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Back to Business | Stormont Brake Over | Vape'd Crusader

After two years of public wrangling and political stalemate, the Northern Ireland Executive is finally returning, to the relief of politicians across the spectrum. It’s been a week and a half of political developments… and with the Northern Ireland Assembly sitting tomorrow – spare a thought for your favourite political monitoring experts…

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 🚨

The Northern Ireland Assembly is due to convene tomorrow to restore the devolved Administration after a 729-day hiatus. The long-awaited news came after the DUP ended its two year boycott which emerged as a result of concerns with post-Brexit trade arrangements and after Sinn Fein won the most seats at the 2021 election. So, why is the boycott ending now? There have been many attempts to alleviate the complications Brexit posed on Northern Ireland – the only nation of the UK to share a land border with an EU member, Ireland. The Northern Ireland Protocol was the original agreement made as part of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, followed by the Windsor Framework in 2023, both of which the DUP did not support. The DUP has been a strong advocate of removing the NI protocol and came up with 7 tests for any proposed agreements ‘to determine whether they respect Northern Ireland’s position as part of the UK.’ After days of wrangling with its Executive Committee at the start of the week, DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP announced that it had found a path back to restoring the Executive. Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris MP delivered a ministerial statement where he recognised that the “protocol did not deliver to the people of Northern Ireland the same freedoms that leaving the European Union delivered for the rest of the United Kingdom,” and announced the Government’s new agreement entitled Safeguarding the Union. The agreement aims to reduce checks and paperwork for goods moving between the UK and Northern Ireland and seemingly passes the DUP’s 7 tests. Northern Ireland party leaders are meeting today to discuss upcoming challenges and issues that will face the Executive and tomorrow the Assembly will meet and select a Speaker, First Minister and Deputy First Minister, with Michelle O’Neill set to become the first Sinn Féin member to lead the Executive since its formation.

Labour leader Keir Starmer hosted the party’s Business Conference on Thursday, stating that he wants a partnership model with business if Labour wins the next general election. He asserted that to “start getting things done” there will be new expectations on business, outlining that positive changes in Britain cannot come from a change in Government alone. Starmer was joined by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves who stressed that business and Government “must work together like never before”, as she announced that Labour will cap corporation tax rates at 25% for the duration of the next Parliament and committed to publish a “roadmap for business taxation” within six months of taking office. The conference also featured the launch of the party’s business strategy called ‘Labour’s Business Partnership for Growth’, which drew on another recently published plan ‘for Government business relations to power our economy and society’. The strategy pledges to set up a Council for Economic Growth to give business a voice in macroeconomic policy, create an Industrial Strategy Council to include experts from business, set up a British Infrastructure Council so key investors can engage with the strategic investments the country needs, and commits to a single Budget in November so businesses can be ready when new changes are introduced. Labour’s vision for the financial services sector was also high on the agenda as the party published its Financial Services Review. Based on six policy priorities, the report argues that Labour’s mission to secure the highest sustained growth in the G7 will only be achieved by championing the UK’s role as a global leader in financial services. Starmer concluded the conference by vowing to be a “breath of fresh air” for business, beating Sunak to the ‘party of business’ crown this week.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

In the Commons – A limited week of legislative agenda next week ahead of Recess beginning at the close of Thursday’s sitting. The Finance Bill will have its remaining stages on Monday, and backbench business debates will take place on Thursday on the topics of National HIV Testing Week and the management culture of the Post Office.

In the Lords – A significant more amount of scrutiny will be undertaken by Peers next week, with the Victims and Prisoners Bill, the Pedicabs (London) Bill, the Automated Vehicles Bill, and the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill all going through various stages.

Committee Corridor – Housing Secretary Michael Gove, Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho and Science Secretary Michelle Donelan are all giving evidence to Select Committees next week on their respective portfolios, while the Anti-Slavery Commissioner will give evidence on her work to the Home Affairs Committee.

TBC – Assuming tomorrow goes smoothly, the Northern Ireland Assembly is expected to sit next week, for the first full week’s business since March 2021.

The Immigration Health Surcharge is being increased by 66% to £1,035 from Tuesday.

The Week in Stats 📉

6.6 million – predicted population growth in the UK between 2021 to 2036, according to new ONS data.

