Suella Braverman's sacking and more Tory implosions give the DUP another Stormont boycott headache - Newton Emerson
A week of Tory chaos has complicated calculations on the DUP's return to Stormont.
Suella Braverman, the sacked home secretary, has said Rishi Sunak assured her he would implement the Northern Ireland protocol bill when he became prime minister last October, only to break his word.
Nigel Dodds responded there is "no chance" of unionists accepting "an Irish Sea border".
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Yet the bill was dropped in February under the Windsor Framework, which Braverman supported. It appears Dodds will seize any excuse for the Stormont boycott.
Others in the DUP awkward squad sound less sure. Sammy Wilson said Sunak had "thrown Northern Ireland under the bus" but talks with the government would continue.
Ian Paisley said other Stormont parties should help the DUP resolve the impasse, an incredible and revealing statement, as he seemed to be referring more to budget issues than sea border concerns. It looked like an admission the boycott can be ended with a cheque.
The larger complication for the DUP leadership is whether it is worth negotiating with a government that seems to be falling apart.
In The Times article last week that led to her dismissal, Suella Braverman compared 'hate marches' in Britain to parading problems in Northern Ireland.
Whatever other problems people had with Braverman, this comparison is taking hold. A Tory WhatsApp argument on her future, leaked to Sky News, shows MPs discussing a "Northern Ireland-style Parades Commission" to "depoliticise the police". While not everyone agreed with the idea, no-one disagreed with a comment that "it seems to be working very well in Northern Ireland".
The UVF has ordered its east Belfast leadership to 'stand down' over their involvement in criminality, in what is reported to be a clean-up operation linked to talks on disbandment.
To avoid a feud, the east Belfast faction can stay in the crime business as long as it stops using the UVF name, so this is not so much standing down as losing a franchise.
Suspicion and derision at the announcement is understandable, as is exasperation a quarter century after the Good Friday Agreement. But this is how the paramilitary transition policy agreed by Stormont, London and Dublin is meant to work – and it appears to be working, albeit very, very slowly.
That has to be acknowledged, while also recognising it has taken a serious increase in police pressure, plus action at last to withhold 'community funding' when beneficiaries misbehave.
Stormont's review of property rates, ordered by the secretary of state along with other revenue-raising measures, is considering lifting the cap on expensive houses and ending the 70 per cent discount for factories. But there is no mention so far of the 50 per cent discount for empty commercial buildings or the full exemption for all derelict buildings.
Quite apart from the potential revenue, ending these discounts and exemptions would discourage vacancy and dereliction, rather than rewarding it as at present with results that are all too evident across our town and city centres. The vacant business discount was removed in Britain years ago for this reason, while council tax there on empty houses can be doubled.
People Before Profit held a protest outside Queen's University Belfast, where "US special envoy Joe Kennedy is to speak today", according to MLA Gerry Carroll.
Kennedy was addressing a conference but via transatlantic video link, so the Trots were effectively picketing a Zoom call.
There was rather more significant grandstanding at Sinn Féin's ard fheis. Mary Lou McDonald called for the expulsion of Israel's ambassador to Ireland, in a departure from her scripted speech.
This removed all ambiguity from her previous call to end the ambassador's diplomatic status, which was itself a retreat from initially insisting the ambassador should stay.
Sinn Féin's attempt to move beyond protest politics on this issue has been abandoned after one month, due to intense grassroots pressure.
Sinn Féin has been mocked for rejecting an ard fheis motion to ban fox hunting and hare coursing, claiming this would "drive the practice underground".
The same conference voted against decriminalising cannabis, presumably to avoid driving it overground. This farce has serious implications – it shows how beholden Sinn Féin remains to certain rustic regional interests.
So what hope is there of it healing Lough Neagh, as promised by Michelle O'Neill in her conference address? The entitlement of certain people to hunt, fish and shoot is closely related to their sense of entitlement to pollute.
Sinn Féin is hardly alone in leaving the environment to rot. The Detail website has discovered farmers have been submitting fake soil samples for years to obtain planning permission for animal sheds and biogas plants, primary sources of the slurry killing our waterways.
Almost 90 per cent of applications checked were fraudulent, yet three quarters of these were approved. The Audit Office is now investigating why councils, Stormont departments and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency have been so lacklustre in tackling the problem, although it is already clear bureaucratic buck-passing has been involved.
Interestingly, one whistleblower gave up on official regulation and simply called the police. This should happen more often. Where an offence is punishable by five or more years in prison – as is the case with fraud – it is an offence in Northern Ireland to be aware of it and not call the police.
PSNI officers have been warned against using fitness apps such as Strava after a senior officer's daily exercise routine appeared online. This is one data leak the PSNI should have seen coming, as Strava has been a security force nightmare for years.
In 2018 the company started publishing a global 'heat map' of its users' movements, all anonymised to protect their privacy. Alas, the implausible number of people jogging around isolated war-zones instantly blew the cover of a CIA base in Somalia, a Patriot missile battery in Yemen and a US special forces operation in the Sahel.