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May under fire after Northern Irish talks collapse

The Prime Minister has come under fire after claims that her visit to Ulster earlier this week undermined the latest round of talks to re-establish the Northern Ireland Assembly, according to The Times.

Although not blaming Theresa May directly, sources from the Democratic Unionists have suggested that her visit – alongside Leo Varadkar, her Irish counterpart – was a ‘distraction’ and that she had ignored advice to steer clear.

This comes as Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and former First Minister, has for the first time joined calls from elsewhere in her party for the introduction of direct rule from London. This is a significant development: although her MPs may have been talking up direct rule for a while, Foster and the MLAs have much more to lose if power shifts decisively back to Westminster.

Predictably enough it appears to be the fate – and contents – of a stand-alone Irish Language Act on which the talks foundered, with the DUP leader saying that she won’t be ‘held to ransom’ on the issue. Sinn Fein have set it out as a red line but such an Act commands virtually no support amongst unionists, hard-line or otherwise.

Thus it appears that although the DUP leadership were prepared to countenance such an Act if it were matched by parallel legislation for Ulster-Scots and British culture, they were unable to take their activists and voters with them.

Whilst there is still time for a deal to be done, if Foster can’t persuade grassroots unionists to endorse that deal (and no effort has been made to prepare them for it) then it may not be possible. As journalist Eamonn Mallie puts it in his account of the collapse: “The Unionist people have shown their politicians their teeth.”

As Karen Bradley concedes that this ‘phase’ of the talks is over, the Government must now take seriously the prospect of having to govern the Province from London at a time when the parliamentary agenda already runneth over with Brexit legislation and the Northern Irish Office employs fewer than 150 people. That will really test the Secretary of State’s mettle.

SNP ‘depute’ candidates clash over Indyref2

The internal debate amongst the Scottish Nationalists about how quickly to seek a re-run of the 2014 independence referendum is getting an airing in their deputy leadership contest, the Scotsman reports.

On the one hand James Dornan, an MSP, insists that Nicola Sturgeon’s push for one in the aftermath of Brexit has not damaged the party’s fortunes and that the separatists should seek another as soon as possible.

Yet today Pete Wishart, the outspoken and sometimes controversial MP, said that it would be “unthinkable” to lose a second vote and warned the First Minister not to rush into a referendum unless there was clear evidence of majority support for independence.

Wishart came only 21 votes short of losing his seat to the Tories in June, when 21 SNP MPs were ousted by resurgent unionist parties (a result which seems to belie Dornan’s rosy assessments), which explains why he may be striking such a cautious note. Nor is this the first issue on which he has done so: last week he launched a veiled attack on Sturgeon’s overtly pro-EU stance, which he warned was alienating pro-Brexit voters.

Not everybody is convinced by Wishart’s latter-day conversion to speaking his mind, however.

Jones demands ‘soft border’ between Ireland and Wales post-Brexit

The First Minister of Wales has called for Welsh ports to qualify for whatever customs arrangements are made to prevent physical checks at the Irish border, according to Wales Online.

Carwyn Jones made the comments after a planned meeting between himself and Varadkar were cancelled on Monday. He insists that Wales wants continued access to both the customs union and the single market.

However, the First Minister’s capacity to speak for Wales on the subject should be treated with some scepticism: prior to the Brexit vote – wherein a majority of Welsh voters backed Leave – Jones was insisting that leaving the European Union might push his country towards independence.

Wales is, however, a vital link between Ireland and continental markets. WO claims that: “about 80 per cent of goods carried in Irish-registered HGVs between the Republic of Ireland and Europe pass through Welsh ports.”

So it’s not hard to see why Dublin would want to cultivate Cardiff Bay as an ally in their bid to bind the Government to the softest-possible Brexit – but less clear that Leave-voting Wales wants it.

18 comments for: Henry Hill: Stormont talks collapse as Foster joins calls for direct rule

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