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Westlake Legal Group > The Union

“The backstop is anti-democratic.” Johnson’s letter about it to Tusk. Full Text.

Dear Donald,

United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union

The date of the United Kingdom’s (UK) exit from the European Union (EU), 31 October, is fast approaching. I very much hope that we will be leaving with a deal. You have my personal commitment that this Government will work with energy and determination to achieve an agreement. That is our highest priority.

With that in mind, I wanted to set out our position on some key aspects of our approach, and in particular on the so-called “backstop” in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the Withdrawal Agreement. Before I do so, let me make three wider points.

First, Ireland is the UK’s closest neighbour, with whom we will continue to share uniquely deep ties, a land border, the Common Travel Area, and much else besides. We remain, as we have always been, committed to working with Ireland on the peace process, and to furthering Northern Ireland’s security and prosperity. We recognise the unique challenges the outcome of the referendum poses for Ireland, and want to find solutions to the border which work for all.

Second, and flowing from the first, I want to re-emphasis the commitment of this Government to peace in Northern Ireland. The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, as well as being an agreement between the UK and Ireland, is a historic agreement between two traditions in Northern Ireland, and we are unconditionally committed to the spirit and letter of our obligations under it in all circumstances – whether there is a deal with the EU or not.

Third, and for the avoidance of any doubt, the UK remains committed to maintaining the Common Travel Area, to upholding the rights of the people of Northern Ireland, to ongoing North-South cooperation, and to retaining the benefits of the Single Electricity Market.

The changes we seek relate primarily to the backstop. The problems with the backstop run much deeper than the simple political reality that it has three times been rejected by the House of Commons. The truth is that it is simply unviable, for these three reasons.

First, it is anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state.

The backstop locks the UK, potentially indefinitely, into an international treaty which will bind us into a customs union and which applies large areas of single market legislation in Northern Ireland. It places a substantial regulatory border, rooted in that treaty, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The treaty provides no sovereign means of exiting unilaterally and affords the people of Northern Ireland no influence over the legislation which applies to them.

That is why the backstop is anti-democratic.

Second, it is inconsistent with the UK’s desired final destination for a sustainable long-term relationship with the EU.

When the UK leaves the EU and after any transition period, we will leave the single market and the customs union. Although we will remain committed to world-class environment, product and labour standards, the laws and regulations to deliver them will potentially diverge from those of the EU. That is the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy.

The backstop is inconsistent with this ambition. By requiring continued membership of the customs union and applying many single market rules in Northern Ireland, it presents the whole of the UK with the choice of remaining in a customs union and aligned with those rules, or of seeing Northern Ireland gradually detached from the UK economy across a very broad ranges of areas. Both of those outcomes are unacceptable to the British Government.

Accordingly, as I said in Parliament on 25 July, we cannot continue to endorse the specific commitment, in paragraph 49 of the December 2017 Joint Report, to ‘full alignment’ with wide areas of the single market and the customs union. That cannot be the basis for the future relationship and it is not a basis for the sound governance of Northern Ireland.

Third, it has become increasingly clear that the backstop risks weakening the delicate balance embodied in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. The historic compromise in Northern Ireland is based upon a carefully negotiated balance between both traditions in Northern Ireland, grounded in agreement, consent, and respect for minority rights. While I appreciate the laudable intentions with which the backstop was designed, by removing control of such large areas of the commercial and economic life of Northern Ireland to an external body over which the people of Northern Ireland have no democratic control, this balance risks being undermined.

The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement neither depends upon nor requires a particular customs or regulatory regime.

The broader commitments in the Agreement, including to parity of esteem, partnership, democracy and to peaceful means of resolving differences, can be be met if we explore solutions other than the backstop.

Next Steps

For these three reasons the backstop cannot form part of an agreed Withdrawal Agreement. That is a fact we must both acknowledge. I believe the task before us is to strive to find other solutions, and I believe an agreement is possible.

We must, first, ensure there is no return to a hard border. One of the many dividends of peace in Northern Ireland and the vast reduction of the security threat is the disappearance of a visible border. This is something to be celebrated and preserved. This Government will not put in place infrastructure, checks, or controls at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We would be happy to accept a legally binding commitment to this effect and hope that the EU would do likewise.

