Hurricane highlights Brokenshire’s Ulster inertia

Since the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed earlier this year, the British Government’s response has followed a predictable, ineffective, and slightly embarrassing pattern.

First James Brokenshire, the Northern Irish Secretary, sets a deadline for the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein to reach an agreement and restore the Executive. This deadline passes without agreement. Then Brokenshire sets a new deadline. Repeat.

It’s not difficult to see why this hasn’t spurred the big Northern Irish parties to sort out their differences. But just as with allegations of a ‘Brexit power grab’ (see below), the principle that devolution cannot be even temporarily reversed prevents Brokenshire from bringing the Ulster civil service, currently on autopilot, back under democratic control via direct rule.

As Sam McBride argues in the News Letter, this policy leaves the Northern Irish Secretary at the mercy of events. As Storm Ophelia rolls across Ireland, the response of the Dublin Government can and has been contrasted with that of the Belfast civil service. If the latter is judged inadequate, that will ultimately be – as he himself has tacitly admitted – his responsibility.

Of course this has little political consequence on the mainland, given that none of the major parties have an electoral stake in the Province.

But McBride isn’t the only observer to note that DUP and Sinn Fein voters are not pushing their parties towards compromise. Some, such as Alex Kane, have gone so far as to suggest that there is no longer majority support for the Good Friday Agreement’s power-sharing structures.

The Northern Irish Office really ought to be making serious preparations for what happens if these talks fail.

Experts claim devolved nations must be involved in trade talks

The row over how Brexit intersects with devolution rumbles on. This week a panel of experts told the Commons’s Exiting the European Union Committee that the devolved executives must have “full participation” in the talks.

According to the above-linked article, this is because many issues currently overseen by the European Union would revert by default to the devolved legislatures upon Brexit, which could create enormous incoherence in the British internal market.

The most rational response to this is to have Westminster take up Brussels’ mantle as the coordinating body for that market, just as every other sovereign government on earth does. But this is being spun as a ‘power grab’ by the centre and is thus, apparently, unthinkable.

Ministers who want to maintain the United Kingdom as a country must take care not to allow it to devolve in stages into the form of an international arrangement. The rules of the British economy should be set by the British Government.

Tory MP criticises plan to cut Welsh representation in the Commons

The Boundary Commission’s proposals to reduce the number of Welsh constituencies at the next boundary review have been attacked by a Tory MP.

Glyn Davies, whose Montgomeryshire seat would largely disappear under the new proposals, said that the Commission had not made “a sensible allowance for rural areas”, the BBC reports.

Of course, introducing tough new rules to equalise constituency sizes is Conservative Party policy, and is intended to address the systemic advantage Labour derives from under-populated seats. Wales would always be hit by such a policy due to its having more MPs than its population would warrant.

However, there are enough Tory MPs in Davies’ position to make it very improbable that these proposals will ever see the light of day.

Duncan criticises SNP’s role in Catalan referendum

A Scottish Nationalist MP has been rebuked by a Government minister for joining a team of international observers invited by Catalan separatists to oversee their illegal vote, according to the Scotsman.

Sir Alan Duncan, a Foreign Office minister, criticised Joanna Cherry for failing to uphold the rule of law after she questioned him about how what approaches the British Government had made to Madrid about police actions on the day of the vote.

In response Cherry demanded an apology, arguing that the observers had not been there in an official SNP capacity and that Conservative MPs attended a 2002 referendum of Gibraltarian sovereignty which the Spanish Government had also deemed illegal.

The story doesn’t record whether or not Duncan spelled out the critical difference, which is that Catalonia is Spanish territory and the Rock is not.