May calls Northern Irish leaders to try to get devolution going again

The Belfast Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister has called both Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and Michelle O’Neill, her Sinn Fein counterpart, to stress the importance of restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Stormont and the other devolved institutions have been inoperative since the late Martin McGuinness withdrew the Republicans from Ulster’s power-sharing Executive, bringing it down.

James Brokenshire has thus far had little luck getting the two largest Northern Irish parties talking. Reluctance to introduce direct rule has left the Northern Irish Secretary with little leverage, and as a result his deadlines have passed without consequence.

However, London’s attitude may now be toughening up a little. Not only has the Government firmly ruled out any form of ‘joint authority’ with Dublin in the event that devolution can’t be restored, but Brokenshire has raised the prospect that MLAs who aren’t sitting may cease to be paid.

Scottish Conservatives offer to mediate between Edinburgh and London…

According to the Scotsman, Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Tories are trying to broker a “deal for more powers” in order to try to break a deadlock between the British and Scottish governments over Brexit.

Nationalist politicians have argued that Brexit is being used to effect a ‘power grab’ against the devolved legislatures, and are pushing hard for as many EU-level powers as possible, if not all of them, to be passed straight down to Edinburgh and Cardiff.

For its part, the Government maintains that it will pass substantial powers to the Scottish and Welsh governments, but reserves the right to hold powers in London where a UK-wide framework makes more sense.

Jackson Carlaw, the deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and Adam Tomkins, their constitutional specialist, will now meet ‘bilaterally’ with SNP ministers John Swinney and Mike Russell to see if they can find common ground.

…as Jones prepares bid to block Withdrawal Bill

Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, is to join Nicola Sturgeon in a bid to frustrate the EU Withdrawal Bill, Wales Online reports.

He will recommend to members of the Welsh Assembly that they reject the Bill when it comes before them for ‘consent’.

Although neither Cardiff Bay nor Holyrood has an actual veto on the legislation, May has apparently “said she does not want to force it into law without the consent of the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament.”

If the Government refuses to pay off the first ministers they will both almost certainly try to use the resultant row to bid for yet more powers or, in Sturgeon’s case, independence. However, it seems unlikely that voters who haven’t been outraged by being ‘dragged out of the EU’ are likely to get terribly worked up over constitutional technicalities.

First loyalist terror group applies to be legalised

The Red Hand Commando (RHC), a Northern Irish pro-UK paramilitary group, has applied to the Government to be ‘deproscribed’, according to the News Letter.

During the Troubles the RHC killed 12 civilians, as well as one of its own members. Their bid has very little public support in the province save from the Progressive Unionist Party, which has links to them.

Jim Allister, the leader of the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice party, suggested that if the group really feels “true and abject remorse to all the innocent victims of the conflict” then it should disband altogether.