25% – approximate number of restraining orders that ere breached in 2021, as set out in Policing Minister Chris Philp MP’s letter to Jess Phillips MP.

46% – households that will pay a higher council tax this year than Buckingham Palace, accord to data from The Economist.

1 – credit card’s worth of microplastics inhaled by the average person each week, according to a new study.

100% – success rate for the men’s England Rugby team when facing Italy at the Six Nations (the two will face each other again on Saturday as the tournament starts this weekend).

24 months – since Northern Ireland had a functioning Executive at Stormont.

4 – years since Britain officially left the EU.

15 – times Iceland employee Phil from Warrington was mentioned at this week’s PMQs.

£1000 – how much Phil from Warrington’s monthly mortgage payment is increasing by.

Other Political News 📰

Disposable vapes will be banned in the UK under plans announced by the Prime Minister on Monday as part of Government strategy to tackle the rise in youth vaping. As part of the package, new powers will be introduced to restrict flavours which are specifically marketed at children and ensure that manufacturers produce plainer, less visually appealing packaging. The powers will also allow the Government to change how vapes are displayed in shops, moving them out of sight of children and away from products that appeal to them, such as sweets. Downing Street also announced that it will bring in new fines for shops in England and Wales that sell vapes illegally to children.

A byelection will take place in the Rochdale on 29th February, after the constituency’s MP, Sir Tony Lloyd, passed away in January. All three major parties have now selected their candidates, with Labour’s candidate Cllr Azhar Ali (the current leader of the Labour Group on Lancashire County Council) almost certain to win given Labour’s 9,668 majority at the 2019 election. Beyond the mainstream – serial election candidate and one-time Big Brother contestant George Galloway will be standing for the Workers Party, and former Rochdale Labour MP Simon Danczuk (disowned by the Labour Party in 2017 for sending explicit messages to a 17 year old) is standing for the Reform Party.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron suggested the UK is closer to formally recognising the Palestinian state, in a speech to an event in Parliament this week, ahead of his fourth visit to the Middle East since taking up the role in November. In comments to the Conservative Middle East Council reception, he spoke of compromise and argued that the UK, “with allies, will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations.” His comments were met with backlash from a number of Conservative MPs, coming so soon after the 7th October attacks on Israel last year, but he was backed up by International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell MP in the Commons on Tuesday. The Foreign Secretary’s visit to Oman and Lebanon followed visits last week to Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Qatar and Turkey. During his visit he called for stability over ongoing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and an immediate pause in the conflict in Gaza.

Interest rates remined unchanged this week after the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee voted to leave the Bank Rate at 5.25%, where it has been fixed since August last year. Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt welcomed the decision, stating that it demonstrated that “mortgage interest rates appear to have peaked” adding that “inflation is falling dramatically faster than most people predicted”, but cautiously noted that inflation “may tick up a little bit later this month”.

A Government overhaul of social housing rules will aim to 'crack down on rule breakers', the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced this week, with those who 'commit anti-social behaviour to face a ban of up to five years.' The new measures will feature a three-strikes policy, but would also prioritise households who have a close connection to the UK and their local area, by requiring applicants to demonstrate they have had a connection to the UK for at least 10 years, and a connection to the local area for at least two.

A week of train strikes and overtime bans have seen severe disruption across the rail network this week, with further strikes on a number of rail lines continuing on Saturday. Train operators have so far not used new minimum service levels powers which the Government legislated for last year and came into effect in December. The powers would force workers to ensure 40% of services run as normal during a strike; however the ASLEF union has threatened further strike action if the laws are used.

Around the World 🌍

Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan was sentenced to a total of 14 years in jail in two rulings handed down in as many days. He and his wife were convicted of illegally profiting from state gifts, just a week before a general election in which he is barred from standing. He is already serving a three-year term for corruption, and argues that all the cases against him are politically motivated. Pakistan’s general election takes place on 8 February, with former three-time PM Nawaz Sharif (himself having served a jail sentence having lost power) expected to win.

Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger announced their intention to leave the Economic Community of West African States. The three states had been suspended from the bloc when the military seized power in coups in 2021, 2022 and 2023 respectively, with relations deteriorating further as the bloc demanded they return to civilian rule. All three are founding members of ECOWAS, which was established in 1975.