We must also respect the aim to find “flexible and creative” solutions to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland. That means that alternative ways of managing the customs and regulatory differences contingent on Brexit must be explored. The reality is that there are already two separate legal, political, economic and monetary jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. This system is already administered without contention and with an open border.

The UK and the EU have already agreed that “alternative arrangements” can be part of the solution. Accordingly:

– I propose that the backstop should be replaced with a commitment to put in place such arrangements as far as possible before the end of the transition period, as part of the future relationship.

– I also recognise that there will need to be a degree of confidence about what would happen if these arrangements were not all fully in place at the end of that period. We are ready to look constructively and flexibly at whatcommitment might help, consistent of course with the principles set out in this letter.

Time is very short. But the UK is ready to move quickly, and given the degree of common ground already, I hope that the EU will be ready to do likewise. I am equally confident that our Parliament would be able to act rapidly if we were able to reach a satisfactory agreement which did not contain the “backstop”: indeed it has already demonstrated that there is a majority for an agreement on these lines.

I believe that a solution on the lines we are proposing will be more stable, more long lasting, and more consistent with the overarching framework of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement which has been decisive for peace in Northern Ireland. I hope that the EU can work energetically in this direction and for my part I am determined to do so.

I am copying this letter to the President of the European Commission and members of the European Council.

Yours ever,

Boris

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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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Henry Hill: McDonnell reminds us wherein lies the real threat to the Union

Writing in this morning’s Daily Telegraph, Tom Harris makes the point that the hard left, from which hail both John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, has “always been prepared to sacrifice the Union for power”.

This much was obvious before the Shadow Chancellor split his party in two this week over the question of whether or not the Opposition would offer the Scottish National Party a second referendum on independence in exchange for parliamentary support in the House of Commons. Getting Corbyn to sing from the right hymn sheet on the Union has always looked like an uphill struggle for his Scottish comrades.

But McDonnell has gone much further, and much more explicitly, than his boss. Indeed, as Jonathan Freedland points out, he’s gone further than he conceivably needed to. When faced with a backlash, he doubled down.

Why might this be? Well, for starters its worth remembering that Harris might be mistaken when he says that the left is prepared to ‘sacrifice’ the Union. They are very often instinctively hostile to it, regarding it as an imperialist construct. Some, such as George Galloway, do draw a vehement distinction between Irish nationalism and Scottish, but that isn’t a universal position.

The second factor is that the Shadow Chancellor might have cast a cold eye over Labour’s fortunes in Scotland and concluded that they are unlikely to make a significant contribution to the likelihood of a (Corbyn-led) Labour Government. Wooing the SNP, with their dozens of MPs, might look like a better bet – and folding on a second independence referendum is one of the biggest carrots he could offer them.

‘Corbyn-led’ is important. With Jo Swinson today declaring that the Liberal Democrats won’t help put the Labour leader into Number Ten, his only route there – absent a smashing general election victory, which seems unlikely – lies through the Nationalists.

But this strategy, if such it is, contains an inherent contradiction. If Labour’s best, or perhaps only, route to power lies through the support of a substantial number of Scottish MPs of one hue or another, Scottish independence logically implies handing the Right a substantial advantage in the rest of the UK.

A few possibilities suggest themselves: McDonnell hasn’t entirely thought this through; he thinks a second referendum would be won by the unionists; or he plans in some fashion to entrench Labour’s position south of the border in the process of delivering the referendum.

But there is a fourth option. Just as David Cameron offered an EU referendum on the assumption that the Lib Dems would block it, so too might the Shadow Chancellor be dangling an independence one in front of the SNP in anticipation that he wouldn’t, in the end, be able to deliver it – due this time not to formal coalition negotiations, but a backbench revolt.

Make no mistake, this is another acid test for Labour MPs. On Europe, they have made much noise about fidelity to their Party’s official stance, rather than their leader’s more ambiguous position. There is nothing to prevent them doing the same here.

Hundreds of Members of Parliament standing in solidarity with their Scottish comrades and indicating their refusal to collaborate with McDonnell’s bid to trade the United Kingdom for separatist support would be a powerful moment… if they choose to take that stand. Will Labour MPs stand by their leadership, or their Scottish fellows and their country?

