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Ceasefire Rift | AI Spy China | Prorogation Vacation

Israel’s response to Hamas’ 7th October terrorist attack and the increasing death toll in Gaza have continued to drive the political agenda in the UK this week, with Labour leader Keir Starmer facing a backlash from some in his party for refusing to call for a ceasefire. Meanwhile, after just 10 days of Government business, Parliament is off again, prorogued ahead of the King’s Speech in a little over a week’s time…

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 conflict in Israel and Gaza continued to dominate headlines this week. With intensive air strikes by Israel resulting in an ever-increasing death toll and a fear of escalation giving many MPs the jitters, the Prime Minster came before Parliament again to give an update. He stated there had been “three abiding messages” from his meetings with regional leaders last week: that “we must continue working together to get more humanitarian support into Gaza”; that it was a time for “quiet and dogged diplomacy”, not “hyperbole and simplistic solutions”; and that there was an intense need to “invest more deeply in regional stability and in the two-state solution”. However, this week the focus was not on the PM, but Keir Starmer. After his LBC interview two weeks ago, in which he said Israel 'has the right' to withhold power and water from Gaza, sparked heavy criticism from some on his backbenches, he has come under increasing pressure from both the grassroots and his parliamentary party to take a firmer stand on the civilian death toll in Gaza and demand a ceasefire. It is believed that more than 20 Labour councillors have now quit in protest at the party’s position, and another 250 signed a letter to Starmer calling for an ‘immediate ceasefire’. Parliamentarians have also broken cover, with over a quarter of Labour MPs currently either having called for a ceasefire or signed a motion to that effect. In the biggest blow to his authority, today Mayor of London Sadiq Khan followed suit. Alongside humanitarian concerns, MPs are fearful the party’s position will damage their relationship with Muslim voters. Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting admitted that people had been "upset and hurt" about Labour’s initial reaction, and Starmer (alongside the Government) has now called for a ‘humanitarian pause’ (just don’t call it a temporary ceasefire).

The Terminator could be coming – but don’t let that keep you up at night is what Rishi Sunak sought to argue in a major speech yesterday. While issuing dire warnings of the risk that "humanity could lose control of AI completely" and see it develop chemical or biological weapons of its own accord, the PM highlighted his desire to see the UK seize every opportunity to benefit from the AI and declared that he looked to the future with "optimism and hope". The speech was delivered ahead of the PM’s pet project of Global AI Safety Summit next week, to be held at Bletchley Park, which he hopes will result in a globally binding agreement on AI safety and development and/or boost his poll numbers and international standing. The summit is increasingly looking like the party no one wants to attend, however, with Italy’s Giorgia Meloni the only confirmed national head of state going (although European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will also be there), while France’s Macron, Canada’s Trudeau and Germany’s Scholz have all swerved the invite. Representatives from China will attend, a move which esteemed foreign policy afficionado Liz Truss has condemned.

Parliament entered a frenzy of lawmaking before it prorogued ahead of the King’s Speech and the State Opening of Parliament on 7 November. With the 2022-23 Parliamentary session ending yesterday, the Government moved to slam through the Bills that can’t be ‘carried over’ into the next Parliamentary session. Seven Acts received Royal Assent and were passed into law, including hefty legislation such as the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act and the Online Safety Act (see below for a full list). A result of prorogation means that MPs have only sat for 18.5 days in the last three months…nice work if you can get it.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

Parliament is now in prorogation until the State Opening on 7 November, which marks the formal start of the parliamentary year and sets out the Government’s agenda for the 2023-24 session, outlining proposed policies and legislation. This year, His Majesty the King will open Parliament for the first time as monarch.

The AI Safety Summit will take place on 1-2 November at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. Bringing together international governments, leading AI companies and civil society groups, the summit will consider the risks of AI, especially at the frontier of development, and discuss how they can be mitigated through internationally coordinated action. The two-day agenda can be viewed here.

The Week in Stats 📉

4.2% – Unemployment rate in Q3 of 2023, up slightly on both the last quarter, and the last comparable three months before COVID.

8.1% – Annual growth in employee average total pay (including bonuses) in Q3 of 2023.

1,300% – Increase in the number of online messages sent between 2012 and 2022, according to Ofcom’s latest research.

76% – Decrease in the number of text messages sent between 2012 and 2022.

78 – MPs who have announced they will not be standing again at the next General Election (h/t Institute for Government for their handy infographic)

1.1m – Children living in long-term workless households in 2022, down 0.1% on 2021.

101.2% – UK general government gross debt as a percentage of GDP… or £2.6tn in cash terms…

9/10 – England’s current position in the Cricket World Cup table, after three back-to-back losses.

Other Political News 📰

In a not-so-surprising move, the Government has managed to ban no-fault evictions, with a caveat that indefinitely delays them until the court system is reformed. The Conservative Party has been promising to deliver the ban since their manifesto in 2019, which was planned to come into fruition through the Renters (Reform) Bill. However, in the Government’s response to a recommendation from the Housing Committee, they stated this week that implementation of the new system will not begin until there is sufficient progress to improve the courts and “will not proceed with the abolition of section 21, until reforms to the justice system are in place”. Labour MPs have already begun to poke holes into this argument stating the Government has had 5 years to reform the system in the lead up to the Bill.

Fifty hotels are set to close to asylum seekers, the Immigration Minister announced. In a statement to the House of Commons, Robert Jentick argued that after increasing funding for local councils, reforming management of the existing estate, and increasing the amount of dispersed accommodation, the Government has avoided the need for a “further of 72 hotels”. As a result, the Government will be closing the first asylum hotels with the process set to be completed by the end of January. He also alluded to the expectation of more closures to come.

