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Aye Spy | Starm the Boats | Nutri-ain't neutrality

The summer recess ended a mere two weeks ago but the past fortnight has seen more than enough politics for SW1A to handle and so naturally it’s back in recess next week. Spies in Westminster, a select committee coup and a chaotic Government defeat in the Lords on an issue it’s almost impossible to produce a quality email subject-line pun for … it’s been quite the week in the corridors of power.


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.


Driving the Week 🚨


Parliament was engulfed in (reports of) smoke and mirrors when it was reported that two researchers had been arrested, one of them under the Official Secrets Act amid claims that they had been spying for China. The individual had reportedly worked for Conservative MPs in influential foreign policy-related roles and held a senior position in a policy group which seeks to guide the Government’s position on China. The individual has insisted he is innocent. The Prime Minister, who had been in India for the G20 Summit, conveyed his “significant concerns” to Chinese Premier Li Qiang, telling him that any interference in the UK’s parliamentary democracy was “unacceptable”. Prior to a statement from the Deputy Prime Minister, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle also pleaded with MPs not to utilise their parliamentary privilege to name the suspect, emphasising the “sensitive” nature of the investigation. The issue soon became concerning to the point of farcical after it was revealed that the Conservative Party had also dropped two potential parliamentary candidates after MI5 had warned them they could be spies for China. The saga has proved an embarrassment for the Government as it follows Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s visit to China two weeks ago to ‘further British interests’.


Amid frantic travels, Keir Starmer unveiled his immigration platform. In a clear sign that we are rapidly approaching the pre-election campaign period, he declared that a Labour Government would deliver a ‘proper plan’ to stop ‘dangerous boat crossings’ with the creation of a powerful new police unit working in both the UK and abroad ‘entirely dedicated to breaking up the smugglers’ business model’. Simultaneously, he pledged that ‘those fleeing warzones or persecution’ would not be ‘made scapegoats for government failure’ and would scrap plans which stop asylum seekers who cross the Channel from claiming asylum. Labour would also seek to agree a ‘quid pro quo’ returns deal with the EU, which would see the UK take a quota of asylum seekers in the EU in exchange for the ability to return people who cross the Channel. Interpol proved the perfect photo-op for he and Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper to unveil the plans, before he jetted off to Canada for the 2023 Global Progress Action Summit ahead of rumoured meetings with world leaders next week.


The Government’s plans on ‘nutrient neutrality’ collapsed as fast as they were announced after the House of Lords voted down the amendment during the report stage of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. The plans, which would have watered down regulations regarding the entry of nutrients into rivers during construction, were unveiled by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove only two weeks ago, in which he argued that the contribution of nutrient pollution from new house building was ‘very small’ and that doing away with the pesky ‘defective EU law’ could see an extra 100,000 homes built by 2030. However, a Labour-led rebellion saw peers vote the proposals down 203-156, stymying the Government’s plans. Due to the late stage the amendment was inserted into the Bill, the Government cannot bring the amendment back, meaning that any proposals for nutrient neutrality will have to be achieved by another legislative route.


Coming Up Next Week 📆


The Commons goes back into recess after just two full weeks of business next Tuesday, ahead of party conference season. The Lords hang about for a couple of extra days, rising on Thursday, but with a one line whip on both Monday and Tuesday, don’t expect to see the full cadre MPs around Westminster.


The Lib Dems kick off their party conference in Bournemouth on Saturday 23rd September. They would usually be followed by Labour a week later, but due to a “booking error”… (sure thing), Labour will conveniently take the coveted position of the last of the big three UK-wide party conferences in this pre-election year…


Keir Starmer will reportedly visit Paris next week for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, a supposed break in protocol by the French President, who usually only meets with leaders from European sister parties to his.


For those MPs in Westminster next week, the Government have tabled general debates on the UK automotive industry and UK export performance on Monday, before the traditional pre-recess “anything goes” debate on Tuesday.


Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch will be up in front of the chairperson-less Business and Trade Committee on Tuesday afternoon, to answer questions on the work of her department.


