Osborne condemns latest Northern Irish budget as crisis continues
George Osborne has attacked the Northern Ireland Assembly for authorising departments of the province’s devolved administration to spend £600 million pounds they do not have.
The Belfast Telegraph reports that the Chancellor made his remarks in response to a question tabled in the House of Commons. He singles out Sinn Fein and the SDLP, the principle nationalist parties, whose refusal to implement the Government’s welfare reforms has incurred hundreds of millions in Treasury fines for provincial budgets.
Arlene Foster, a Democratic Unionist and Finance Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, has been accused of proposing a “fantasy” budget, because it presupposes that the province’s parties will be able to resolve their differences over welfare reform.
An agreement, which including implementation, was struck by all the major parties in the Stormont House Agreement after more than 18 months of Sinn Fein obstruction, but the republican party later u-turned on its position.
SNP attempt to impose national veto on Brexit rejected
A bid by the Scottish National Party to make Britain’s exit from the EU contingent on ‘Out’ votes from all four home nations has been rejected by Parliament.
Alex Salmond, speaking in support of the so-called ‘quadruple lock’, cited the American example, where a certain number of states can block a constitutional amendment even if their share of the national population is tiny.
The Government rejected the measure, arguing that as the vote was about Britain’s relationship with the European Union it would be decided by Britain, as Britain.
Meanwhile, in Wales those parties opposing the Conservatives have welcomed the Government’s commitment not to hold an EU poll on the same day as next year’s devolved elections, which have already been postponed by a year to avoid concurrence with the general election.
There were fears that the campaign would overshadow the regional elections taking place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2016, whilst some Eurosceptics were concerned that having other polls on the same day might shift the electorate in favour of ‘In’.
Labour leadership candidates take their pitch to Wales
Two of the candidates seeking to replace Ed Miliband have taken their case to Wales, the last substantial outpost of the kingdom where Labour are still in office.
Wales Online reports that soft-left frontrunner Andy Burnham has declared that he will appoint Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, as co-chair of a party constitutional convention if he wins the leadership.
The Shadow Health Secretary claimed to support “a more autonomous Wales”, an aspiration he undoubtedly shares with Jones but not, according to most polling, with the Welsh people. The First Minister is a strident supporter of maximum powers for Cardiff, mirroring developments in Scotland, despite the profoundly different political attitudes in the two nations.
Meanwhile right-wing dark horse Liz Kendall takes up her pen to warn of the dangers an EU referendum poses for Wales.
Her focus on the European issue in her piece is telling, for it is probably one of the few areas of common ground to be found between Kendall’s so-called neo-Blairite pitch and the paleo-Labour style favoured by Jones.
Of course, the real challenge will be trying to get elements of Welsh Labour excited by the “English Labour” leadership contest.
Parliament rejects full fiscal autonomy for Scotland
The House of Commons has rejected a pair of amendments calling for Scotland to be granted full fiscal autonomy.
In a highly unusual alliance, the Nationalist bloc tabled one proposal whilst the second came from Sir Edward Leigh, a right-wing Conservative MP.
The SNP also made hay out of the rejection of two proposals, described as “probing amendments” by Labour’s last Scottish MP, to make the Scottish Parliament ‘permanent’ (or at least give it the constitutional illusion of permanence) and to amend the Sewell Convention to ‘bar’ the Commons from legislating on devolved issues.
Naturally, all of this is being painted in some quarters as the latest betrayal of ‘The Vow’, a modest if histrionic pledge made by the leaders of the three main unionist parties in the final days of last September’s referendum on Scottish independence.
Many people (who don’t read polls) have convinced themselves both that this promise was essentially a constitutional blank cheque and that it decided the outcome for ‘No’, which explains the constant hunt for fresh betrayals.
Wales faces radical local government overhaul
The number of councils in Wales could be cut from 22 to just eight, in a move to restore a system modelled on the old county council model, according to Wales Online.
Leaked maps show plans for either eight or nine councils. Previous reform proposals, which involved simply merging existing local government units, planned to leave Wales with somewhere between ten and twelve authorities.
This may apparently cause controversy in areas set to lose several local councils.
However, according to the BBC the nearness of the next devolved elections, combined with scepticism from opposition parties, means that a question mark will hang over any proposals announced by the Jones administration on Wednesday.