Foster calls for direct rule after meeting with Bradley

Arlene Foster, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, has called on the Northern Irish Secretary to implement direct rule if talks on reviving devolution continue to stall, according to the News Letter.

The Democratic Unionist leader, whose ten-strong cohort of MPs are a vital part of the Government’s razor-edge de facto majority in the House of Commons, insisted that whilst her party wanted Stormont back it was wrong for Ulster to go on indefinitely without a democratically accountable government.

Foster was speaking after a face-to-face meeting with Karen Bradley, the next of Theresa May’s former Home Office colleagues to be deployed to the Northern Irish Office following James Brokenshire’s unexpected resignation on health grounds. Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s Northern Irish leader, had been due a meeting but arranged a telephone call instead.

Bradley has been dropped into a difficult brief, but will have to find her feet quickly if she’s to shake off the image of her predecessor, whose habit of repeatedly setting meaningless deadlines which passed without consequence had become a running joke.

Mundell criticised by SNP over Clause 11

The Scottish Secretary has been criticised by the SNP for missing a deadline to amend Clause 11 of the Withdrawal Bill, which he had earlier promised to do.

According to The Scotsman, the Government claimed that it “ran out of time” to make the promised changes. However David Lidington, who is now tasked with negotiating with the Scottish Government over Brexit, is reportedly hopeful of a breakthrough whilst the bill is in the Lords.

The row over Clause 11 is a bid by the devolved legislatures to bull-rush the immediate devolution of a huge range of powers currently pooled by the British Government in Brussels – although predictably it is being spun as its very inverse, a ‘power grab’ against devolution.

Unfortunately the Scottish Conservatives appear to have struck the same Faustian pact with electoral nationalism that Scottish Labour did before them, and are rowing in behind the devocrat bid to wreck the bill at both Westminster and Holyrood, despite the long-term danger this poses to the Union.

Is the Government truly preparing to stand firm on the issue though? Probably not. It would be a huge break with normal practice for ministers to mount a determined and far-sighted defence of the constitution against the latest round of devolutionary demands, even without the exigencies of Brexit. Expect Mundell to honour his pledge of retreat at some point before 2019.

Row breaks out in Welsh Labour over leadership rules

In what Wales Online are calling a “major row”, activists in Labour have launched a campaign to overturn the rules for electing the Welsh leader.

They are angry that the party’s Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) has elected to retain the tripartite electoral college formerly used by the UK party, rather than shifting to a one-member one-vote (OMOV) model. They also believe that such a decision ought to have been made at the party conference.

Carwyn Jones, the embattled First Minister, is likely to step down before the next Assembly elections in 2021 – so this battle over the rules may well decide who eventually succeeds him to become one of the most senior elected Labour politicians in Britain.

Under the electoral college grassroots members only cast one third of the weighted vote for the leadership, with the other two thirds being divided equally between elected representatives and members of affiliated trades unions and socialist societies.

Traditionally the college has been seen as a bulwark against attempted takeovers by the left, although in 2010 it did hand the national leadership to Ed Miliband.

Sinn Fein MP ‘should have been sacked’ over massacre joke, says ex-watchdog

Sir Alistair Graham, a former Parliamentary Standards Chair, has said that Sinn Fein ought to have sacked one of their MPs for making light of one of the Troubles’ most infamous acts of terrorism, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

Barry McElduff, who was returned to represent West Tyrone (although in line with Sinn Fein policy he doesn’t take his seat) was filmed balancing a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head in the supermarket… on the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill Massacre.

Despite their abstentionism, the current Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has confirmed that Sinn Fein MPs are subject to the code of conduct and that a formal complaint has been received, although it is not currently investigating it due to an ongoing police probe.

Arlene Foster has demanded that the republican party stop its “eulogising of terrorists” – although one of her MLAs has triggered a row on Twitter after tweeting a graphic political sketch about the McElduff row. For their Sinn Fein the party has ‘suspended’ their MP for three months, although they will continue to pay him, according to the Irish News.

UKIP exclude new AM from Welsh Assembly group

The one-time ‘People’s Army’ has not prospered since Neil Hamilton seized the leadership of its newly-minted Assembly group after the 2016 Welsh elections, and now they have been wracked by a fresh round of infighting.

According to Wales Online Mandy Jones, the new list AM who is replacing former leader Nathan Gill in the chamber, has been barred from sitting with the UKIP Assembly group.

The reason is that she has chosen not to immediately dismiss Gill’s staff, some of whom are members of, or have campaigned for, other political parties. Gill had sat as an Independent since Hamilton’s putsch.

Whilst it is understandable in principle that the party should disapprove of AMs having staff with potentially conflicting loyalties, it does seem a bizarre thing to split the group over at a time when UKIP is not polling well and should be trying to maximise its impact in Cardiff Bay.

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