In the meantime, his calculation about Scottish Labour’s weakness, and response to it, may become self-fulfilling. At a time when Ruth Davidson is caught in an awkward strategic position over Brexit and Boris Johnson, she has now been handed a powerful card. Consolidating the pro-Union vote is what delivered her victories in 2016 and 2017, and McDonnell has just sent Labour’s remaining voters – who lean unionist – a very good reason to give the Tories another look.

This row is also a useful reminder that, for all the excitement over a single margin-of-error poll lead for independence, the much more concrete threat to the Union comes from those forces – Labour and Remain – prepared to actively collaborate with the separatists and pander to nationalist sentiment in order to try to wield the supposed fragility of the Union to their advantage.

News in Brief:

  • Sturgeon accused of ‘complacency’ as exam passes fall – Daily Telegraph
  • Northern Irish Office loses key advisor at the wrong moment – News Letter
  • How the Left lost Wales – UnHerd
  • Scottish Tories attack SNP over prisoner voting – Daily Telegraph
  • Anger over removal of Queen’s portrait from Stormont – The Times

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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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Iain Dale: This Cabinet is the most right-of-centre in modern times. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

A reshuffle in which Penny Mordaunt is sacked and Priti Patel is given one of the top three jobs was always going to provoke negative comment. Patel has many talents.  But for her to re-enter the cabinet into one of the great offices of state after such a short time is eyebrow-raising to say the least.

It used to be the case that anyone who resigned ministerial office, or was sacked from it due to an impropriety would be expected to face the voters before being reincarnated into ministerial office. That was certainly the convention operated by previous Conservative Prime Ministers.

Having said that, it is truly a sign of the times when two British Asians now occupy two of the three great offices of state. There are now four British Asians in the cabinet now and two black/mixed race members. Ethnic minorities comprise around 13 per cent of the UK populations, but 18 per cent of the ministers sitting around the cabinet table. That’s real progress.

Rather more disappointingly, there are only six female members of the cabinet, yet women comprise 51 per cent of the population. Work to do.

This is without doubt the most right-of-centre Cabinet in modern times – and for the avoidance of doubt, I see nothing wrong with that at all. It is a cabinet designed with one aim in mind – to get us out of the EU by October 31.

But the view that this is a total Leave Cabinet is for the birds. By my reckoning, 13 of the people sitting around the cabinet table voted Leave and 20 voted Remain. Clearly many of those have pivoted towards Leave since, and have all had to sign up to the possibility of leaving with no deal if necessary. And quite right too.

– – – – – – – – – –

As you read this, there are only 97 days until October 31. Few people can see the pathway to leaving the EU without a deal. There are a few signs that Dublin is experiencing a squeaky bum, and may be willing to urge their EU colleagues to shift their position on the Backstop, albeit only marginally.

If we do leave with a deal, surely it would have to be alongside a slightly tweaked version of the Withdrawal Agreement. The question is: would a few tweaks be enough to get it through the Commons?

It seems difficult to imagine any document which would attract the support of both the Gaukeward Squad and the ERG. It may well be that this has been factored in by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings. They will go through the motions – but that’s about it.

If the EU refuses to negotiate, they’re not going to lose too much sleep. Any such refusal will be seen by the public as typically unreasonable, and if it leads to us leaving under No Deal, the EU will be blamed, rather than the new Government.

One factor few are considering is that the EU 27 may become so enraged by what they will see as Johnson’s unreasonable stance that they themselves may decide that offering to extend Article 50 beyond October 31 is one step too far. It’s entirely possible that Emmanuel Macron may well decide to veto an extension, as he apparently nearly did in April.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tim Shipman must be licking his lips. He has become the country’s official chronicler of the whole Brexit process. His first two books have been best-selling corkers. I can hardly wait to read his account of the events of the last few days.

Forming a Cabinet is one of the trickiest things that a new Prime Minister has to get to grips with. Predicting who will be in or out of a new cabinet is one of the exercises that political journalists and commentators try to carry out – with mixed success.