The EU agreed a €50bn aid package for Ukraine, after Hungary suspended its opposition to the deal. The funding is not military support and will be used to maintain Ukraine’s domestic economy and keep its public sector afloat. Hard-right Hungarian PM Victor Orban, Russia’s closest ally in the EU, had previously vetoed the package in December, with the Financial Times reporting this week the EU had prepared plans to shut off funding to Hungary and spark a run on its currency if he continued his opposition.

Three US soldiers were killed in a drone attack in Jordan by Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, the first US fatalities in the Middle East since the war in Gaza began. Iran denied any role in the attack, even though it is believed the drone was manufactured in Iran. President Biden subsequently approved plans for a series of strikes on Iranian targets across Syria and Iraq, but has faced pressure from Republicans to strike Iran directly.

Highlights from Parliament 🏛

The Media Bill passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons. The Bill, which aims to promote public service broadcasting and UK-produced content has now been passed to the House of Lords to continue its progress towards the statute book.

The Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill completed its Second Reading in the House of Commons. The Bill will enable the implementation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Windsor Framework (Constitutional Status of Northern Ireland) Regulations and The Windsor Framework (UK Internal Market and Unfettered Access) Regulations were approved in the House of Commons, with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris arguing the regulations were part of a package that would “safeguard and durably strengthen Northern Ireland’s integral place in the Union and the UK’s internal market”.

In the House of Lords, the controversial Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill passed its Second Reading; the Pedicabs (London) Bill finished its Report Stage; the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill was passed; and the Victims and Prisoners Bill continued its Committee Stage.

Committee Corridor 📜

It’s been a bumper week of reports on Committee Corridor. Strap in whilst we rattle through them…

Women in the music industry face “endemic” misogyny, according to the Women and Equalities Committee’s latest report. It reveals that despite increases in representation, women encounter limitations in opportunity, a lack pf support and persistent unequal pay, all issues which are intensified for women of colour. It also laid bare a “boys’ club” where sexual harassment and abuse is common, and non-reporting of such incidents is high with many victims finding their career ends if they do speak out.

The “silent killer” of heatwaves could claim up to 10,000 lives annually in the UK without concerted action warned the Environmental Audit Committee. Following on from records revealing that 2023 was the world’s hottest year on record, the EAC’s latest report has raised serious concerns over the UK’s lack of preparedness, recommending measures to prioritise passive cooling and to deliver clear Government messaging on the risks of heat events, underpinned by a national strategy on heat resilience.

Ofsted and the Government must rebuild trust and make major changes to school inspections, according to the Education Committee, who raised concerns around the stress and anxiety experienced by school staff in the run up to and during Ofsted inspections. The report sets out a number of recommendations, including a review of Ofsted’s single-word judgements and greater support for school leaders.

The Government’s approach to Artificial Intelligence has become too narrow, argues a report from the Lords Communications and Digital Committee. It says that the Government are too focused on a narrow view of AI safety, and must adopt a more positive vision for LLMs (Large Language Models) to enable the UK to compete globally. If not, the UK risks missing out on epoch defining changes, as well as losing international influence and becoming strategically dependent on overseas tech firms for critical technology.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee have called for all treaties to be approved by a vote in the Commons in their report on the scrutiny of international agreements. It emphasises that current arrangements “do not deliver a constitutionally sufficient level of scrutiny” and argued that it is “untenable that there is no requirement for Parliament to approve treaties.” The Committee also proposed the establishment of two new Committees to sift and scrutinise international agreements.

The UK and EU should continue to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia for as long as it takes to reverse Putin’s aggression, argues the Lords European Affairs Committee. Its latest report examines the long-term impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for UK-EU relations and sets out recommendations to continue coordinated support for Ukraine.

The Government must tackle the £4 billion council funding gap, says a report published by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee this week report, or risk “severe impact” to council services. The report highlights systemic underfunding of local councils in England and calls on the next Government to reform council tax and the wider funding system for local authorities.

