Courts call time on Bradley’s Fabian strategy

The News Letter reports that the Northern Irish Civil Service has decided not to appeal a court judgement which prevents them from governing the province in place of ministers – despite the fact that Karen Bradley appears to have openly disagreed with the decision.

As a result, the Northern Irish Secretary is now under enormous pressure to make an actual decision regarding the future governance of Ulster, where the devolved government has been non-functional for more than a year.

Both Bradley and James Brokenshire have deferred making any decision about introducing direct rule from Westminster (the latter in the face of a number of decreasingly credible ‘deadlines’), preferring to allow the civil service to operate on autopilot. This meant that no elected representative was politically accountable for the day-to-day governance of part of the United Kingdom, a position which the judges in their ruling described as “radical and anti-democratic”.

There are several explanations for the Government’s reluctance to assume responsibility for Northern Ireland, including a tight parliamentary timetable and the sensitivity of the Province’s position during the Brexit negotiations. Indeed, the Democratic Unionists’ failure to secure direct rule illustrates that their influence over Theresa May has its limits.

But with the civil service now legally barred from making crucial decisions, Bradley’s wait-and-hope strategy is running out of road.

Not that her back-up sounds much better. As Sam McBride explains, the Ulster Secretary’s proposal is to try to take individual decisions on an as-needed basis, rather than assuming wholesale responsibility for Northern Irish departments. Given the sheer breadth of Stormont’s responsibilities, that means either clogging up scarce Parliamentary time with a hugely inefficient process or consciously condemning Northern Ireland to continued drift. Neither is good enough.

Welsh Tory hopefuls would give members final say on deals with other parties

The two Assembly Members vying to replace Andrew RT Davies as leader of the Conservative group have both said that they are prepared to work with other parties to oust Labour from power in Cardiff Bay.

However, ITV Wales reports that both Suzy Davies and Paul Davies (no relation) believe that the final decision should rest with the party membership.

As I wrote last week, the prospect of a change in leadership over in Plaid Cymru, where the ardently left-wing Leanne Wood is under pressure from more conservative challengers, could open up the possibility of a workable Nat/Con pact after the next devolved elections in 2021.

Both candidates are also determined to push for a change in the structure of the party so that they can be the leader of the Welsh Conservatives overall, rather than merely the Assembly Group. This would mirror the situation in Scotland. However Brandon Lewis, the UK Chairman, appeared to play down that possibility in comments last week.

Unionists turn on Robinson after ‘united Ireland’ comments

Earlier this week Peter Robinson, the former leader of the DUP, gave a speech in which he urged Northern Ireland – and Unionists in particular – to prepare for the possibility of a ‘united Ireland’, the Irish Times reports.

Highlighting the chaos which has stemmed from David Cameron’s failure to make contingency arrangements in case the United Kingdom voted for Brexit, the one-time First Minister stressed that he didn’t think Ulster would elect to secede from the Union but that it should be insured against the possibility.

The speech has won praise from some quarters – predictably, on the nationalist side – but has drawn a furious response from unionists both from his own party and the rival Ulster Unionists. Lord Empey, the ex-UUP leader who helped to broker the party’s alliance with the Conservatives, accuses Robinson of “playing into the hands of our country’s opponents”.

Something of a parallel story also emerged in the Republic this week when Micheál Martin, the leader of the once-dominant Fianna Fail party, accused Leo Varadkar of seriously undermining British-Irish relations and the Belfast Agreement.

According to the Times, Martin charged the Taoiseach of choosing “megaphone diplomacy and also short-term popularity” instead of constructive engagement with Ireland’s neighbour. As a result relationships which took decades to build up, both with London and with the unionist community in Northern Ireland, have deteriorated.

This story should be read far and wide. Too often Remainer sources in Britain present Varadkar as merely doing what is necessary to ‘defend the Good Friday Agreement’ – a treaty Martin explicitly accuses him of undermining – and ignore the fact that he has deliberately chosen a confrontational nationalist strategy.

SNP’s Supreme Court case could be dry run for second referendum

Writing in the Daily Record, Torcuil Crichton suggests that the current Supreme Court clash between the British and Scottish governments could be merely a foretaste of a future battle over a second referendum.

The Scottish Nationalists have tabled their own Brexit legislation in the Scottish Parliament, which the Government is seeking to get struck down as outwith the competence of Holyrood. According to Crichton, the SNP could be stress-testing the limits of their ability to legislate on the constitution – one of a dwindling number of areas explicitly and exclusively reserved to Westminster – in preparation for trying to unilaterally run a second independence referendum.

As a further sign of how badly Bradley has failed to come to grips with Northern Ireland, the Province’s Attorney General appears – without any political masters to instruct him – to have intervened off his own bat in this crucial case… against the Government.