isn’t just important for the Republic of Ireland; it’s also important in Northern Ireland, where the current open border allows for cultural connections and most importantly provides no catalyst for violence. A hard Brexit will require border checks on goods and services exchanged between two customs jurisdictions, and that means a return of a policed border that will become a magnet for protests and worse. If anything, it may well accelerate momentum toward a reunification plebescite, and it might accelerate support for it as well.

Johnson didn’t even get a good reception in Wales, where its first minister warned that the UK might not be so U if Johnson persists:

The next day in Wales, Johnson met a similarly dubious Welsh first minister. Mark Drakeford, a member of the opposition Labour party, warned in an interview with the Guardian that a no-deal Brexit would endanger Wales’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors and “a whole way of life that has existed for centuries.” He stressed that Johnson’s characteristic “bluff and bluster” was testing the unity of the United Kingdom itself.

“I think the union that is the United Kingdom is more at risk today than at any time in my political lifetime,” he said, pointing to how both Scotland and Northern Ireland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union.

Johnson has painted himself into a corner on a very large bet. He and his fellow Brexiters torpedoed the Theresa May-negotiated Withdrawal Agreement after more than two years of negotiations on the premise that the EU would blink within weeks of a hard Brexit. And who knows? They still might; there’s no doubt that it would do damage to the other 27 nations within the EU. However, it’s going to do a lot more damage to the UK, especially in the short run, plus the EU cannot afford to set a discount for disunification based on bullying and brinksmanship from a disaffected government.

Johnson may well regret setting those discounts at home too now that the incentives are all set for a hard Brexit on Halloween. It makes the incentives clearer and clearer for to disunification among  the UK’s constituent nations, especially Scotland and Northern Ireland. The sun may be about to set on the last vestiges of the British Empire.

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BoJo to EU: Come on, you’re not serious about this deal

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Want to bet? Boris Johnson does. The new Prime Minister and his fellow Brexit hardliners succeeded in pushing out Theresa May over her inability to extricate the UK from the EU. In his first speech to Parliament, her successor warned the EU that they need to come up with a better deal than the May-negotiated Withdrawal Agreement, or else:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on the European Union to “rethink” its refusal to renegotiate the Brexit deal, as he pledged to throw all his energy into making sure Britain leaves the bloc on time on Oct. 31.

Addressing a rowdy session of Parliament for the first time since becoming prime minister, Johnson pledged Thursday to take a new approach. Rejecting the Brexit withdrawal agreement negotiated by his fellow Conservative predecessor, Theresa May, he insisted that while he wanted a deal, the country was better prepared than widely believed to leave the bloc without one.

“I hope that the EU will be equally ready and that they will rethink their current refusal to make any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement,” he said. “If they do not, we will, of course, have to leave — the U.K. — without an agreement.”

The first thing that has to go, Johnson demanded, was the “backstop” to prevent a hard border in Ireland:

“A time limit is not enough,” Johnson said. “If an agreement is to be reached, it must be clearly understood that the way to the deal goes by way of the abolition of the backstop.

“For our part, we are ready to negotiate in good faith an alternative with provisions to ensure that the Irish border issues are dealt with where they should always have been: in the negotiations on the future agreement between the UK and the EU.”

There’s only one trouble with that — the existing Good Friday Agreement that has been in force for more than twenty years. It deconstructed the hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, including trade checkpoints. The common EU membership of both nations made that much easier to accomplish, but an EU withdrawal by the UK means some sort of import/export checkpoint system must be put in place somewhere.

Brexiters have refused to put trade controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, arguing (correctly) that it would allow the EU to interfere in sovereign matters. The only alternative, though, is a hard border in Ireland unless someone comes up with an idea to replace it with trade controls that don’t require inspections and checkpoints. And despite three years of fulminating over how Brexit doesn’t mean a hard border, none of the Brexiters have come up with a workable solution to the conundrum. That’s why Johnson is still proposing to “negotiate” an “alternative” at this late date.

Johnson insists that he will proceed with the Article 50 withdrawal on Halloween no matter what, even if that means a hard Brexit and massive disruption. Scotland’s devolved government has a response to Johnson already. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that her government would prepare a new independence referendum to put in place in case of a hard Brexit:

“It is now – more than ever – essential that in Scotland we have an alternative option,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a letter to Johnson.

“The Scottish government will continue to make preparations to give people in Scotland the choice of becoming an independent country,” she said, adding that the Scottish parliament would consider framework legislation for a referendum after the summer recess.