Strangely they (we) are rarely held to account for our predictions, despite them being available for all to go back to. For myself, I predicted 18 of the May Cabinet would be out – I got it wrong by one. There were 17. I was the first to predict (in my Sunday Telegraph column) that Priti Patel would become Home Secretary and that Grant Shapps would become Transport Secretary.

I also reckoned that Jacob Rees-Mogg would join the Cabinet, although I got the job wrong. In retrospect, I should have worked out that Leader of the House would be a good fit for this devoted House of Commons man. Apart from that, I completely failed to see the removal of Penny Mordaunt, but then again, so did everyone else. I could go on…

– – – – – – – – – –

I have now written two long read profiles and interviews of politicians for the Sunday Times magazine. I profiled Gavin Williamson in December, and Penny Mordaunt last Sunday. Well, we know what happened next. I wouldn’t blame Ben Wallace if he declined to cooperate with any similar article I might be intending to write!

Of course, now that we have a new Prime Minister the betting markets are already turning their minds to who might be the next one. I asked David Williams from the Rank Organisation who was heading that market and was somewhat surprised when he told me it was Rory Stewart.

Given there were 17 sackings or resignations, we can expect some pretty tough jostling position over the next few months as to who would be the King or Queen over the water in the event of Johnson self-combusting. There are quite a few contenders.

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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: Westminster legislating for Northern Ireland sets a useful precedent for the DUP

DUP accepts Westminster changing abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

Sam McBride writes for the Independent that the Government’s parliamentary allies, the Democratic Unionist Party, show no sign of causing ministers much difficulty over the Commons legislating for the Province on social issues.

Although the socially-conservative party is formally opposed to extending same-sex marriage or legal abortion to Ulster, in truth many of its modernisers will be quietly pleased that these particular boils have been lanced without the Party having to risk alienating its core support by being directly involved.

Moreover, as I explained in last week’s column, the DUP will also be very pleased that MPs have blown such a large hole in the Government’s increasingly threadbare case for refusing to introduce wholesale direct rule. Just about the only remaining justification for the Northern Irish Office’s current non-solution of letting the civil service govern Northern Ireland without democratic oversight has been the relative consistency with which ministers have stuck to it.

Now that Parliament has acted directly to take important decisions in the absence of a devolved administration (and the passage of these amendments means that it is now certain not to return before their October 21 deadline, as doing so could block the reforms), it will be much harder to justify refusing to step in again. Noted unionist blogger Owen Polley has set out in a piece for the Article some areas which could do with ministerial attention.

However John Larkin, the Northern Irish Attorney General, has raised concerns about the drafting of the abortion amendment, drafted by Stella Creasy and overwhelmingly passed by MPs, according to the News Letter. He reportedly feels that it is “is unclear and inconsistent with important human rights texts”. Lord Duncan, an NIO minister, appears to share his concerns and has hinted that the Government may try to push back the deadline.

By contrast to their relative quiescence on these issues, the DUP have not been shy about naming their price in other areas. This week Nigel Dodds, the leader of the party’s Westminster group, indicated that they were rowing behind the Sun’s campaign on behalf of veterans and would make policies for ex-servicemen and women part of the next confidence and supply deal. Unionist concern at the handling of so-called ‘legacy investigations’ into soldiers remains high.

Hunt urges Johnson to rule out more powers for Holyrood…

The Herald reports that Jeremy Hunt has called on Boris Johnson to ‘draw a line under devolution’ and rule out any new tax powers for the Scottish Parliament, in the same week that he himself pledged not to approve a second referendum on Scottish independence even in the event of a separatist majority at the 2021 Holyrood elections.

Amidst reports that the underdog is hoping to run up a “big win” north of the border, where local Tories are reportedly deeply wary of what a Johnson premiership might been for their political recovery, a story resurfaced that Johnson once asked Nicola Sturgeon if full fiscal autonomy – a confederal arrangement wherein Scotland would have its own Treasury – would “buy off” the SNP.

This comes in the same week that Lord Forsyth, the former Secretary of State for Scotland and far-sighted opponent of devolution, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the real threat to the Union lay in constantly giving the nationalists and devocrats more powers. Stephen Daisley also penned a magisterial piece (for which I even got a little credit) for the Scottish Daily Mail on the same theme – it has been a good week for devosceptics.

