Cameron supports Villiers as Ulster referendum campaign takes shape…

The Prime Minister has backed Theresa Villiers, the Northern Irish Secretary, after Irish nationalists called for her to resign, the News Letter reports.

Nationalist and republican politicians led by Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, have made their demands after she became one of the six Cabinet ministers to call for Britain to leave the EU.

David Cameron said that she is doing an “excellent job”, and defended her right to make a personal decision on the matter.

He also indicated that he plans to visit Northern Ireland in the course of the referendum campaign after the Democratic Unionist Party, the province’s largest, came out for Brexit.

Meanwhile GO!, a candidate for the official mantle of the Leave campaign, has announced a Belfast rally. Headlining are Nigel Farage, Kate Hoey of Labour Leave, and Jim Allister, leader and sole MLA for the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice party.

…Mundell dismisses threat of Scottish independence if we Leave…

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary and sole Tory MP north of the border, has spoken out against the widespread assumption that leaving the EU risks the break-up of the UK, according to Buzzfeed.

He laments that other Conservatives, such as William Hague, have been “drawn onto the SNP’s turf”. He added: “It’s also certainly not clear that Scotland would vote to leave [the UK]. Our status within the EU would be extremely uncertain and Scotland’s ability to go into the EU without signing up to the euro is uncertain as well.”

Whether the doom-mongers are correct is crucially important to unionist voters, and the debate rages on. I have expressed scepticism, and Alex Massie has fiercely refuted me. Other pro-EU Scottish unionist writers, such as Stephen Daisley and Chris Deerin, share Massie’s pronounced pessimism.

Meanwhile such improbable figures as Gordon Wilson, a former SNP leader, and Lallands Peat Worrier, an eminent nationalist blogger, seems more inclined to my view (although Worrier’s is a slightly despairing perspective) about the potential impact of Brexit on the separatist cause.

The latter writes: “If Britain does choose to depart from the European Union, the version of Scottish nationalism which has sustained the SNP these last decades takes a fundamental knock. Make no bones about it.”

…and the leader of the Welsh Tories backs Brexit.

The BBC reports that Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Tories, has come out in favour of ending Britain’s EU membership.

Whilst emphasising that the Conservatives would not allow the plebiscite to distract them from “the most important Welsh Assembly election in a generation”, he states his belief that Britain would be better served by a looser, economic relationship with Europe.

This position puts him at odds with Stephen Crabb, the Welsh Secretary, although the country’s Tory MPs had split only six to four in favour of remain when the BBC went to print.

Davies’ Assembly rivals are already trying to use his stance to drive a wedge between him and those sections of the Welsh electorate which benefit from EU subsidies – efforts boosted by the Prime Minister’s emphasis on EU grants in making his Welsh case for Remain.

UKIP, who are set to break into the Assembly in May despite a serious outbreak of infighting, will provide Wales’ second pro-Brexit voice.

Also this week, the Welsh Conservatives unveiled a plan to phase out the Assembly’s tuition fee support in exchange for paying rent for students.

Davidson hails devolution deal and challenges Labour on soft unionism

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has been a veritable one-woman unionist whirlwind this week, engaging energetically both with the SNP and her erstwhile pro-UK rivals alike.

Most recently, she has praised the fiscal deal struck at the eleventh hour between Westminster and the intransigent Nationalist administration in Holyrood, praising it as “devolution delivered” and framing it as a challenge to the SNP. Some commentators are taking pains to stake her out a claim on the credit, too.

Last week, Davidson took to the Daily Telegraph to remind UK readers of the SNPs ceaseless attempts to undermine the institutions that bind Britain together – a timely reminder as MPs accuse the BBC of pandering to the SNP by breaking up the pan-UK Six O’Clock News.

She also urged her former partners in Better Together, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, to reverse their decisions to permit open separatists into their ranks, according to The Scotsman.


Jones pledges to distance Welsh Labour from Corbyn

The First Minister of Wales has stated his intention to try to distance his re-election bid in this May’s Assembly elections from the infighting plaguing Labour at Westminster.

The Guardian reports Carwyn Jones making his remarks at the party’s Welsh conference – which Jeremy Corbyn attended.

Jones’ strategy is much as it ever is when his administration is in difficulty: to apply liberal doses of the national flag and try to ‘otherise’ the British nature of his party as much as possible.

Former NI21 leader joins the SDLP

A another surreal twist in the drawn-out demise of NI21, the brand new, pro-Union party set up by UUP defectors Basic McCrea and John McCallister in 2014.

It’s former deputy leader and only elected councillor, who resigned his membership in December, has now joined the soft-nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party.

McCrea’s last chance to keep the dream alive (although to what purpose it isn’t clear) will be holding his seat in May’s elections.