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2023 in politics

So this is Christmas, and what have you done? … A question first posed by John Lennon that countless politicians (and their constituents…) will no doubt be asking themselves over the Christmas break. It’s time to down tools and take a well earned rest. We’ll be back in 2024 but in the meantime, here’s your final roundup of the year, including a look back at the past year’s highlights…

Welcome to the weekly roundup from Navigate Politics, bringing you all the top news, publications and movements from UK politics over the past seven days, ensuring you’re fully briefed on the top stories ahead of the weekend. If you know somebody who would find this briefing useful, please do forward it on so they can subscribe and get it direct to their inbox each Friday.

'23 in 23 ⌛

  1. Nadhim Zahawi was sacked as Chair of the Conservative Party in January, after he was found to have committed a “serious breach of the ministerial code” by failing to disclose HMRC was investigating his tax affairs when appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in July 2022.

  2. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed MPs in Westminster Hall in February, making an impassioned plea to the Government to supply Ukraine with fighter jets in their war against Russia – presenting House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle with a fighter jet helmet emblazoned with the words, “We have freedom, give us wings to protect it”.

  3. Nicola Sturgeon resigned as First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP, in February sparking a divisive leadership contest that saw Humza Yousaf take over at the end of March. A week later Sturgeon’s husband and the SNP’s former chief executive Peter Murrell was arrested and their home searched over fraud allegations.

  4. Rishi Sunak agreed the Windsor Framework in February, meeting with European Commission President Ursula von Leyen in Windsor to sign the deal. The agreement makes amendments to the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. It was passed by MPs in March and came into effect on 01 October.

  5. The Daily Telegraph published thousands of Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages in March, given to the newspaper by the co-author of his Pandemic Diaries book, journalist Isabel Oakeshott, on the grounds of “public interest”.

  6. Sue Gray resigned as Second Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office in March as Keir Starmer revealed she was joining the Opposition as his Chief of Staff – much to the ire of Boris Johnson backers following her report into party-gate in 2022. After being cleared to work for the Labour Party by ACOBA, she joined his team six months later.

  7. Jeremy Hunt delivered his first Spring Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer in March, announcing a new policy to allow ‘full expensing’ by companies to encourage greater investment in equipment, changes to the benefits system to encourage economically inactive people back into work, an expansion of free childcare, 12 new investment zones across the UK, and £11bn for the defence budget over the next five years.

  8. Dominic Raab resigned as Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary in April after a Government inquiry found he had been “unreasonably and persistently aggressive” in meetings, and had acted in an “intimidating way” towards civil servants. He was replaced by Oliver Dowden as Deputy PM, and by Alex Chalk as Justice Secretary.

  9. Adam Price resigned as leader of Plaid Cymru in May after an internal report concluded there was a toxic culture of misogyny, harassment and bullying in the party. The following month Rhun ap Iorwerth MS was appointed the party’s new leader.

  10. Boris Johnson resigned as an MP in June, the same day as his resignation honours were finally published, and he received a report by the House of Commons Privileges Committee which concluded he had deliberately misled MPs over Partygate. Nigel Adams and Nadine Dorries also announced their resignations with immediate effect (with Dorries eventually resigning in August).

  11. The final proposed Westminster constituency boundary changes were published in June, sparking a scramble for seats amongst MPs at risk of losing theirs at the next election. The changes will see the number of seats in England increase by 10 at the next election, whilst the number of seats in Wales and Scotland will decrease by 12 and 2 respectively.

  12. A number of schools remained closed after the summer holidays in England after the Government reported concerns with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in their roofs. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt stated the Government “will spend what it takes” to make schools safe.

  13. Tobias Ellwood MP resigned as Chair of the Defence Committee in September, having effectively been ousted by a number of members of the Committee who criticised him for a video he published praising the Taliban for how Afghanistan has been “transformed” under their rule.

  14. Rishi Sunak announced he was scrapping the West Midlands to Manchester section of HS2 in his keynote speech to Conservative Party Conference in October, sparking heavy criticism from Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street.

