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Sturgeon starts another independence push

It must be coming up to the Scottish National Party conference, because Nicola Sturgeon is talking up her administration’s plans for independence again. But although the First Minister has apparently promised a “detailed prospectus”, according to the FT, she hasn’t gone so far as to give any dates about when she’s going to table the necessary legislation.

Funny that. Sturgeon knows that the Government, quite rightly, is not going to grant her permission to hold another vote in this Parliament. But she needs some read meat to keep her increasingly fractious activists in line. Hence yet another study, yet another commission, more delaying tactics.

Not that those efforts are even going especially well. This week, it emerged that one of the First Minister’s new hand-picked economic advisers warned that separating from the United Kingdom would be “Brexit times ten”. Professor Mark Blythe, in an interview conducted days before his new role was announced, is the last thing Sturgeon needed as she tees her members up to debate the proposition that a hard border with England could “favourably benefit” Scotland.

Grace periods on Northern Irish trade extended indefinitely

Back in March, I wrote about how the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint David Frost to the Northern Irish trade brief signalled that the Government was much more serious than some people seemed prepared to credit about securing meaningful change to the Protocol.

Autumn is here and so far, it looks as if that reading was right – and perhaps Brussels is starting to realise it.

Why else would the EU have agreed to the UK indefinitely extending the grace periods which are allowing fresh produce from mainland Britain to cross unhindered into Ulster, in defiance of Brussels’ ‘external frontier’ at the Irish Sea?

Perhaps they have realised, as I noted earlier this week, that it’s no good demanding that the Government ‘honour what it signed’ when taking preventative measures to prevent ‘diversion of trade’ – for example, forcing Northern Irish supermarkets to find new, EU-based supply chains – is right there in the text of Article 16? Over the summer, senior sources told me that London’s red line was maintaining food supply chains across the Irish Sea. Hence the earlier, unilateral extension of grace periods.

Some critics wondered why, if the Government was serious, it didn’t immediately trigger Article 16. But doing so precipitately would make it look as if the UK were merely spoiling for a fight. Instead, the months of extensions have simultaneously demonstrated Britain’s seriousness about finding a low-key resolution and the complete absence of any ill-effects on the Single Market from the unfettered flow of British produce.

Of course, its a big leap from a fudge such as this to actually re-opening and renegotiating the Protocol. But patience is baked in to this Fabian strategy. By consenting to an indefinite extension, it looks as if Brussels understands that the Protocol can’t operate as currently drafted without diversion of trade – and it explicitly does not permit diversion of trade.

Welsh boundary review proposals published

The BBC reports on the publication of the proposed new parliamentary constituencies for Wales. The principality’s representation at Westminster is being cut from 40 to 32 as part of the Government’s push to equalise constituency boundaries.

If the new boundaries went ahead in their current form it could leave several Conservative MPs scrapping for new seats, with 2019 gains Clwyd South and Vale of Clwyd getting absorbed by other seats as well as Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, held by Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary.

The changes could also hit Plaid Cymru quite hard, with several of their seats making unhelpful acquisitions from neighbouring constituencies.