DUP attack May’s decision to ‘sub-contract’ Brexit to Corbyn…

The Democratic Unionists have launched a stinging attack on the Prime Minister’s decision to invite Jeremy Corbyn for talks on Brexit, in the latest sign that relations between Theresa May and her confidence-and-supply partners is collapsing. In a statement, the Northern Irish party said:

“The Prime Minister’s lamentable handling of the negotiations with the EU means she has failed to deliver a sensible Brexit deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom. That is why she has not been able to get it through parliament. Her announcement therefore tonight comes as little surprise. Though it remains to be seen if sub-contracting out the future of Brexit to Jeremy Corbyn, someone whom the Conservatives have demonised for four years, will end happily.”

The Unionists reiterated their support for Brexit and their insistence that the United Kingdom leave the European Union “as one country”.

Earlier this week the Times reported that a ‘senior Cabinet minister’ blamed Boris Johnson for the DUP’s failure to back the Withdrawal Agreement at the third time of asking. They reportedly said: “The DUP interviewed Boris and Raab and decided they were not really unionists. That’s why they withheld their support for the deal.” The Ulster party were apparently spooked by Johnson’s failure to convince them that he would insist on maintaining regulatory alignment between the Province and the mainland after Brexit.

Meanwhile Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, this morning claimed that Philip Hammond’s comments on a second referendum signalled the start of a Government u-turn on this totemic issue.

…as soft-Brexiteers woo separatists (and tout once again the ‘fragile union’ myth)

Meanwhile on the other side, Remainer hopes that the DUP might be won round to backing one or other of the ‘soft Brexit’ options put before MPs in the second around of indicative votes were dashed. The party’s decision to abstain saw plans such as the Customs Union defeated by a smaller margin than its parliamentary caucus and highlighted the extent to which the Unionists could still play kingmaker.

Not that the soft Brexiteers felt any need to confine themselves to seeking pro-UK support: the Sun had the story of how Tory rebels backing the so-called ‘Norway’ option wooed the Scottish National Party ahead of those crunch votes this week. Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon has warned Corbyn against striking a ‘tawdry’ deal with a Conservative government.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister has been praying in aid of the Union herself this week, with one source claiming her decision to pivot to Corbyn was based in part on the idea that a no-deal exit would require the formal adoption of Direct Rule for Northern Ireland – and that this would break up the Union.

From the outside it’s impossible to tell if this is simply shamelessness or she is genuinely acting on useless advice, but either way such a claim is nonsense. Not only is the Government probably going to have to introduce some form of direct rule in the near future – Ulster’s civil servants are running up against the limits of their legal authority to govern – but there is scant evidence that such a move would be particularly controversial.

A more serious threat to the Union – changing demographics in Northern Ireland – was identified in a new report from The UK in a Changing Europe, although it did not make any new case for the threat being particularly imminent or insurmountable. They also claimed that Scottish independence could not ‘be excluded’ – although the latest polling shows a ‘collapse’ in support for it, the latest in a long series of blows to ‘the myth of the fragile Union’.

Plaid did this week say that they might call for an independence vote after Brexit, but there is no evidence they would win one even now, when our EU membership makes the prospect of separation much easier.

Voters go to the polls in Newport West

Amidst all the chaos, voters in Wales are voting today in a by-election precipitated by the death of Paul Flynn, a long-serving Labour MP. The result will inevitably be analysed to death for its national implications, but local issues have featured prominently in local campaigning.

Newport residents have to choose between no fewer than 11 candidates, not one an independent. Alongside the usual suspects from Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, and UKIP are challengers from minor parties Abolish the Assembly, Democrats & Veterans, For Britain, the SDP, and Renew.

The most likely result is a Labour hold – they have had the seat since 1987, and whilst the Conservatives have run them fairly close in recent years Flynn extended his lead back to a fairly comfortable 5,658 in 2017. However the Tories apparently have a strong candidate and a majority of the seat voted Leave in the referendum, so Labour’s increasingly Remain-y stance and the unwinding of Flynn’s personal vote might give him grounds for hope.