…as First Minister of Wales picks new fight on ‘devolved powers’…

Meanwhile Mark Drakeford, the strongly-nationalist but technically-Labour First Minister of Wales, has attacked both candidates’ plans to replace EU funding with a UK-operated Shared Prosperity Fund.

Drakeford, who has stated that he views the UK as essentially a non-sovereign confederation, claims that Johnson’s intention for there to be a “strong Conservative influence” over the funding contradicts Labour’s motto of “Not a penny lost, not a power stolen” by suggesting a shift in power back towards London, the BBC reports.

This would, of course, be a very good thing, and entirely in line with the aims of Theresa May’s legacy-building devolution inquiry of finding ways to enhance the role of the British Government in the devolved territories. Neither Johnson nor Hunt should flinch from taking Drakeford – who has declared his party’s support for the UK to be ‘conditional’ – head-on.

…and Lidington and Mundell warn of danger to Union

On the other side of the argument, David Lidington warned this week that English ‘apathy’ about the United Kingdom risked breaking it up. According to the Times, he said:

“In England, I think that there is an indifference to the Union; a sense of taking it for granted. It is something that is there as part of the landscape rather than something that you’ve really got to make a conscious effort to work to sustain.”

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, also warned that a no-deal exit might strengthen the hand of the separatists in Scotland and Northern Ireland – even as his son Oliver, an MSP, has endorsed Johnson on this site on the basis that he will “deliver Brexit and secure the Union”.

Johnson has pledged this week to prioritise keeping the UK together over Brexit, although we must stress again that on the available evidence that isn’t the choice.

News in Brief:

  • Barclay warns that no-deal exit will harm Ireland more than the UK – Daily Telegraph
  • Dublin admits it will impose border checks under a no-deal scenario – The Sun
  • Reality intrudes on the Irish Government’s Brexit game plan – Irish Times
  • Johnson pledges £160 million ‘back payments’ to Scottish farmers – Daily Telegraph
  • SNP MP has made citizens’ assembly ‘ten times harder’, says adviser – The Herald
  • Davidson lashes out at Labour for letting unions set its Brexit policy – Daily Express

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Oliver Mundell: Johnson will deliver Brexit and secure the Union

Oliver Mundell is MSP for Dumfriesshire.

We are in a national political crisis. It’s clear that the Conservative and Unionist Party has a responsibility to deliver Brexit on 31st October and unite our country. That is the only way to stop Jeremy Corbyn, propped up by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, getting into Downing Street and ease the strain on our communities here in Scotland which have been so deeply divided between Yes/No and Leave/Remain.

Boris Johnson is now the only candidate who will deliver Brexit on time on 31st October. In doing so, he will enact the instruction given to us by the voters in 2016 and will restore public trust in our democracy. As one of over a million Scots to vote for Brexit, I know just how important this is to people and I understand why many people wanted to make their voice heard at the recent EU Elections.

I am worried that Jeremy Hunt can’t and won’t commit to delivering Brexit quickly, risking no Brexit at all. In Scotland we are fatigued with the constitutional uncertainty, our constituents are tired of referendums and they don’t want any more. However, shortly after the EU referendum, Hunt called for a second referendum: ‘So before setting the clock ticking, we need to negotiate a deal and put it to the British people, either in a referendum or through the Conservative manifesto at a fresh general election.’

We Scottish Conservatives and Unionists don’t want any more referendums. Those arguing for and campaigning for a second EU referendum are simply giving aid and succour to those who would stage another independence vote in Scotland. By undermining the verdict of the EU referendum, they are undermining the decision of 2014, doing the work of the SNP and threatening the Union.

As Mayor of London, Johnson delivered a modern, compassionate, one nation Conservative agenda and he stuck to his promises. That’s how you know he will restore trust and deliver as Prime Minister.

Johnson is the only candidate who can deliver Brexit. In doing so he will take away all the uncertainty that the SNP have exploited to stoke further division and they will have no choice but to defend their appalling record in Government as the public’s attention returns to schools, hospitals and policing. Having fought hard to win my seat in the 2016 Scottish Parliament, I don’t want to see our fortunes reversed because we failed to deliver on the task the British people set us.

