Hunt urges May to repair relations with the DUP

In a telling sign of how crucial a role the Northern Irish party still has to play for the Tories, one of the leading contenders to succeed Theresa May has urged her to repair relations with the Democratic Unionists.

Jeremy Hunt urged the Prime Minister to “rebuild” the party’s “coalition” with the DUP, according to the Daily Telegraph, whilst speaking in Japan.

This comes in the same week as a Times report that Boris Johnson and his leadership campaign team had also met with the Democratic Unionists. He met with Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s overall and Westminster leaders, for 40 minutes as part of a process a source described as candidates paying ‘homage’ to the Northern Irish party.

Johnson has ground to make up with the DUP, who reportedly voted down the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement after interviewing himself and Dominic Raab and concluding that they were insufficiently committed to avoiding divergence between the Province and the mainland after Brexit.

Meanwhile relations between May herself and her putative allies appear to be deteriorating yet further. This week the DUP reiterated their demand for the Prime Minister to tackle the so-called ‘backstop’, whilst Sammy Wilson clashed with the Prime Minister in the Chamber over her conduct of the negotiations.

Yesterday Emma Little-Pengelly, the DUP MP for Belfast South, wrote for this site about their opposition to scrapping free TV licences for the over-75s, in a clear signal as to the sort of demands they will have for renewing the pact.

Dugdale wins defamation case against cybernat blogger

Kezia Dugdale, the former leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, has successfully seen off a lawsuit brought against her by a hard-line nationalist blogger, the Guardian reports.

Stuart Campbell, better known by his pseudonym ‘Wings over Scotland’, brought a £25,000 against the MSP after she accused him of homophobia in a column for the Daily Record newspaper. He had alleged that Oliver Mundell, the MSP son of Scottish Secretary David Mundell, was “the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner.”

Even before the outcome, the matter was at the centre of controversy after Labour refused to support her – today’s Times has her saying that she “cannot forgive” the Party for its decision to sever its legal aid to her. The Daily Record stepped in to support Dugdale in its place.

It remains to be seen whether this disillusion will affect her long-term position in the party. Dugdale’s partner is an SNP MSP, and at least one Scottish Labour watcher suspects she will defect – especially after previous comments appeared to cast doubt on her professed opposition to independence.

Welsh patients barred from English hospitals in devolved funding row

Devolving healthcare always had the potential to break up a UK-wide National Health Service, but the reality of that is starting to hit home amidst a furious row over funding.

The Times reports that Countess of Chester Hospital has started to refuse admission to Welsh patients because, due to decisions made by the Labour administration in Cardiff Bay, they bring in less funding than their English equivalents. This despite Wales reportedly receiving £1.20 in NHS funding for every £1 England receives, according to the Welsh Conservatives.

Hospitals are paid a fixed fee for every patient they treat. In England this was recently increased, but Cardiff Bay opted not to follow suit, meaning the funding gap between the two broadened to about 8 per cent per patient. This is an acute problem for hospitals such as Countess of Chester, which is just minutes from the border and usually receives one fifth of its patients from North Wales.

Resentment that England is effectively subsidising Wales, whose own hospitals do not perform as well, has apparently been bubbling for some time, but rising waiting lists mean that Countess of Chester is now confident it can fill its beds without Welsh patients. If Wales continues to pay less it could have broader implications for other Welsh patients currently sent for specialist treatment in Liverpool or Bristol.

Suffice to say, it is typical of the devocrat approach that they want the power to pinch pennies whilst still shifting costs out onto a Union-wide safety net. They should not be allowed to do so.

A week in bad news for the SNP

With Brexit still failing to deliver the long-prophesied boost for independence, the weight of time is beating down on the Nationalists more than ever. Nicola Sturgeon faces a mounting list of problems, notwithstanding the looming prospect of Alex Salmond’s trial.

First, as Kenny Farquharson details in the Times, she faces a revolt from her once uber-disciplined grassroots over the SNP’s post-independence currency plans. After their proposal for a currency union was scotched during the 2014 referendum, the new and extremely-cautious line is that Scotland would use the pound independently until some very strict tests were met about setting up a new currency.

Perhaps conscious of how Gordon Brown killed off British membership of the Euro with similar tests, Nationalist activists are pushing for a much more ambitious and rapid transition to a Scottish currency ahead of the upcoming party conference. Any compromise will muddy the waters on what remains one of the key weaknesses in the independence case – the broader question of which she apparently plans to address after Easter.

In other news: an anti-racism worker has received £17,000 in compensation after being wrongfully dismissed by a key adviser to the First Minister; a senior SNP MSP has been accused of spreading ‘fake news’ on a Russian-backed propaganda station; and Sturgeon herself has been accused of being out of step with her party on transgender rights.