  15. The world’s first AI Summit was held at Bletchley Park in November, at which 28 countries agreed a ‘shared understanding of the opportunities and risks posed by frontier AI’.

  16. The King delivered the first ‘King’s Speech’ in 72 years at the State Opening of Parliament in November – in what is most likely the last State Opening before the next General Election.

  17. Jeremy Hunt delivered the Autumn Statement in November, announcing “110 growth measures” which included making full expensing of capital allowances permanent, scrapping Class 2 National Insurance altogether, increasing the State Pension by 8.5% in April 2024, and uprating benefits payments by 6.7% in line with September’s inflation figure.

  18. Mark Drakeford announced he was resigning as First Minister of Wales in December, five years and one day after he was elected to the role.

  19. Robert Jenrick resigned as Immigration Minister in December, arguing the Government’s emergency legislation to designate Rwanda a safe country to send asylum seekers for processing “does not go far enough”.

  20. Rishi Sunak undertook 2 full and one mini reshuffle in 2023 In February he created the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, Department for Business and Trade and Department for Science, Innovation and Technology; in August he promoted Grant Shapps to Defence Secretary after Ben Wallace announced his intention to stand down; and then in November finally sacked Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, and shocked Westminster with the return of David Cameron to Government as Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton / Foreign Secretary.

  21. Labour gained four seats and held two at by-elections in 2023, with the Lib-Dems also winning a seat in Somerton and Frome. The Conservatives lost four and held one (Boris Johnson’s old seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip) whilst the SNP lost Margaret Ferrier’s former seat of Rutherglen and Hamilton West to Labour.

  22. A further 55 MPs announced this year they will be standing down from Parliament at the next election, taking the total number of MPs already confirmed as standing down to 82.

  23. And finally, 10 MPs were knighted in 2023 – 1.5% of the Commons… making it, by a mile, statistically the easiest place in the country to get a top gong for simply doing your job.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

Christmas – so let’s pray for zero politics.

The Week in Stats 📉

3.9% – Latest UK inflation rate – down from 4.6% in October.

£14.3bn – Government borrowing in November 2023, £900m less than in November 2022.

0.1% – Amount GDP fell by between July and September 2023, revised down from a first estimate of no growth. If growth falls in the next quarter (October to December), the UK will officially be in recession.

£1,660 – Predicted annual energy bills for a typical household in April 2024, falling by £268.

£288,000 – Average UK house price in October – £3,000 lower than 12 months ago.

£250m – Amount agreed between Ministers and TfL to improve London’s transport system in 2024.

45% – Scotland’s new tax band for people earning between £75,000 and £125,140.

£32.35 – Typical cost of a Christmas dinner compared to £31 last year, with 62% of people planning to have turkey and only 51% opting for Yorkshire puddings.

4.9% – Rail fare increases set to come in from 03 March 2024.

What happened this week? 📰

Housing Secretary Michael Gove delivered a speech on the next stage in the Government's Long-Term Plan for Housing this week, in which he announced adjustments to the Housing Delivery Test and directed seven local authorities to review their local plans. He provided an additional £29m for the Planning Skills Delivery Fund and a total of £40m for 180 local authority planning teams, and announced reviews of both the statutory consultee system and London’s plan to increase housing delivery. At the same time, Housing Minister Lee Rowley published long awaited updates to the National Planning Policy Framework which clarifies the standard methods for assessing local housing needs and that local authorities do not need to alter green belt boundaries, strengthens protections for neighbourhood plans and agricultural land, and cements the role of ‘beauty’ in planning.

The Government appear to have rowed back on raising family visa earnings requirements as set out by the Prime Minister earlier in December, and will now initially increase the earnings threshold from £18,600 to £29,000 in 2024, before continuing with their plans to raise the threshold to £38,700 in a more phased move in the future. The move was announced, unexpectedly, in a response to a written parliamentary question, before a press release was hurried out on Thursday evening.

Teachers will be required to discuss their request to socially transition with a child’s parents, under new guidance published by the Department for Education this week. Only in exceptional circumstances, where informing parents risks significant harm to the child, should the parents not be informed; with the Department concluding parents have a right to know. The new guidance remains clear that single-sex spaces such as toilets and changing rooms should remain so, but advises cautious flexibility with regards to school sports and uniforms.

