Hammond and Johnson set to appear at DUP conference
One of the big stories this week has been the apparent disintegration of the Government’s working majority in the House of Commons, with the Democratic Unionists vowing to ‘fight dirty’ to defeat the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.
In turn, Theresa May has appointed to the Northern Irish Office a new minister whose only rebellion in this Parliament was on the question of abortion in the Province just last month. Clearly, relations with Downing Street are fraying.
Yet the Ulster party have made pains to stress that their arrangement is with the Conservative Party, rather than Theresa May, and despite the mounting tensions it appears that at least two senior Tories are scheduled to address the DUP conference this weekend.
The Belfast Telegraph reports these to be Boris Johnson and, much more surprisingly, Philip Hammond. The Chancellor will surely face questions about his remarks this week that the backstop, upon which the Government’s deal appears to be foundering, is not “a good arrangement for our Union”.
Meanwhile Leo Varadkar, the Irish leader, has accused the DUP of prioritising the integrity of the United Kingdom even at the expense of “a lesser world”.
Jones criticised for shielding ministers from independent scrutiny
Carwyn Jones has come in for more criticism over his handling of the Carl Sargeant scandal this week, after deciding that complaints against his top team “shouldn’t be treated like complaints against normal AMs”.
Wales Online reports that the proposal was one of a number of recommendations from a report into how the Welsh Assembly can improve its handling of complaints.
At present, complaints against regular AMs are investigated by the Standards Commissioner. But as the BBC explains, when the individual in question is a minister it is up to the First Minister to decide whether or not they have breached their code of conduct.
Defending the decision, the Welsh Government claimed that involving the Standards Commissioner in the oversight of ministers would lead to “ambiguity of accountability”.
Oversight of the executive has come under scrutiny in Cardiff in the aftermath of the Carl Sargeant scandal, during which the First Minister was alleged to have misled AMs and presided over a “culture of bullying” inside the government.
Mundell’s strange attack on unionist ‘carpet baggers’
One of the stranger sub-plots of the ongoing pile-up that is the Government’s withdrawal deal is the strange tale of David Mundell and the ‘carpet-baggers’.
The Scottish Secretary used this phrase to attack Dominic Raab and other former ministers who resigned in protest against the backstop. As The Times reports: “In an extraordinary statement, Mr Mundell said that he was “not taking lessons on standing up for our United Kingdom from carpet-baggers” who had a new-found concern for the integrity of the UK.”
If this were just one of the Cabinet’s higher-profile unionists attacking converts to a cause which needs as many as it can get, it would be strange enough. But in fact, both Mundell and Ruth Davidson actually threatened to resign themselves if the Government’s withdrawal deal involved differential treatment for Northern Ireland – and just last month, too.
As I set out on Twitter, no adequate explanation for this u-turn has been forthcoming and the very thing the Scottish Conservatives were most concerned about – Scottish (and Welsh!) nationalists using the backstop to bolster the case for independence – is underway
If the Scottish Secretary really did share Raab et al’s concerns about the backstop, and has since had those concerns assuaged, he would surely to greater service to the Government by explaining his reasoning – and reassuring anxious colleagues – than mounting over-the-top, ad hominem attacks on people who have, after all, only done what he himself said he’d do in response to the deal we face.
In happier news, a new poll on Scottish independence – using the same wording as the 2016 referendum on EU membership – found Scots would reject separation from the United Kingdom by a wide margin, according to the Scotsman.
This comes as Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, met with both her Welsh counterparts (institutional, and political) to discuss Brexit strategy ahead of the upcoming crunch vote on the Withdrawal Agreement.