The Week in Stats 📉


> £14.5m – unpaid Congestion Charge by the US Embassy since 2003


7.7 million – number of people now on an NHS waiting list


1 – number of Labour politicians born in the last 100 years to win a general election (answer at the bottom of this ema…we’re joking) (h/t The FT)


86.9x – the alarming borrowing to income ratio of Spelthorne Council revealed this week


8.1% – annual growth rate of regular private sector pay in July 2023


74 – number of MPs so far confirmed standing down or deselected at the next General Election


Other Political News 📰


The Ministry of Justice launched an independent investigation into Daniel Khalife’s escape from HMP Wandsworth. The investigation will consider whether the relevant protocols were in place, the categorisation of the terror suspect and the prison’s security measures. It comes as Prisons Minister Damian Hinds revealed that on the day Khalife escaped from the prison’s kitchen, 80 prison officers didn’t turn up for their shift. Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has appointed Keith Bristow, former Director General of the National Crime Agency, to carry out the investigation, stating that he has asked for the findings promptly.


£200m of new funding has been announced to boost resilience in the NHS this winter. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay met with clinical leaders and NHS chiefs to ‘drive forward planning to ease pressures in urgent and emergency care while protecting waiting list targets this winter.’ Alongside this, £40m is being invested to improve social care capacity, strengthen admission avoidance services and boost discharge rates.


One of the largest Government support packages in history was agreed with Tata Steel. The proposed joint investment package will secure a sustainable future for steelmaking in Port Talbot, modernise production of greener steel and protect skilled jobs, subject to consultation and regulatory approvals. Tata Steel is expected to invest £1.25bn, with a Government grant worth up to £500m. This would replace the existing coal-powered blast furnaces with a new Electric Arc Furnace and reduce the UK’s entire carbon emissions by around 1.5% as a result.


200 international delegates headed to Belfast for the Northern Ireland Investment Summit. Hosted by the Department for Business and Trade, the Northern Ireland Office and Invest NI, the Summit sought to encourage investment in Northern Ireland by showcasing companies and opportunities in its sectors of expertise. Industry-led sessions focused on advanced manufacturing and engineering, technology, financial and professional services, the green economy, and the life and health sciences sector. Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch addressed the Summit, urging investors to become a part of the “incredible future” ahead for NI.


The Government is set to ban American Bully XL dogs by the end of the year. It follows a recent spate of attacks on members of the public by the breed, which has resulted in at least one death. In a video statement, the Prime Minister said they are a “danger to our communities” and explained they will first need to be defined as a breed but will then banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act.


Around the World 🌍


World leaders convened in India for the G20 summit over the weekend. Throughout the meeting, the African Union was formally accepted as a permanent member to the group; leaders agreed to slow down the use of coal power (though made no tangible climate goals); plans for rail and port links between the Middle East and South Asia were announced; and a statement on Russia and Ukraine was released. The statement, which condemned Moscow for its “war in Ukraine” sparked controversy from both nations, as Ukraine stated it was “nothing to be proud of”, highlighting that it refers to the violence as the war ‘in’ not ‘against’ Ukraine, whilst Russia noted it was a “step in the right direction”, compared to the stronger language used in last year’s statement.


In what was most likely impossible in previous decades, President Joe Biden signed a new deal with Vietnam, in a move which he has denied is an attempt to curb China’s international influence. In a visit to Hanoi, Biden signed the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Vietnam, the highest level of diplomatic ties that Vietnam affords, meaning that the US will join China, Russia, India and South Korea, putting their relationship with Vietnam at the same high level. Speaking of the new ties, Biden stated the new partnership was about “generating economic growth and stability”, adding “I want to see China to succeed economically, but I want to see them succeed by the rules.”


Back in the States meanwhile, the Republicans announced they would open an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy announced it would focus on "allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption" by the President – most likely a reference to Biden’s relationship to and knowledge of his son Hunter’s past business dealings. The Republicans have been investigating President Biden since they won control of the House and have so far failed to find any serious evidence of wrongdoing.


Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin met to discuss the possibility of military collaboration on Wednesday, as Mr Kim arrived in Russia. Whilst no formal plans were set in stone, Putin hinted at the possibility of Russia helping North Korea build satellites, whilst Kim Jong Un stated that Russia “has risen to a sacred fight to protect its sovereignty and security against the hegemonic forces”, referring to the country’s invasion of Ukraine


China named a new ambassador to Afghanistan, the first country to do so since the Taliban’s takeover in 2021. In a statement announcing the appointment of Zhao Xing into the role, China’s Foreign Ministry said it will ‘continue advancing dialogue and cooperation’ with Afghanistan and that Xing’s appointment is part of a normal rotation in the Ministry. The appointment comes as the UN rights chief on Tuesday accused the Taliban of a ‘shocking level of oppression’ against women and girls.


Egypt condemned Ethiopia after it announced that it has filled the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile, calling the move illegal. Both Egypt and Sudan have repeatedly stressed that Ethiopia’s filling of the Dam will impact their supply of Nile water, and asked Ethiopia to pause the project until an agreement was reached. Ethiopia denies that the supply of water in the Nile will be affected.


Protests continued in Israel as Supreme Court members began hearing petitions against a legal amendment limiting their own power. Both left and right wing activists gathered outside the Court building on Tuesday, in a hearing where Supreme Court members are essentially deciding their own powers to rule. This week marked the opening of the hearing, though the decision on the clause could take months to be made.


In Parliament 🏛


The ongoing conflict in Ukraine was the subject of Monday’s business in the Commons with MPs on all sides condemning Putin’s invasion and debating the UK’s ongoing levels of support to assist Ukrainian forces in repelling Russian troops.


The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill returned to the Lords for consideration of Commons amendments before returning back to the Commons where the new non-Government amendments were rejected. In classic end of Parliamentary session stuff, the Bill will whizz back to the Lords after recess where they can have another go. Expect this same back and forth to happen on a series of Bills, right up to the King’s Speech if needed.


The Online Safety Bill returned to the Commons for consideration of Lords amendments. Campaigners and MPs have argued there are still gaps in the legislation but 18 months after its first reading, the mammoth bill looks like it is set to finally complete its journey through Parliament as early as next week.


The Energy Bill returned to the Lords for consideration of the amendments made during its passage in the Commons, and will return to the Commons after the conference recess.


The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill caused a stir in the Lords this week when peers voted against the Government’s plans on nutrient neutrality in what should have been its final day of report stage… before another day’s debate was added next week (see above).

The links between football and dementia, and support for bereaved children, were the subjects of this week’s traditional backbench business debates in the Commons.


The Northern Ireland Budget (No.2) Bill, authorising the Budget for use by departments in Northern Ireland, in the absence of an Executive, held all its Lords stages in one sitting on Thursday and now awaits Royal Assent.


Committee Corridor 📜


The UK’s diminished air capability has left it dangerously exposed, so argues the Defence Committee in a report out this week. The report added that there are serious questions as to whether the UK’s diminished combat air fleet can successfully deter and defend against enemy aggression in the face of what the MOD has described as “the greatest threat to the open international order in decades”.


A lack of digital expertise means Whitehall is unable to genuinely transform its services, the Public Accounts Committee concluded in its first report out this week. The report argues that digital skills shortages in the civil service are likely to see increased risks and costs to Government, with Government continuing to run its services on ageing legacy systems.


The resetting of failing major programmes by Whitehall is made more difficult by a lack of guidance and structure from Government, so concludes the Public Accounts Committee in its second report of the week, which calls on the Government to get better at learning from and recognising the value of resets.


The Office for Students has poor relations with providers and students, a controlling and arbitrary approach to regulation, and lacks independence from the Government, according to a damning new report by the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee.


More needs to be done to promote Scotland internationally, so argues the Scottish Affairs Committee in its report out this week, which criticises the over-use of Scottish associations such as tartan, whisky and golf by the Government. The report did conclude that the UK Government’s larger international footprint has enabled Scotland’s interests to reach a wider audience than Scottish Government bodies.


