Fury of Tory MPs as soldier charged over Bloody Sunday

The decision by Northern Irish prosecutors to lay charges against one of the soldiers implicated in the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings has attracted an angry response, the Sun reports.

Conservative MPs Johnny Mercer and Leo Docherty, who had been campaigning to protect ex-servicemen, led the charge. Contrasts were drawn between the treatment of ‘Soldier F’ and the many IRA terrorists who were granted immunity from prosecution by Tony Blair’s notorious ‘comfort letters’ programme.

Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, has announced that the Government will cover Soldier F’s legal fees, and reiterated his position that the system for investigating legacy issues needs to be overhauled.

However there was anger from the other direction too, with families of those killed upset that prosecutions will not be brought against more former soldiers, with 16 other elderly veterans who were probed facing no action due to “insufficient evidence”.

Newport West by-election candidates announced

The parties have unveiled their candidates to succeed Paul Flynn, the veteran Labour MP who represented the constituency since 1987 – and it looks like quite the circus.

No fewer than 11 candidates are putting their names forward, with representatives of the major parties competing with challenges from such varied sources as Abolish the Welsh Assembly, centrist party Renew, far-right For Britain, the continuity SDP, and whatever Democrats & Veterans is.

You can read interviews with all of them on Wales Online. Whilst most of these obviously have no chance of success, it will be interesting to see what impact some of them have on the other parties. One particular thing to watch will be whether Abolish the Assembly manage to make a dent in the Conservative vote with their strong unionist message.

As for the seat itself, Flynn bequeaths his successor a majority of over 5,000. However the Tories managed to cut it to around 3,500 in both 2010 and 2015, and with the unwinding of his personal vote, plus an estimated Leave vote of over 50 per cent, they may be able to put on a strong showing.

Trimble hints that backstop changes may be enough

One of the architects of the Belfast Agreement, and a staunch critic of Theresa May’s approach to Brexit, has suggested that she has managed to meaningfully reduce the threat posed by the Irish backstop, according to the Daily Express.

Writing for policy exchange Lord Trimble, who launched a legal challenge against the Withdrawal Agreement on the grounds that it breached the Belfast Agreement, wrote:

“A widespread war weariness on all sides is a significant factor. But the Government has succeeded in securing substantive changes that will affect and limit the impact of the Irish backstop, if it is ever put in place at the end of the transitional period.”

His co-author was Lord Bew, a life peer and Professor of Irish Politics at Queen’s University Belfast.

This comes in the same week that ministers are reportedly “pulling out all the stops” to secure the Democratic Unionists’ support for the Prime Minister’s deal.

Amongst the inducements reportedly on offer is the scrapping of Air Passenger Duty on flights from Northern Ireland, whilst the DUP are demanding that their MPs be “deeply involved” in the next round of negotiations with Brussels over the future relationship – along with the obvious extra cash.

However, despite rumours that a deal might be close earlier this week, MPs such as Jim Shannon have been quick to reiterate that they aren’t there yet, saying that: “We will not sell our soul for a deal that threatens the Union.”

Scottish MP preparing tilt at Liberal Democrat leadership

Jo Swinson, the Member of Parliament for East Dunbartonshire, is reportedly one of three Lib Dem legislators preparing to run to succeed Sir Vince Cable as leader when he steps down in May.

A business minister during the Coalition, she lost her seat in party’s 2015 wipe-out before regaining it two years later. She as built a profile campaigning on equality issues, and was at the centre of last year’s controversy over pairing.

She will be squaring off against Sir Ed Davey, the former Energy Secretary and MP for Kingston, and possibly Layla Moran, the newly-elected MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.