Bradley debates MLAs pay as Stormont standoff continues

The Northern Irish Secretary is to “decide shortly” on whether or not MLAs should continue to receive full pay if the Assembly remains suspended, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

This follows the collapse of the latest round of talks aimed at re-establishing the Province’s devolved government, which fell apart after Sinn Fein walked out over the ‘cash for ash’ scandal a year ago. Speaking to the House of Commons, Karen Bradley acknowledged that many members of the public are concerned about their legislators continuing to receive full pay whilst a huge part of their job goes undone.

Bradley is under mounting pressure from the Democratic Unionists to introduce full direct rule. The party says that it is democratically unacceptable – a “dereliction of duty”, in Nigel Dodds’ words – for Northern Ireland to continue being governed by civil servants with no political oversight.

That Arlene Foster, DUP leader and former first minister, has started to echo these calls is a clear sign that the largest unionist party is losing hope that the talks will reach a successful outcome.

Scottish Tory MPs break ranks for clean Brexit

Three of the newly-elected Scottish Conservative MPs have put their signatures to the European Research Group’s latest letter to the Prime Minister calling for a ‘clean break’ from the European Union, the Scotsman reports.

Alongside Colin Clark, who ousted Alex Salmond in Gordon, were Alister Jack and Stephen Kerr, each of whom hold a seat previously held by a Tory Secretary of State. Remarkably their number did not include Ross Thomson, the Aberdeen South MP who served as a spokesman for Vote Leave in 2016. Update: Thomson does support the letter, but his signature isn’t on it for some reason.

This is a very welcome development which suggests that the Scottish Tories may not in fact be evolving into the phalanx-like ‘bloc’ wished for in devocrat circles. Jack told the BBC:

“I hope that Ruth is supporting the Lancaster House speech – I’m sure she is, as all Conservatives are. We are a broad church and she is a very good leader. She does not tell us all how we have to think or how we have to vote – we vote with our consciences as members of parliament and we stand up for the things we believe in, and she has had no problem with that.”

Almost four in ten Scots voted Leave in the referendum, so if four of the 13 Tory MPs north of the border were pro-Brexit it would do more justice to popular opinion than Holyrood’s elite consensus has managed to date.

Less happily, this split does not seem to have eased the pressure being exerted by Davidson’s allies for the Government to capitulate on Clause 11 of the Withdrawal Bill. David Lidington, the Cabinet Office Minister, looks set to offer a formal surrender on the issue later today. Future generations of British lawmakers will rue the Government’s feebleness on this issue.

Welsh Conservatives demand Labour publish leak inquiry

The Welsh Tories have demanded that the Welsh Government publish its inquiry into whether the sacking of Carl Sargeant was leaked, according to Wales Online.

Lee Waters, a Labour AM, claims to have received a text confirming that Sargeant was going to be removed from the administration – before the ex-Communities Minister was informed himself. However, the report formally concluded that there was no unauthorised leak.

The scandal also took another twist this week when Leighton Andrews, a former Labour minister and close ally of Sargeant, claimed that Freedom of Information requests made to the university where he now works were an attempt to undermine him. The requests included demands for details of any disciplinary actions against him and his contact with the media.

Smith attacks Murrison over invitation to loyalist

The Shadow Northern Irish Secretary has criticised the Conservative chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee for inviting a controversial loyalist blogger to give evidence.

Politics Home reports that Owen Smith wrote to Andrew Murrison after the latter invited Jamie Bryson to give evidence to the Committee’s inquiry into how the Province’s dysfunctional devolution settlement might be improved. Smith alleged that the loyalist, who rose to prominence during the 2015 protests against the removal of the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall, would ‘distract’ from the Committee’s focus on getting devolution back on his feet.

Bryson certainly took a strongly anti-devolution line in his evidence, arguing that the Belfast Agreement was a capitulation to terrorists and that those who cited “the peace” in an attempt to silence opponents were committing “moral blackmail”:

“It’s an easy way out to shut down debate, that those in favour of the ‘98 Act, those in favour of the Belfast Agreement, to shout as loudly as they can ‘you’re risking peace by daring to challenge it’.”

May weighs into row over future of British Transport Police in Scotland

The Prime Minister has suggested that the Scottish Government’s proposals to merge the British Transport Police into Police Scotland, their hegemonic single force, may not go ahead.

Her comments come after the SNP announced an indefinite delay on the move, which has been fiercely criticised by the police union and political opponents alike.

A new study suggests that as many as two thirds of the BTP’s 200 Scottish officers have considered quitting as a result, with many reportedly scouting out work in other specialist, UK-wide forces such as the Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

However, despite the underlying logic of the BTP having a UK-wide remit the Prime Minister did insist that the Government was, in the Herald’s words, “committed to devolving control over British Transport Police to Scottish ministers”. Why that should be, if a merger isn’t a good idea, is not obvious.