Scotland voted strongly to remain in the EU, and for that matter Remain got a majority in Northern Ireland as well. With always-constant pressure for reunification in Ireland and ire over Tory policies in Scotland, the fallout from a Johnson-led hard Brexit might wind up leaving the UK without even a Great Britain any longer.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s still talking while I write this. Johnson’s in the middle of explaining why he’s so incredibly popular in Scotland to Parliament and, er, highly skeptical Scots MPs.

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Henry Hill: What Johnson’s reshuffle means for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland

Boris Johnson has kicked off his premiership with one of the most brutal reshuffles in modern political history. But amidst all the bloodshed, what does it mean for the ‘Territorial Offices’: Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland?

Of the three Secretaries of State for the devolved nations, Alun Cairns is the only one to continue to serve in the new administration. On the face of it this looks like quite a feat, given that he campaigned to Remain in 2016 – but as we point out elsewhere this morning, one’s stance on Brexit is less important at the minute than one’s stance on Johnson.

Cairns staying in post means that he can continue to counter the efforts of Mark Drakeford, the small-n nationalist First Minister of Wales, to use Brexit to try and wring more constitutional concessions out of London. In particular there is a fight brewing over Johnson’s plans to replace EU grants with a Westminster-operated ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’, which devocrats fear will increase the role of the British Government in devolved nations.

During the leadership election, Cairns called on whoever won to set up a dedicated Downing Street team focused on protecting the Union. Let’s hope his new boss heeds that advice.

At the Northern Irish Office, meanwhile, Johnson’s decision is surprising and, if we’re honest, disappointing. Whilst he has cleared the extraordinarily low bar set by Jeremy Hunt, who proposed to keep the disastrous Karen Bradley in post, Julian Smith is not the man I would have chosen to send to this crucial ministry at this particular hour.

Whilst there is an argument to be made that Smith will have important first-hand experience dealing with the Democratic Unionists due to his service as Chief Whip, there is little evidence that his relationship with them is particularly good. As Sam McBride points out, this is the third pro-Remain Ulster Secretary in a row, and Smith has clashed with the DUP over the backstop. He is scarcely the man to take the fight to those spinning for Dublin in the British, Irish, and European press.

This is especially disappointing because earlier reports suggested that the position was hotly contested, with the Sun reporting that “one of the most hotly fought spats is over who will get the Cabinet job of Northern Ireland Secretary.” Gavin Williamson, who negotiated the original Conservative/DUP pact in 2017, was said to be contending with Conor Burns, who would be the first-ever Northern Irish-born Roman Catholic to serve in the role.

Instead, the position seems once again to have been used as somewhere to place a minister you need to put in the Cabinet – and a role for the former Chief Whip must probably always be found – but for whatever reason don’t want to give something with a higher profile. We must hope that, should Johnson win an autumn election, he takes the opportunity to appoint someone else.

Finally, Scotland. The decision to dismiss David Mundell is an interesting one, because the former Scottish Secretary was a close ally of Ruth Davidson and the decision has reportedly strained relations (yet further…) between the new Prime Minister and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Of course, there is definitely a case for a fresh face at the Scottish Office. Notwithstanding any criticism of Mundell’s tenure, and he does have his critics, it is a simple fact that he has served in the post for nine years – and for seven of them he was the Party’s only Scottish MP. A happy consequence of the 2017 breakthrough is that Johnson now has a much broader pool to draw on when it comes to staffing the Scottish Office.

There is also the fact that Mundell was one of those Secretaries of State who defied the whip on Brexit issues under Theresa May. If Johnson is looking to assert his authority, cracking down on such conduct was almost inevitable.

Although he has a lower profile than some other members of the 2017 intake, Jack is a well-respected and long-serving figure in the Scottish Conservatives. He also holds his borders seat – once the only Tory seat in Scotland from 2001 to 2005 – with a relatively healthy majority of over 5,600 votes. Perhaps most importantly, he voted Leave in 2016.

With Stephen Daisley reporting that certain anonymous “allies of Ruth Davidson” are once again talking up the prospect of splitting off the Scottish Tories – a scheme the woman herself has always rejected in no uncertain terms – Jack’s appointment once again highlights the tensions between their Westminster caucus and the Conservative leadership in Edinburgh. Given that this Government owes its existence to the Scottish Conservatives’ revival, Johnson and his allies must treat them with respect and take their concerns seriously.

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Henry Hill: Hunt and Johnson declare Backstop ‘dead’ and promise to protect Ulster veterans

Hunt and Johnson declare backstop ‘dead’

Both candidates for the leadership have confirmed that they will not sign up to the Northern Irish backstop, the Guardian reports.