British Sign Language will be taught as a GCSE, after a Government consultation revealed overwhelming support for the qualification. The syllabus includes close to 1,000 signs, and pupils will be taught to communicate on a range of themes and topics including social, cultural, political, work-related and of personal relevance.

Another week – another by-election planned. There could be a by-election in the constituency of Wellingborough as early as February next year, after a recall petition against the former Conservative MP Peter Bone was signed by more than 10% of the local electorate, triggering the by-election. The recall petition was prompted by Bone's suspension from the House of Commons for six weeks for breaching the code of conduct for MPs.

Around the World 🌍

Donald Trump cannot run for election in Colorado, the state's Supreme Court ruled, due to his involvement in the January 6 Capitol insurrection. The ruling only bars him from competing in the state's Republican primary elections in March 2024, but could potentially stretch to the presidential election in November. The Trump campaign is expected to take the ruling to the national Supreme Court, which will likely not uphold it.

Serbia’s ruling party claimed victory in snap elections, although the opposition immediately called foul. The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) apparently won 47% of the vote, while the opposition SPN coalition received 23%. SPN immediately alleged electoral fraud, and internal monitors stated that vote-buying and ballot stuffing had been observed.

India has suspended more than 140 opposition MPs, following an incident in parliament in which protestors broke into the chamber. The MPs had been demanding a minister make a statement on the security breach and were subsequently suspended for ‘disrupting’ parliament. Other opposition MPs have labelled the suspensions anti-democratic.

Highlights from Parliament 🏛

The Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons. The Bill is seeking to ban the export of live cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses from Great Britain for slaughter and fattening, and secured cross-party support. Also in the Commons, the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill underwent all stages, with the Government committing to “delivering justice for all Horizon victims.”

In the House of Lords, the Victims and Prisoners Bill was read a second time, aiming to enhance the positions of victims with measures including a victims’ code and victim support services, as well as the setting up of a public body to administer compensation to victims of the infected blood scandal. There was also the second reading of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. It is seeking to make provisions about: access to customer and business data; privacy and electronic communications; oversight of biometric data; and services for the provision of electronic signatures, as well as establishing the Information Commission.

Other debates in Parliament included tackling spiking, the infected blood inquiry and the trial of Jimmy Lai, and there were two Urgent Questions on Ukraine and on Israel and Gaza.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced the Liaison Committee on Tuesday, during which he insisted the UK would continue to support Ukraine, expressed disappointment at junior doctors’ rejection of a pay offer, declined to comment on whether the Government had reached an agreement with an airline to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda, and stated that the Government had not yet set a “firm date” for stopping the small boats altogether.

Committee Corridor 📜

Aviation emissions must be included within Carbon Budgets, so argues the Environmental Audit Committee in their latest report on net zero and the UK aviation sector. Two and a half years after the Government’s commitment to legislation to include international aviation emissions in the UK’s budgets, the report calls for this commitment to be fulfilled ‘without further delay.’ The Committee also called for the Government to roll out zero emission aircraft by 2040, ensure that sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) developed in the UK are truly sustainable, and reconsider the role of demand management.

Sports governing bodies, including the Premier League, should commit to cutting the volume of gambling adverts in stadiums, according to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on gambling regulation. It supports the ‘proposed introduction of enhanced online gambling protections for young adults aged 18-24’ and pushes for the Government to ‘review the case for banning children’s access to social casino games.’ There is also support for the Government’s proposals for a new gambling sponsorship Code of Conduct, but calls for this to include provisions to reduce gambling adverts in stadia and to require a higher proportion of advertising to be dedicated to safer gambling messaging.

New EU rules could require UK toys sold on the continent to come with a digital passport warned the European Scrutiny Committee’s latest report. New regulations proposed by the European Commission seek to extend the list of prohibited harmful chemicals, meaning that any toys including such chemicals would be banned from the EU market; this comes alongside a new requirement for a ‘Digital Product Passport’ for toys at EU borders. Given that such rules would apply to Northern Ireland under the Windsor Framework, the report called on the Government to consult Northern Irish manufacturers on the proposals.

