Jones accused of misleading the Welsh Assembly…
He may have decided not to resign, but Carwyn Jones is still under mounting pressure over his handling of the allegations against Carl Sargeant, the former Welsh Labour minister who committed suicide last week.
According to Wales Online, it now looks as though he may have misled AMs over claims of a ‘toxic culture’ of bullying in the ministerial fifth floor of the Assembly building. Leighton Andrews, a former public services minister, claims that he complained to the First Minister about this, but in 2014 Jones formally told an AM that he had received no allegations.
Tying the two problems together – and each is bad enough on its own are the allegations of Steve Jones, a former special adviser to the First Minister. He claims that Jones’ “clique” played “mind games” against Sargeant and other ministers, Guido reports.
In a blistering statement Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, accused Jones of trying to avoid accountability and demanded an independent inquiry. He argued that this was necessary as in normal circumstances the First Minister is the “sole arbiter” of the Ministerial Code.
…and Scottish Labour plunges into crisis too
Don’t think it’s just Carwyn Jones in the firing line this week. Alex Rowley, the interim leader of Scottish Labour after the surprise resignation of Kezia Dugdale, has been forced to step down after allegations about his conduct.
He hasn’t been very good at the job, as Stephen Daisley sets out in the Spectator. Not only was he a poor performer in the Scottish Parliament but he allowed himself to be recorded talking about the Labour left’s plans to take over the Scottish party.
Nonetheless, coming as it does in the midst of a vicious leadership contest this isn’t what Scottish Labour needed, even if the combative, pro-Trident Jackie Baillie is a definite trade-up as his replacement. According to the Daily Record, the party are being accused of trying to cover up the allegations against him.
After winning six new seats at the general election (albeit despite barely any rise in their vote), Labour looked like it might be on the cusp of a comeback north of the border. That may yet be a way off.
Brokenshire scouts out cutting MLAs pay if devolution is not restored
ConservativeHome has been critical of the Northern Irish Secretary’s less-than-steely approach towards the situation in Northern Ireland to date, but it seems that James Brokenshire may be preparing to take welcome action.
The News Letter reports that he has commissioned an independent review into whether or not MLAs should be payed their full salary if the devolved legislature in which they serve isn’t sitting.
Given that neither aside appears very enthusiastic about restoring Stormont – the Democratic Unionists are basically calling for direct rule – an attack on the rents the Ulster political class derive from devolution may be to save it. Given its track record of actually governing Ulster, whether or not this fixation on saving it is wise is another question altogether.
In other NIO news, ministers have accused Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, of bowing to pressure from Sinn Fein by pushing the EU into a much harder stance on the Irish border question. Dublin is trying to insist on an ‘all Ireland’ solution in which Northern Ireland remains in both the Customs Union and the Single Market, the Sun reports.
The British Government has entirely ruled this out, insisting that the UK will leave as “one United Kingdom”, and the Democratic Unionists are likewise fiercely opposed.
Not only is the mainland British market vastly more important to Ulster than the Republic and the rest of the EU put together, but absent a vote to change Northern Ireland’s constitutional position it isn’t clear that imposing Dublin’s foreign policy preferences on it, and sundering it from the UK internal market, is compatible with the principle of consent enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.
In other news, a small device left near the Omagh war memorial to disrupt the Remembrance Sunday service was a ‘viable pipe bomb’, according to the Ulster Herald. This appears to be the latest in a years-long pattern of low-level activity by dissident republicans.
Petition against a second independence referendum outstrips pro-indy rival
A parliamentary petition calling for Westminster to block a second independence referendum attracted four-and-a-half times the support of a rival pro-independence one, the Herald reports.
Unfortunately, whilst the second one did not cross the 100,000 signature threshold to qualify for a debate in Parliament it seems to have been piggybacked in behind its unionist counterpart. This produced the rather flat “Debate on e-petitions relating to a referendum on Scottish independence”, rather than the more challenging one on a moratorium on a second independence vote invited by the petition.
Nonetheless, the Scottish Conservatives still took the opportunity to press the SNP to abandon their threat of another vote. If only they would recognise that the same anti-Union instinct motivates the Nationalists’ objections to Clause 11 of the Withdrawal Bill.
Foster warns that a Corbyn government would be disastrous for Ulster
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and former First Minister of Northern Ireland, has said that her party would not be able to work with a Labour administration led by Jeremy Corbyn, according to the Guardian.
Arlene Foster argued that the Labour leader’s manifest bias towards republicanism meant that neither he nor his Northern Irish Secretary would be able to command unionist confidence. By contrast, she argued, the present NIO was being scrupulously neutral despite the DUP’s parliamentary understanding with the Conservatives.
This intervention may be seized upon by critics of that deal, who argued at the time that the DUP’s horror of a Corbyn government left it with little option but to support the Tories in Parliament. However, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act still means that Foster could keep the Conservatives in office without allowing them to govern.
Elsewhere in the news, the Sun reports that the DUP are demanding that Philip Hammond freeze fuel duty in the Budget. Six of their ten MPs have signed FairFuelUK’s petition on the subject.
Wales: creeping towards a separate legal system?
This is a very short one as my Times subscription doesn’t extend to ‘The Brief’, but it reports that Wales is creeping “closer to [a] separate legal system”.
Advocates of a separate system believe that their case has been strengthened by the Assembly’s acquisition of primary law-making powers, but critics point out that advocates of a ‘Yes’ vote in the 2011 referendum on the issue insisted that this would not be one of the consequences.