In a quite striking hardening of position, both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt insisted that the mechanism could play no part in any deal between the UK and the EU – even if it were amended to include a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism, which Eurosceptics had previously indicated they might accept. Johnson went so far as to say that the backstop had been “devised by this country as an instrument of our own incarceration in the single market and customs union”.

Hunt, on the other hand, appeared to tee himself up for failure by saying: “If we are going to get a deal we must have an absolute cast-iron commitment to the Republic of Ireland that we will not have border infrastructure.” The decision to rule out any infrastructure whatsoever – to maintain a so-called ‘invisible border’ – is the root problem with the backstop. If an alternative mechanism for doing so (in a manner compatible with British territorial integrity) existed, the backstop would be a non-issue.

Since the EU has repeatedly ruled out re-opening the deal, blanket refusal on the backstop would put both candidates on track for a no-deal departure. Whilst this might not be the preferred option for Hunt, a strong line on Northern Ireland is undoubtedly necessary if either candidate wishes to maintain the Party’s working relationship with the DUP and the Government’s wafer-thin Commons majority.

In other news, both Johnson and Hunt have expressed support for measures aimed at protecting ex-servicemen who served in Northern Ireland from prosecution and historical tribunals. They have both signed a ‘Veterans’ Pledge’ organised by the Sun, which this week criticised Theresa May for her continued refusal to protect those who fought the IRA.

Meanwhile an SNP MSP has claimed that Ruth Davidson’s authority inside the Scottish Conservatives has been “shredded” after a growing number of her colleagues endorsed Johnson’s leadership bid. The contest has previously put a spotlight on the limits of her influence after the Scottish Tory leader endorsed Sajid Javid, only for none of the party’s 13 Scottish MPs to follow her lead.

Bebb to stand down over Brexit

Whilst the grassroots may not yet have managed to deselect a sitting Conservative MP over their stance on Europe, this week saw the latest indication of how Brexit might be redrawing the frontiers of the Tory ‘big tent’.

Guto Bebb, the arch-Europhile who represents the Welsh constituency of Aberconwy since 2010, has announced that he will not seek re-selection for the seat at the next election. This means another Tory-held Welsh seat (after Montgomeryshire) will be selecting a new candidate.

Bebb, who prior to joining the Conservatives was a member of the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru, accused the Party of tacking towards the “type of nationalism” – which he claimed was ‘English nationalism’ behind the rise of UKIP and the Brexit Party. He has ruled out rejoining Plaid.

This departure puts a spotlight on an awkward question facing both leadership candidates (Bebb could not bring himself to vote for either one). Whilst CCHQ has thus far taken a strong line against deselecting Tory MPs, it is an unavoidable fact that the Party can’t fight a general election intended to break the deadlock on Brexit with candidates who are opposed to the Government’s policy on the same. If Johnson were to seek a mandate for no deal, what does he do about the likes of Dominic Grieve, Philip Hammond, and David Gauke?

Bradley criticised over rushing Northern Irish legislation

Last week, I wrote about now Westminster’s decision to legislate on abortion and same-sex marriage had set a useful precedent for the DUP in their ongoing push to introduce full direct rule to the Province.

This week Sam McBride has written in the News Letter about how the episode highlights the ongoing flaws in Karen Bradley’s approach to governing Ulster (to the minimum possible extent she can get away with). The Secretary of State continues to use Commons procedures intended for unexpected events or emergencies to fast-track Northern Irish legislation through the Commons with minimal scrutiny, even when circumstances do not require it.

He explains how sloppy drafting by Stella Creasy, the Labour MP behind the abortion amendment, has left the Government with what might be an impossible task: introducing new regulations by an October deadline it cannot meet.

It has been a hallmark of Bradley’s ill-starred tenure at the Northern Irish Office that she has poured her efforts into hiding both from Parliamentary scrutiny and from the difficult decisions the ongoing failure of devolution poses for Westminster. Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that he would keep her in post was by far the most bizarre of his leadership campaign, and one must hope Johnson pays sufficient interest to the NIO to give it a much-needed shake-up.

News in Brief:

  • Ireland’s ma in Brussels says border checks can be avoided in no-deal exit – Belfast Telegraph
  • Assembly Members have paid their families huge sums – Wales Online
  • Lord Trimble’s daughter in same-sex marriage – News Letter
  • ‘Neverendum’ killing investment in Scotland – The Times
  • The Welsh Government’s legislative agenda – Wales Online
  • Unionists fear land grabs if Northern Ireland joins Republic – The Guardian

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