May plays into Dublin’s hands on Northern Ireland

The Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement does not stipulate an invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It obviously suits nationalists to pretend otherwise – but why is the British Prime Minister indulging the same nonsense?

As I have written before, this misconception is dangerous on two levels, the first of which is that it allows Remainers/soft Brexiteers/Irish nationalists to root their demands in a document which has achieved near-sacred status.

Second, and perhaps more seriously still, it could justly undermine unionist support for the entire thing. The actual Agreement – which is not terribly long, if you want to familiarise yourselves with it – was a hard-negotiated compromise whose provisions are clearly enumerated. Allowing the ‘spirit’ of the accord to effectively write in new clauses (not one of which is ever to unionism’s advantage) makes a mockery of those negotiations.

From the start of the process, Theresa May has mishandled the Northern Irish brief. Appointing first James Brokenshire and then Karen Bradley, each one of a bare handful of genuine May loyalists, showed that she took the issue seriously but not that she knew what to do about it.

So instead of a forceful Secretary of State capable of articulating Britain’s position and challenging the Brussels/Dublin line we have had two low-key, almost entirely reactive figures who have offered unionists (who are united in opposition to the EU’s ‘interpretation’ of the Agreement) no leadership, nor help their views get picked up in the mainland press.

But cock-up takes on a tinge of conspiracy when the Prime Minister herself parrots lines which are not only false but are deeply injurious to British interests. Assuming she wasn’t wilfully misrepresenting the UK’s obligations to shepherd MPs towards accepting Chequers, she was extraordinarily badly briefed. Somebody at the NIO should face the consequences.

New report torpedoes SNP’s ‘Growth Commission’ case for independence

Anybody who followed the Scottish independence referendum ought to be at least passingly familiar with Kevin Hague. I’ve linked to his blog on several occasions, and his line in well-evidenced and carefully-argued takedowns of what passed for the economic case for independence was always worth a read.

This week he took this one step further with a full report – published under the aegis of new unionist think-tank These Islands – tackling the report produced by the SNP’s ‘Growth Commission’, which purported to set out a new, ‘realistic’ economic case for independence.

Au contraire, argues Hague. According to his analysis, the new report is actually even less grounded in reality than the Nationalists’ 2014 wish list White Paper. You can read him arguing the case in the New Statesman, or these write-ups from the Daily Telegraph and the BBC.

‘Major rift’ in Plaid as Wood’s leadership attacked

Jonathan Edwards, a Welsh Nationalist MP, has launched what Wales Online calls “an astonishing attack” on Leanne Wood, the current leader.

He accuses her of failing to offer leadership on Brexit and, in WO’s words, “leaving the party’s parliamentary group to its own devices” – i.e. ignoring Westminster to focus exclusively on the Assembly.

The spark was apparently Edwards’ comments in favour of Anna Soubry’s ironically-named proposal for a cross-party government of ‘national unity’ which would encompass both the Welsh and Scottish separatists. Wood, who refuses to contemplate Plaid governing with the Conservatives at any level.

Edwards’ comments come when Wood is facing a leadership challenge from two AMs. One of these, Adam Price, represents the Assembly counterpart of Edwards’ own constituency of Carmarthen East & Dinefwr. Sources in the Welsh Conservatives suggest to me that were Price to win, a Nat/Con arrangement to finally displace Labour from power in Cardiff might be workable.

In other Plaid news, one of their AMs has resigned from the party following after being arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images.

Call for ‘anti-Brexit’ unity candidate to face Paisley in possible by-election

The suspension of one of its DUP allies for misconduct ahead of the next set of knife-edge Brexit votes is but one of many woes besetting the Government ahead of recess. But despite the scandal – over expenses-paid holidays to Sri Lanka – Ian Paisley Jr seems unlikely to depart the Commons.

Even in the event of a recall petition triggering a by-election, his personal support in North Antrim would be sufficient to see him returned whether or not he was the official DUP candidate.

One factor which might change that calculation is a proposal from Clare Hanna, the Brexit spokesperson for the nationalist Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP), for a single anti-Brexit candidate to fight the seat in the event of a by-election. Whilst it almost certainly wouldn’t be a threat to Paisley were he DUP candidate, it could make it very dangerous for the Democratic Unionists to disavow him and run their own candidate.

The threat is, for the moment, fairly spectral. Not only did North Antrim itself vote for Brexit, but previous attempts to build an anti-Brexit alliance ahead of the 2017 election foundered, in part because no unionist party could be induced to join. The Alliance Party has already ruled out this latest proposal, likely concerned not to spook its unionist voters.