As Prime Minister, Boris Johnson will deliver for our whole United Kingdom. The worst thing that could possibly happen to our Union is to allow Jeremy Corbyn, likely propped up by the SNP, into Number 10. The surest way for this to happen is to fail to deliver Brexit by 31st October. With Jeremy Corbyn signalling that he is willing to allow a second independence referendum, we just can’t take the risk.

Johnson successfully attracted the support of more than 50 per cent of MPs in the Parliamentary stage of the leadership election, attracting endorsements from those who argued to remain in the EU and others who campaigned to leave. He was able to unite these different opinions in the party to support him, and we are sure he will do the same in the country if he is chosen as our next Leader and Prime Minister.

To deliver Brexit, restore trust in our policies and unite the country we encourage members across Scotland to Back Boris.

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

Oliver Mundell: Johnson will deliver Brexit and secure the Union

Oliver Mundell is MSP for Dumfriesshire.

We are in a national political crisis. It’s clear that the Conservative and Unionist Party has a responsibility to deliver Brexit on 31st October and unite our country. That is the only way to stop Jeremy Corbyn, propped up by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, getting into Downing Street and ease the strain on our communities here in Scotland which have been so deeply divided between Yes/No and Leave/Remain.

Boris Johnson is now the only candidate who will deliver Brexit on time on 31st October. In doing so, he will enact the instruction given to us by the voters in 2016 and will restore public trust in our democracy. As one of over a million Scots to vote for Brexit, I know just how important this is to people and I understand why many people wanted to make their voice heard at the recent EU Elections.

I am worried that Jeremy Hunt can’t and won’t commit to delivering Brexit quickly, risking no Brexit at all. In Scotland we are fatigued with the constitutional uncertainty, our constituents are tired of referendums and they don’t want any more. However, shortly after the EU referendum, Hunt called for a second referendum: ‘So before setting the clock ticking, we need to negotiate a deal and put it to the British people, either in a referendum or through the Conservative manifesto at a fresh general election.’

We Scottish Conservatives and Unionists don’t want any more referendums. Those arguing for and campaigning for a second EU referendum are simply giving aid and succour to those who would stage another independence vote in Scotland. By undermining the verdict of the EU referendum, they are undermining the decision of 2014, doing the work of the SNP and threatening the Union.

As Mayor of London, Johnson delivered a modern, compassionate, one nation Conservative agenda and he stuck to his promises. That’s how you know he will restore trust and deliver as Prime Minister.

Johnson is the only candidate who can deliver Brexit. In doing so he will take away all the uncertainty that the SNP have exploited to stoke further division and they will have no choice but to defend their appalling record in Government as the public’s attention returns to schools, hospitals and policing. Having fought hard to win my seat in the 2016 Scottish Parliament, I don’t want to see our fortunes reversed because we failed to deliver on the task the British people set us.

As Prime Minister, Boris Johnson will deliver for our whole United Kingdom. The worst thing that could possibly happen to our Union is to allow Jeremy Corbyn, likely propped up by the SNP, into Number 10. The surest way for this to happen is to fail to deliver Brexit by 31st October. With Jeremy Corbyn signalling that he is willing to allow a second independence referendum, we just can’t take the risk.

Johnson successfully attracted the support of more than 50 per cent of MPs in the Parliamentary stage of the leadership election, attracting endorsements from those who argued to remain in the EU and others who campaigned to leave. He was able to unite these different opinions in the party to support him, and we are sure he will do the same in the country if he is chosen as our next Leader and Prime Minister.

To deliver Brexit, restore trust in our policies and unite the country we encourage members across Scotland to Back Boris.

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

Henry Hill: Johnson and Hunt woo DUP as leadership roadshow hits Belfast

Leadership contenders woo DUP…

It is difficult to to think of the last time Northern Ireland – and more specifically, Northern Irish politicians – have been so central to the internal dynamics of the Conservative Party. Perhaps not since Bonar Law.

Although they didn’t get to vote in the early rounds of the contest, the ten Democratic Unionist MPs nonetheless have clout when it comes to the Tory leadership race. Whoever wins will need to be able to maintain, and ideally strengthen, the Government’s working relationship with its Ulster allies in order to maintain any sort of majority in the House of Commons.

