Cox agrees to meet campaigners against ‘witch-hunt’ of Ulster veterans

Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, has been enjoying a rapid ascent to fan-favourite status after a star turn on the conference stage and some high-profile leadership against bids to fudge the Irish backstop.

This is only likely to be furthered by the news that, as reported in the Sun, he has agreed to meet representatives of the strong Tory campaign against the ‘witch hunt’ of ex-servicemen who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Over 150 Conservative MPs and peers have signed a letter to May attacking proposals for another round of historical investigations into the conduct of British security forces in the Province, calling for veterans to be offered “lasting legal protection” from further harassment – and accusing the Government of breaking the Military Covenant.

Mark Francois, a former defence minister, has joined the chorus of MPs urging the Prime Minister to take action, according to the News Letter.

The prosecution of now-elderly former soldiers is especially fraught in the aftermath of the revelation that many “on-the-run” terror suspects had been granted a de facto amnesty by the Government under the so-called “comfort letter” scheme.

May invites Plaid leader for talks in Downing Street

Wales Online reports that Adam Price, the newly-elected leader of Plaid Cymru, held face-to-face talks with Theresa May in Number Ten this week.

The Welsh nationalists currently hold four seats in the House of Commons, and may have a crucial role to play in what could be knife-edge Brexit votes. However, Price apparently reiterated his party’s commitment to a second referendum, which doesn’t suggest it’s likely to back the Government.

He also issued the inevitable request for yet more devolved powers, this time a range of economic ‘tools’ and an expanded ability to borrow, and had a dig at the Labour-led Welsh Government for failing to exert adequate influence at Westminster.

In other Plaid news, a former nationalist member of the Welsh Assembly has avoided prison after pleading guilty to making indecent images of children.

Bradley mulling ‘external mediator’ for Northern Ireland

Karen Bradley is “actively considering” whether and how an external mediator could help to get the Province’s devolved settlement up and running again, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

The Northern Irish Secretary has been come in for fresh criticism after the Government once again ducked the prospect of direct rule, instead opting to grant civil servants the power to make decisions normally made by elected and accountable politicians.

Sam McBride, of the News Letter, reports that the local Attorney General has already had to stop them “literally making up criminal offences“, and questions remain as to how long Westminster can continue to put off taking up political responsibility for Northern Ireland – especially in light of concerted efforts by mainland MPs to drive through changes to sensitive areas of social legislation such as abortion and gay marriage.

Wishart urges Sturgeon to drop support for second referendum

The EU referendum has posed a number of strategic challenges for the Scottish National Party, the latest of which is what to do about the campaign for a rematch.

On the one hand, Brexit has struck a major blow to Scotland’s easiest path out of the Union – ‘independence in Europe’. For all that hardline remainers such as Guto Bebb still extol the old orthodoxy, it is greatly in the interest of the separatist parties to see the 2016 vote overturned.

Yet to do that would be to set a very dangerous precedent that a referendum result should be revisited and ratified by the electorate after the negotiations. The danger this poses to SNP aspirations is obvious.

This explains why a row has broken out this week amongst the normally iron-disciplined Nationalists. Pete Wishart, who now has the distinction of being the Party’s longest-serving MP, accused Nicola Sturgeon of undermining the independence campaign by backing a ‘People’s Vote’, campaigners for which have in turn urged the First Minister to distance herself from him.

In other Nationalist news, this week the party was forced to suspend a member after he authored a xenophobic and antisemitic blog which was shared by SNP social media channels, according to the Herald.

DUP challenged over Budget role

The Ulster Unionists have claimed that the Government has called the bluff of its Democratic Unionist allies, after the latter backed the Budget despite threats to withhold their support over the Irish backstop, the News Letter reports.

Lord Empey, who previously led the UUP and helped to forge its ill-fated alliance with the Conservatives at the 2010 election, said that the DUP were retreating with “their tail between their legs”.

In response Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim, has reiterated that his party might still withdraw support from the Prime Minister at a future date.

This comes as more details emerge about the Northern Irish party’s influence. A report in today’s Daily Mail indicates that regular high-level meetings between the DUP’s Commons leadership and senior Government figures, including David Lidington and Julian Smith, have been taking place on a monthly basis.

The party has also been keen to take credit for several measures in the Budget, both Ulster-related – such as the £350 million city deal for Belfast – and UK-wide measures such as the Armed Forces Covenant donation.