Welsh Tories begin search for new leader

Yesterday, Mark wrote about the ousting of Andrew RT Davies as leader of the Party’s Welsh Assembly Group – bringing the number of Welsh parties facing leadership ructions to four, including UKIP and Plaid Cymru.

As a Brexiteer, Davies stood out from the political consensus in Cardiff Bay – although events proved him to be in line with the majority opinion of Welsh voters.

Just as in the Labour Party, where an election to replace Carwyn Jones is expected in the autumn, it looks as if the method of selecting Davies’ successor is going to be part of the battle. The outgoing leader is clearly pushing for another membership vote; his opponents in the Assembly may feel differently.

As for his replacement, a source suggests to me that Paul Davies, the current acting leader, starts the race as the frontrunner. He has served in the Assembly for over a decade and as deputy leader since 2011, and is reportedly also well-liked by Downing Street as a loyalist who is unlikely to pick fights with Westminster. Wales Online also reports that his ascension – coupled with the departure of Leanne Wood from Plaid’s leadership – might make a Tory/Nationalist Assembly arrangement viable as an alternative to Labour.

Others will doubtless put their names forward. But as another Welsh Tory pointed out, Davies has never effected a Ruth Davidson-style refresh of the Tories’ Assembly group and it is thus short on new blood who might add a new dimension to the race. Perhaps something for his successor to think about.

Grieve says Irish Sea border is ‘unacceptable’

One of the key MPs behind the Remainer rebellion in the Commons has said that an internal border within the UK would be “completely unacceptable” to himself and his colleagues, the News Letter reports.

Apparently Dominic Grieve addressed a dinner hosted by the Ulster Unionist Party shortly after his volte face on the eponymous ‘Grieve Amendment’. He told the paper that he ‘absolutely’ deemed himself a Unionist.

However, it should be noted that ‘rowing in behind the Union’ was one strategy outlined by advocates of a soft Brexit, trading on the ‘fragile Union’ fallacy and the Irish Government’s bid to strong-arm London over the border. There are hints of this position in this quote from Grieve:

“We’re going to have to have a national conversation about the impact of what Brexit is going to do to our Union and my view is that the Union is much more important than the terms of Brexit.”

This misrepresents the case: the terms of Brexit and the future of the Union are deeply intertwined, and the evidence is mounting that it is a so-called ‘soft Brexit’ which poses the greatest long-term threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Sturgeon reshuffles her Cabinet as SNP abandons flagship education policy

The First Minister has appointed a new generation of ‘rising stars’ to the junior ranks of the Scottish Government this week, the Scotsman reports, as she attempts to renew the SNP administration after more than a decade in office.

Amongst the casualties was Shona Robinson, the long-embattled health minister, and Keith Brown, who has departed the executive in order to ‘focus on independence’.

In other Holyrood news, the Nationalists are apparently preparing to abandon their flagship Education Bill due to a lack of support in the Scottish Parliament, according to The Herald.

John Swinney, the education minister, will reportedly delay the introduction of the bill for up to a year because several of its key measures are being strongly opposed by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. The Tories are more supportive, but are reportedly still sceptical that new legislation is necessary.

No-confidence vote against Cairns ‘flops’

A bid by Plaid Cymru to embarrass the Welsh Secretary has ‘flopped, according to Wales Online, after Labour voted against the Nationalists’ no-confidence motion in the Welsh Assembly.

The move was a response to the Government’s decision not to move ahead with the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, a major renewable energy project which was eventually rejected due to the projected price of electricity generated being un-economic.

Ultimately only nine AMs backed the vote, with 40 opposing it and no abstentions. Labour instead passed a motion which heavily criticised Alun Cairns (although anything passed was purely symbolic, as the Welsh Secretary is an MP and thus not accountable to the Assembly).

The Government has come under criticism for abandoning projects in Wales – Theresa May previously decided against proceeding with the electrification of the railway between Cardiff and Swansea.