Days before the Northern Ireland Assembly was dissolved ahead of Thursday 2 March’s snap election, outgoing Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill, was named the new Northern leader of Sinn Féin. Ms O’Neill is former advisor to Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy, an MLA since 2007 and former Agriculture Minister. Taking on the role, she said “no-one can replace Martin (McGuinness)” but pledged to continue the work he started; “I have never been afraid of challenge and I have never been afraid to act.”
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire MP criticised inquiries into killings during the Troubles as “disproportionately” focused on former members of the RUC and armed forces. Police are re-investigating all deaths from the Troubles. Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he said the “vast majority” of these men and women served “with great courage, professionalism and distinction… We are in danger of seeing the past rewritten.”
The UK’s Supreme Court ruled the UK government must consult Parliament before triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that will initiate the Brexit process, but devolved governments need not be consulted. The Government is expected to bring a Bill to Parliament this coming week. The SDLP said its three MPs will join forces with the Scottish National Party (SNP) to challenge this Bill, by tabling an amendment. Both parties say the UK government has failed to properly consult with the devolved administrations and has so far failed to produce a White Paper on its Brexit plan.
Prime Minister Theresa May became the first international leader to pay a state visit to US President Donald Trump. Both reaffirmed the US and UK’s “special relationship”, and their commitment to the NATO alliance despite Mr Trump having previously described it as obsolete. Both leaders said they would work to establish trade negotiation agreements. The UK cannot legally begin negotiating trade deals until it exits the EU; Mr Trump said he wants a “quick” deal after that. Mr Trump also accepted an invitation from the Queen for a state visit to the UK later this year.
US President Trump issued an executive order to halt America’s refugee programme and institute a 90-day travel freeze of nationals from majority Muslim countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. On Saturday, he told reporters: “It’s working out very nicely”, but later a US judge issued a temporary halt to the deportation of visa holders or refugees stranded at airports. Initially reacting to the move, Theresa May said it was a matter for the US, but 10 Downing Street later issued a statement to say the PM “does not agree” with it.