The Lords Scrutiny of International Agreements Committee reported the Agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions (also known as the UN Oceans Treaty) for special attention. They welcomed the ‘efforts of Government to support a range of international initiatives on BBNJ implementation’ and encouraged an ambitious target date to be set for ratification of the Agreement. The Committee also reported Protocol V to the Conventional Weapons Convention on Explosive Remnants of War to the House for information, welcoming its ratification but criticising the lack of Government transparency around the significant twenty year delay between adopting and ratifying the Protocol.

Key Movements 🔁

Julia Lopez MP returned from Maternity Leave as Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure and Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries. John Whittingdale MP, who was standing in, has returned to the Backbenches.

Rachel Kent has been appointed as the Financial Regulators Complaints Commissioner, serving a five-year term from 1 January 2024.

Frances Wadsworth has been appointed as interim Chair of the Ofqual Board for a period of up to 12 months.

Jessica Radke has been appointed to the CMA’s new post of Deputy General Counsel.

Howard Dawber has been appointed as the Deputy Mayor of London for Business, replacing Rajesh Agrawal who stepped down after being selected as a candidate in the next General Election.

Sir Hugh Robertson and Wayne Reynolds have been appointed as new Independent Members to the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

Amy McEvoy has been appointed as the Justices’ Legal Adviser member of the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee for 4 years.

Flora Page has been reappointed to the Legal Services Board for 4 years from August 2024.

This Week’s Polls 📊

Voters who have mortgages or rent are far more likely to vote Labour than Conservative, according to new polling from YouGov this week. Only amongst voters who own their house outright do the Conservative Party come out on top with 26% to Labour’s 22%; compared to mortgage holders where Labour leads with 35% to the Conservative’s 15%. Most worryingly however, 23% of those living in social housing state they will not vote.

Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have anywhere near majority support according to new polling from Deltapoll this week who asked whether a Government under Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer would be better for the economy, foreign policy or Britain’s security. Whilst Labour lead over the Conservatives in all questions the small gap of between 3 and 7 points and a consistent 30% ‘don’t know’ suggests the next General Election may be far from sewn up as some polls would have you believe.

Donald Trump leads in a race with Joe Biden according to Redfield & Wilton’s latest poll tracker, which suggests the former President and “Make America Great Again” candidate would currently gain 44% of the vote, compared to Biden’s 40%.

Think-Tanking 💭

The Resolution Foundation published a report exploring the impact of changes to the minimum wage on the incidence of low pay among young people.

The Institute for Government published a report on the introduction of same sex marriage and how it marked an important step in addressing the UK’s past legal discrimination against same-sex couples.

Demos published a report on digital discord found on top social media platforms from influential news organisations in the US and UK.

RUSI published a paper examining  North Korea’s continued proliferation of missiles and nuclear technology.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report on relative health inequality and ageing in the UK and relative human resource inequality and gender in Canada, and a report arguing there is little evidence of “levelling up" type growth in the UK.

The Institute of Economic Affairs published a report arguing the Bank of England is not necessary, outlining how ‘free banking’ alternatives to central banks can deliver stability and prosperity.

The Centre for Policy Studies published a report by Andrew Lewer MP calling on the government to fund private school places for looked-after children, those from poorer backgrounds and children in ‘inadequate’ schools, to help close the education gap.

Onward published a report on securing the economic and environmental future of Britain’s farms.

The IPPR published the results of a study on job progression opportunities that are available to refugees and people with humanitarian leave.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

Andrew Bridgen MP resigned from the Reclaim Party this week, proving that even the smallest of the UK’s political parties can have their splits. Just nine months after gaining their first MP, Laurence Fox’s party – which according to their website ‘stands for patriotism and believes hard work should be rewarded’ – goes back to having zero representation in Parliament… despite all their patriotism and hard work. Technically we are aware this should be in the Key Movements section above but we thought best to include it here because… well… LOL.


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