New EU rules on mobile phone designs could see Northern Ireland diverge from the UK, so says the European Scrutiny Committee’s latest report. It notes that “significant differences” could exist in the future between regulation in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, which it says would “not be acceptable” and would constitute “yet another example of the damage that current arrangements under the Windsor Framework are causing o the Union.”

Key Movements 🔁

15 CEOs have been appointed to the Prime Minister’s 2024 Business Council, to discuss and advise the Prime Minister on economic growth. The CEOs on this year’s Council come from companies such as BT, Rolls-Royce, ITV, Lloyds Banking Group and Greggs.

Baroness Philippa Stroud has been appointed Chair of the Low Pay Commission, replacing Bryan Sanderson, who has been Chair of the LPC since 2019.

Mike Freer MP announced he will not be standing again at the next General Election as the Conservative candidate in Finchley and Golders Green, after a series of threats to his personal safety led him to decide he could no longer put himself and his family in danger.

Bob Neill MP also announced he will be standing as the Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst (which is being split in two to form Bromley & Biggin Hill, and Eltham & Chislehurst)

Kate Osamor MP had the Labour whip suspended after using a post about Holocaust Memorial Day to argue genocide was taking place in Gaza.

Grace Nesbitt has been appointed the new Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Agricultural Wages Board.

Pat Ritchie has been confirmed as Chair of the Government Property Agency for a second term, extending her position by a further three years to 2027.

Charles Banner KC has had his tenure as Interim Chair of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee extended by a further six months whilst Defra completes an open competition for a new Chair.

This Week’s Polls 📊

Keir Starmer has opened up a clear lead over Rishi Sunak as the most capable Prime Minister, according to Ipsos’ latest polling. When asked which party leader would make the most capable PM, 39% of people chose the Labour leader whilst 26% chose the current PM, putting Starmer’s 13-point lead at the largest he has held over Sunak since he took office.

Most Britons think World War 3 is likely within the next 5-10 years, as new YouGov polling reveals that only 31% think another global conflict is unlikely within that timeframe. 59% of people also thought that nuclear weapons were likely to be used if WW3 did break out.

The majority of voters want criminal prosecutions over the Post Office ‘Horizon’ IT scandal, after Redfield & Wilton Strategies carried out a poll on the topic. With a new Bill going through Parliament to overturn the wrongful convictions of Post Office sub-postmasters and mistresses, and to provide financial compensation to the victims, 78% of the public have said they would support this legislation, with only 2% suggesting they would oppose it. However, as many as 68% think that had the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office not been aired, the Government’s response would not have been adequate. 63% of voters also revealed that they would support criminal prosecutions being brought against those who pursued sub-postmasters through the courts during the scandal.

Think-Tanking 💭

The Institute for Government published a report arguing that both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer should commit to a more transparent approach to government if they win the next general election.

The Resolution Foundation published a report analysing the impact of the two-child limit and the benefit cap and it’s Labour Market Outlook for the first three months of 2024.

RUSI published a report looking at how Allied maritime power can best contribute to competition with Russia.

New Local published a report calling for a renewed approach to local public service investment, through greater local collaboration, based around a shared understanding of population needs and community aspirations.

Policy Exchange published a report criticizing the government of Mauritius for attempting to criminalise UK sovereignty over the Chagos Islands.

The Institute of Economic Affairs published a paper on the economics of global catastrophic risks.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

It’s safe to say former Science Minister George Freeman MP didn’t have the best week… First he complained in a blog post that he was forced to quit as a Government Minister because he couldn’t afford his £2,000 per month mortgage on a £118,000 ministerial salary, and then accidentally sent a letter nominating him for a knighthood to a WhatsApp group of over 100 Tory MPs… not ideal.

Wondering what to buy your beloved for Valentine’s Day? Well look no further than the Conservative Party Shop. Why not celebrate the 14th February – the day the patron saint of love, beekeepers, epilepsy and the plague was martyred in the year AD 269 – with a Conservative Party tie, cufflinks, women’s scarf, or stylish ‘accessory bag’. In proof that capitalism is alive and well, Tory HQ hit send on a email this afternoon advising members that “by placing an order on the shop today, you’re not just getting an incredible gift for that special Tory. You’ll also be helping to fund our campaigns, deliver on your priorities and keep Keir out of Downing Street.” And who said romance is dead?


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