The Government must bring forward a Transport Bill in the next parliamentary session to update regulations around self-driving cars, to tackle concerns about safety and security, dilemmas over legal liability, as well as infrastructure that will be needed to accommodate their introduction, so argues the Transport Committee’s latest report.


Governance changes are required at British International Investment amid concerns over fraud and social and environmental harm, the International Development Committee has concluded in the final committee report off the week.


Key Movements 🔁


Tobias Ellwood resigned as Chair of the Defence Select Committee shortly before he was due to face a vote of no confidence tabled by his fellow members of the Committee this week. Nominations for the next chair of the Committee, who by convention will need to be a Conservative, will likely start flooding in next week.


Angela Eagle and Andy McDonald have so far been nominated for election as Chair of the Business and Trade Committee. Due to the conference recess, nominations don’t close for another 4.5 weeks.


Dan Rosenfield, Boris Johnson’s former Chief of Staff at 10 Downing Street, has been introduced to the House of Lords as a non-affiliated peer, reportedly due to his work outside Parliament, much to the ire of the former Prime Minister’s supporters.


Stephen Hammond MP announced he will not be seeking re-election as the MP for Wimbledon at the next election after 19 years in the role.


Dr Dave Smith has been appointed as the UK’s National Technology Adviser.


Stephen Parkinson has been appointed the new Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service.


Peter Sheridan has been appointed Commissioner for Investigations designate of the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.


Jonathan Bewes has been appointed Non-Executive Director of the Bank of England, and will chair the Audit and Risk Committee.


This Week’s Polls 📊


Over half of Britons think that roads, schools, hospitals, and other public buildings are most in need of improvement, according to Ipsos’ latest poll. 54% believe that roads are in the most need of improvements, followed by schools and hospitals (53%), housing (44%) and water supply and sewers (43%).


Two thirds of the public are dissatisfied with the Government’s way of dealing with immigration, Ipsos also report, the highest level since the 2016 referendum. Concerningly for the Prime Minister, only 22% of Conservative voters are satisfied with the Government’s handling of the issue.


Support for independence stands at 47% among Scots, finds Survation’s latest poll. It also suggests that the SNP’s lead over Labour has continued to narrow, standing at just 3 points ahead.


Think-Tanking 💭


The Institute for Government released a report that outlines and cautions governmental action in delivering policy to reduce regional inequality within the ‘levelling up’ pledge.


Demos issued a report calling on policymakers to focus on enabling over 50s, who entered retirement during the pandemic prematurely, back to work.


The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report looking at avoidable disputes between HMRC and businesses, and the delays that occur in their enquiries.


The Resolution Foundation published a report on investigating attitudes towards intergenerational inequalities in economic wellbeing, and a report setting out a strategy for productivity growth in Birmingham.


RUSI published a paper proposing a series of improvements to help modernise the UK’s Defence training.


The Centre for European Reform published a report setting out how Europe can make the most of AI.


The Institute of Economic Affairs published a report asking whether the ‘transgender ideology’ is a threat to liberal values.


Policy Exchange published research on the wide disparity in financial support for apprentices across the country.


The IPPR published a report discussing why home retrofitting policies are failing to stimulate the market and attract more interest, and a report setting out a 10 point plan for the future of health and care in the UK.


You’ve Got to Laugh 😂


Under Lord Musk’s esteemed leadership, Twitter/X has slowly implemented paywalls across its service, including to access ‘Premium’, which among other attractions bestows the honour of being ‘verified’. This week it was reported that Andrew Bridgen, who was kicked out of the Conservative Party for comparing deaths from Covid vaccines to the Holocaust, has claimed X Premium on his expenses, presumably so that he can boost questionable pseudoscience to a wider audience. True to form, in response to the revelation Bridgen said the media should ‘investigate the excess deaths’ instead of him…


In lighter and far more impressive news, please enjoy this clip of the ever-spritely 82 year old Senator Bernie Sanders demonstrating the reflexes of a cat and showing up his grandson in the process.

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