Bradley faces calls to resign over Troubles comments as Williamson seeks to protect troops

Karen Bradley has come under renewed pressure to resign after she appeared to claim that no deaths caused by the security services during the Troubles should be considered crimes, according to the Times.

Although she later clarified that there should always be investigations where there are allegations of wrongdoing, the latest faux pas has sparked fresh questions about whether or not she is fit to serve as Northern Irish Secretary. Her remarks were:

“Over 90 per cent of the killings during the Troubles were at the hands of terrorists, every single one of those was a crime. The fewer than 10 per cent that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes. They were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way.”

Whilst it seems clear that Bradley meant to say that the most of the killings committed by the Armed Forces and Royal Ulster Constabulary were done in the lawful course of their duties, it is an unfortunate way to set the scene for Gavin Williamson’s bid to introduce new legal protections for soldiers and ex-servicemen.

Under proposals outlined in the Sunday Times, the Defence Secretary would introduce a ten-year limit for prosecutions over alleged historical offences. This comes after reports that four former soldiers are expected to face murder charges for their involvement in Bloody Sunday in 1972.

The plans will apparently entail a statutory presumption against prosecution for historical cases, the need for sign-off from the Attorney General, and new guidance from the same about both the evidence threshold needed to pursue a prosecution and a public-interest test.

In related news the News Letter reports that Jim Allister, the leader of the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice party, has accused the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland of “playing politics” by talking up the threat of terrorist activity related to Brexit.

Ministers clash with SNP over ‘towns fund’ as Scottish Government bails on welfare devolution

The Government is gearing up for a furious row with the Scottish Government over the fate of almost £100 million in public funding from Theresa May’s ‘Stronger Towns Fund’, according to the Sun.

According to sources James Brokenshire, the Communities Secretary, is insisting that his department must have a say on how the money is disbursed, rather than simply handing it over to the SNP to treat as a devolved matter. The paper reports one insider claiming that the Nationalists have already failed to properly pass on £40 million earmarked for the police to help with no-deal preparations.

Such a move would undercut the SNP’s efforts to centralise as much control of public spending as possible in Edinburgh, as well as to make the Scottish Parliament a gate-keeper between Westminster and Scotland. Expect much wailing about the ‘spirit of devolution’.

But that spirit has not had a good week, it appears, after it emerged that the Scottish Government is furiously backpedalling on a push to devolve welfare powers to Holyrood.

Last week the Scotsman reported that the Nationalists were being accused of ‘betraying’ Scots over a decision to delay the full devolution of welfare powers until 2024. This was compounded yesterday when they further reported that plans for the Scottish Government to assume control of one particular benefit – the Severe Disablement Allowance – have been postponed “indefinitely”.

That all of this chaos and delay should result from proposals to devolve just 15 per cent of social security spending – totalling some £3 million – may be what finally prompted one “senior Scottish Tory MP” to voice, albeit anonymously, the ultimate heresy: that there may need to be a “review into certain aspects of devolution”. As the Times reports:

“It cannot continue to be a one-way street,” the MP said. “This latest debacle, coming on top of the British Transport Police fiasco, demonstrates that there are areas where devolution may not be in the best interests of the Scottish people and that returning powers to Westminster could be contemplated.”

Wise words.

And if that weren’t enough, elsewhere this week the SNP’s new proposals for a post-Brexit Scottish currency were dismissed as a “desperate act”. The party is trying to disentangle itself from the political problems posed by keeping the pound without admitting that an independent Scotland would need to sign up to the Euro.

Dugdale accuses Scottish Labour of trying to hide support for second Brexit vote

Kezia Dugdale, the former leader of Scottish Labour, has accused her successor of censoring the party’s conference programme in order to stifle expressions of support for a second EU referendum, according to the Daily Telegraph.

In a letter to Richard Leonard she alleges that a statement penned by two of the party’s MEPs had been ‘doctored’ to tone down criticism of Brexit and remove a section stating support for a re-run of the 2016 vote – despite such a re-run being official party policy.

The attack exposes the depths of the divisions within Scottish Labour, where Leonard’s left-wing leadership is being criticised for failing to turn around the remarkable slump in the party’s fortunes north of the border.

Meanwhile, in other Brexit news, the FT reports that Bombardier, a major employer in Northern Ireland, are pressuring the Democratic Unionists to abandon their opposition to the backstop.