Campaigners press May to protect Ulster veterans…
Over 150 Conservative MPs and peers have signed letters urging the Prime Minister to abandon proposals to investigate alleged historical crimes during the Troubles and other conflicts.
They accuse the Government of breaching the Military Covenant, and claim that the mooted Historical Investigations Unit would put “service and security personnel at an exceptional disadvantage”.
Signatories include Johnny Mercer, Mark Francois, and Richard Benyon, and a petition urging action on the issue was apparently delivered to Downing Street this week by a delegation including Michael Fallon, the former defence secretary.
The question of whether, and to what extent, to prosecute ex-servicemen and other security forces personnel for actions during the troubles has been made more controversial by the ‘comfort letters’ scandal, in which it emerged that numerous alleged IRA terrorists had been secretly granted a de facto amnesty. One such letter collapsed the trial of the Old Bailey bomber.
Sammy Wilson, a Democratic Unionist MP, also urged May not to allow republicans to hijack the investigations and re-write the history of Northern Ireland, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
…as she fails to placate Scottish Tories over fishing
The Herald reports that the Prime Minister has failed to reassure the Scottish Conservatives over the future of the Common Fisheries Policy.
The latter have made a timely withdrawal from the CFP one of their Brexit red lines – it is an issue of huge salience in the party’s newly-rebuilt heartland in north-east Scotland.
But if the Government were to extend the transition period then it would almost certainly entail the UK still being subject to European fishing quotas at the time of the next Holyrood election in 2021, when Ruth Davidson will be going all-out to entrench the Tories’ position as Scotland’s second party at the bare minimum.
David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, has reportedly asked that the fishing industry be exempted from any extension of the backstop, and the Sun reports that the 13-strong Scottish caucus are prepared to work as a bloc to ‘veto’ a longer withdrawal if necessary.
Theresa May is already under pressure from the Scottish wing of her party over the idea of allowing the EU to impose a differential Brexit deal on Northern Ireland. Scottish Tories rightfully fear the precedent this would set for compromising the internal coherence, integrity, and legitimacy of the United Kingdom.
Price unveils new Plaid shadow cabinet
The new leader of the Welsh nationalists has announced his front-bench line-up, Wales Online reports, and found space for both his vanquished challengers.
Leanne Wood, his predecessor who came a humiliating third (of three) defending her position in the recent leadership contest, takes up the Housing and Social Justice portfolio whilst Rhun ap Iorwerth assumes the Economy and Finance brief.
Adam Price, who defeat both with just shy of 50 per cent of first preference votes, is apparently presenting his new team as the people who will form the next Welsh executive after the 2021 devolved elections. Barring a major uptick in the Nationalists’ fortunes (or a deal with Labour, the very people they’re trying to oust) this will involve coming to an arrangement with the Conservatives.
Bill giving Northern Irish civil servants decision-making powers passes
With Stormont steadfastly refusing to rise from the grave, the question of what to do about governing Northern Ireland has been growing more and more pressing.
The Government is loathe to introduce direct rule. There are various reasons, from pressure on the parliamentary timetable to fear of putting too many more nails in the Assembly’s coffin. That a new Secretary of State would almost certainly be needed were the office to assume its old viceregal powers is likely a factor too.
Instead, ministers have settled upon the idea of empowering the Province’s civil service – who have effectively been running Ulster on auto-pilot for over a year, but without political direction – to make decisions previously made by local ministers.
Reporting on the debate, the Belfast Telegraph notes that Karen Bradley denies that the bill makes civil servants “lawmakers or senior policy deciders”. But it is noteworthy that although the Secretary of State will provide advice and guidance, the final decision on a range of issues will actually rest with the bureaucrats.
Therefore whilst this bill may ease the administrative logjam in Belfast, it will do nothing to correct the glaring democratic deficit created by the Government’s refusal to act in the face of Stormont’s failure. The Northern Irish deserve to have somebody to hold politically accountable for how they are governed, and a minister in Westminster is more accountable than a permanent secretary in Stormont.