Reports that deal on Ulster devolution could be done ‘in days’

The Belfast Telegraph reports that a deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont could be done “within days”, as a senior source claims that “the bones of a deal are definitely there”.

Progress has reportedly been made on the Irish language, a major stumbling bloc for the Democratic Unionists, and the deal would allow Arlene Foster to return as First Minister. The same source claims that Sinn Fein have a adopted a very different attitude to previous talks and “have clearly been given direction to get back into government”.

If real, this breakthrough comes only a few weeks after the Government first showed serious signs of preparing for direct rule, with senior officials transferring to Stormont departments and the Northern Irish Office apparently preparing to oversee what are currently devolved responsibilities – which invites the question of whether this might have been resolved sooner if James Brokenshire, the previous Northern Irish Secretary, had been able to avail of this tough response.

As is, a deal so soon after taking the job couldn’t help but be a boost for Karen Bradley, who has just been installed on the Government’s key Brexit committee as the Irish border issue reopens. More stability at Stormont might give the Secretary of State more time to formulate and champion the solutions the Government promised to find to reconciling Brexit with a soft border.

Devolution getting back on its feet would doubtless be a relief for the Government, which will no longer need to find space on an already-packed legislative timetable for Northern Irish legislation.

SNP face new row over police

The Scottish Government’s policing woes took a fresh twist this week when the usually-sympathetic Sunday Herald revealed that half of the senior managers of the ‘arms-length’ Scottish Police Authority were SNP appointees.

Despite the SPA having been created as a ‘buffer’ between the Scottish Government and their new, problem-prone national police force, the paper reports that three of its six top posts are filled by people “on ‘loan’ from the Government”.

Michael Matheson, the SNP Justice Secretary, has been under pressure ever since it got out that he intervened and got the SPA to overturn a decision on whether Phil Gormley, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, could return to work. He has been on special leave since September, and STV reports that he resigned this week.

Liam Kerr, a Conservative MSP, believes that this latest revelation about the SPA will only deepen public concern about the Nationalists exerting improper influence over independent civil bodies.

Sargeant’s son wins Assembly by-election

Jack Sargeant has held the Welsh Assembly seat of Alyn and Deeside in a by-election precipitated by the suicide of his father, a former minister in the Welsh Government, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Karl Sargeant served in Carwyn Jones’ administration before being suspended over allegations of misconduct which were not revealed to him. The fallout from his death has engulfed the First Minister in scandal, which has spread to encompass broader allegations of a bullying culture in his office and of misleading the Assembly.

Tensions between Jones and the Sargeant family were so severe that he was asked to stay away from the funeral, and Patrick Maguire picked up that he was very slow to tweet his congratulations yesterday. Wales Online reports that friction between the Labour hierarchy and supporters of Sargeant continued throughout the by-election campaign.

Robertson steps down as SNP ‘depute’

Angus Robertson has resigned his position as deputy leader of the Party with immediate effect, according to the BBC.

The former MP for Moray led the Nationalists in the House of Commons and became an impressive performer at Prime Minister’s Questions after his party displaced the Liberal Democrats as the third-largest bloc in 2015, before losing his seat to the Conservatives’ Douglas Ross last June.

In a letter to the First Minister, Robertson explains that he can thus no longer fulfil his mandate of partnership her at Westminster and representing a rural constituency in the party leadership.

His departure precipitates an internal election at a very sensitive time for the SNP, with Nicola Sturgeon’s bid to harness Brexit to the cause of independence having stalled and activists divided on how to respond. Given the party’s top-down nature, contests for the deputyship are often where Nationalist internal debates are waged.