So this week both candidates hit the stump in Northern Ireland, with pitches both to the Province’s small but loyal band of Tory members and the DUP.

At a gathering of 240 local activists, Johnson publicly disavowed suggestions that he had ‘toyed’ with the idea of resolving the backstop by reverting to the EU’s original plan and hiving off Northern Ireland’s economic arrangements from the rest of the UK, according to the FT.

It adds that both candidates met with representatives of the DUP: Johnson with Arlene Foster, the leader, on Tuesday and Hunt with Nigel Dodds, their Westminster leader, on Monday night.

The Daily Mail also reported Johnson’s enthusiasm for the construction of a road and rail bridge connecting Ulster with the mainland. Questioned on the subject by members, he highlighted plans by Alan Dunlop, a professor of architecture. He also wrote in the paper about his plans for the Union. The Daily Express writes, meanwhile, about his ruling out any reform to the Barnett Formula.

In other news, Ruth Davidson has rebuked Johnson over his priorities, telling him the Union must be his “do-or-die” issue, amidst fresh reports of Scottish Conservative unease about his premiership. Katy Balls suggests that these could keep the Tories out of power, whilst Jacob Rees-Mogg argues that Johnson will stop the EU ‘corroding’ the Union.

Party faces clashes with allies on same-sex marriage and abortion

In light of the above, both Hunt and Johnson will need to think carefully about how they handle two issues which, after months of can-kicking by Karen Bradley, threaten to come to ahead as the stalemate over restoring devolution drags on.

The first is same-sex marriage. Patrick Maguire sets out in the New Statesman how a cross-party group of MPs are almost certain to legislate for Westminster to extend it to the Province in the event that Stormont is not imminently restored (chances of that: slim to none). He writes that this could push the Government into a row with the DUP – not over the decision, to which even socially conservative Unionists appear resigned at this point, but because of its implications for Ulster’s governance.

For over a year, Bradley has resisted the DUP’s calls to introduce ‘full-fat’ direct rule. Legislating on marriage from Westminster would be an act of direct rule, and shred what remains of the Government’s case for not going further.

The other possible flashpoint is abortion, with Penny Mordaunt having made the papers yesterday with a call for reform to the Province’s “appalling” laws on the issue. Abortion is completely banned in Northern Ireland. Both Hunt and Johnson have ruled out change, but the same Commons coalition pushing same-sex marriage could do the same for abortion – especially once the precedent for such acts for direct rule has been set.

May calls for review of devolution as part of legacy pitch

The Prime Minister has charged Lord Dunlop, a former Scottish Office minister, with conducting a review into devolution, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Apparently the object of this would be to assess the extent to which the current constitutional order bolsters or damages the UK, and come up with proposals for how to strengthen the role of Westminster and other British institutions in the political lives of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Current ideas include the creation of a Government-controlled ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ to replace EU grants post-Brexit, and replicating Brussels’ policy of heavily branding projects to make sure the public is aware of who paid for them.

Whether or not this review actually does the UK any good will depend in large part on the terms, which are apparently under dispute inside the Government as some push for a broad remit and others try to box Dunlop in. There is also a risk that it will end up hijacked by the devocracy and more-powers lobby and turned into just another set of demands – Nick Timothy, formerly one of May’s key advisers, was peddling this exhausted orthodoxy in today’s Telegraph.

Britain can’t afford a repeat of May’s fumbling u-turn on the devolution of repatriated EU powers. Unless Dunlop has the freedom, imagination, and courage to take the knife to devolution’s sacred cows, his review won’t help his country.

News in Brief:

  • Morgan and Hands’ panel delivers interim report on backstop – News Letter
  • Scottish Tories urge boycott of SNP’s ‘citizens’ assembly’ – The Scotsman
  • Hunt and Johnson support moves to protect Ulster veterans – The Times
  • Dugdale says Corbyn could offer Sturgeon referendum to win Commons support – The Scotsman
  • SNP beat retreat on ‘vote-killer’ gender laws – The Times
  • Scottish Government tells medical schools to admit fewer English pupils – The Scotsman

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