Back from the mini-budget, the FCA and PRA have announced plans to scrap the cap on bankers’ bonuses. Ideas to scrap the EU-era rule were first proposed during Liz Truss’ Government last year. After an almost four-month consultation and six-month deliberation period, the FCA and PRA have concluded that the cap had ‘unintended consequences’. The plan will come into effect on 31 October 2023.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves has been accused of plagiarism in her book, The Women Who Made Modern Economics. According to reports in the Financial Times, passages in the book were found to match material from various websites, including Wikipedia; although she did give the website an acknowledgement pre-emptively during a book launch event stating that her facts and details of the women highlighted “came from a range of sources”, that included books, interviews, articles, and, of course, Wikipedia. Reeves took accountability for the incident in a BBC interview, saying “I'm the author of that book, I hold my hands up and [say], I should have done better.” Obviously, this provided Conservative MPs with plenty of comedic material, with Greg Hands calling her a “copy and paste shadow chancellor”.

Crispin Blunt MP has come forward as the MP who was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of rape and the possession of controlled substances. In a post on X, the senior MP called the arrest ‘unnecessary’ and is ‘confident’ that the investigation will ‘end without charge’. He stated that he has been interviewed twice by the police, first in relation to alleged extortion, and the second 'under caution' following the arrest. He has since had the whip suspended and is now sitting as an independent.

Around the World 🌍

China’s Defence Minister Li Shangfu was officially sacked from his position, two months after he disappeared from public life. The move follows the removal of other key figures in President Xi’s team, including the Foreign Secretary in July. It is not yet known who will replace Shangfu and a reason for his removal has not been given by the Government.

The first round of Argentina’s Presidential Elections saw Economy Minister Sergio Massa come out triumphant, beating far-right Javier Milei, who won the primaries. However, Massa fell short of the 45% needed to be victorious, achieving around 36% of the votes, meaning a final stand-off between the two will happen on 19 November.

Canada warned it has detected a disinformation campaign, linked to China, featuring a bot network leaving propaganda messages and conspiracy theories on social media accounts of top politicians, including President Trudeau. The ‘Spamouflage’ campaign allegedly took place in August and September, though the Chinese Embassy in Canada denied the claims.

The US undertook air strikes against two weapons and ammunition storage facilities in eastern Syria, linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Network. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Auston released a statement confirming the strikes were ordered by President Biden as “narrowly tailored in self-defense” and are a response to “a series of ongoing and mostly unsuccessful attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed militia groups”.

Back in the US, Mike Johnson was named as the new Speaker of the House, after several unsuccessful candidates, winning 220 votes in the lower Chamber. A Trump ally, the Louisiana lawmaker is known for his evangelical views, including defending bans on same sex marriages, calling for schools to ban discussions of gender identity and opposing abortion (NB: he referred to the overturning of Roe V Wade as a “great, joyous occasion”).

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsottir will join a strike over the gender pay gap on Tuesday, as women and non-binary people take part in a nationwide walkout. Known as a kvennafrí, or ‘women’s day off’, the strike will be the first of its kind to happen since 1975, protesting the gender pay gap specifically. Women in the country are being encouraged to not do any paid or unpaid work on the strike day, including undertaking domestic tasks.

Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that the legal clause mandating sterilisation of transgender people before they can officially change gender is unconstitutional, following a petition filed by a transgender women calling to change the law. Currently, Japanese law states that people who want to change gender officially must be diagnosed with gender dysphoria; be at least 18; not be married or have underaged children; have genital organs that resemble those of the opposite gender; and have no reproductive glands or ones that have permanently lost their function. A ruling on the other requirements was not made at the Supreme Court. At present, Japan is only 1 of 18 countries mandating sterilisation surgery.

Highlights from Parliament 🏛

With the prorogation of Parliament yesterday, a number of Bills were given Royal Assent this week:

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Act set in place new laws to speed up the planning system, hold developers to account, cut bureaucracy, and encourage more councils to put plans in place to enable the building of new homes. It also set out to deliver “revitalised” high streets and town centres, with better infrastructure and transport links.

The Online Safety Act put rules into place to make children and adults safer online. The Act will place a legal responsibility on tech companies to prevent and rapidly remove illegal content, as well as to stop children viewing material that is harmful to them. Failure to comply will lead to significant fines. The passage of this Act comes after the Government faced criticism for “watering down” protections, by removing provisions against so-called “legal but harmful”.

The Energy Act was passed to help ensure energy is affordable for households and businesses, and to make the UK more energy independent. Measures set out will unlock private investment in energy infrastructure, accelerate development of offshore wind, and help deliver net zero commitments.

The Procurement Act will provide for simpler procurement processes to support small businesses and innovation, and protection against national security risks in public contracts. The new regime, which is expected to come into force in October 2024, will also help SMEs secure a greater share of yearly expenditure.

The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act established robust laws to “fight fraud, counter corruption and bolster legitimate business.” The Act will give: UK authorities powers to proactively target organised criminals, Companies House enhanced abilities to remove fraudulent organisations from the company register, and law enforcement agencies greater powers to seize, freeze and recover cryptoassets.

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act made provisions to introduce a specific duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees. After back and forth between the two Houses, however, it was agreed that employers would no longer be liable for the harassment of their employees by third parties.

The Non-Domestic Rating Act introduced a range of minor amendments to business rates, including revaluations to take place every three years rather than five.

Also on the agenda this week was the second reading of the Renters (Reform) Bill, which seeks to change the law about rented homes including abolishing fixed term assured tenancies and assured shorthold tenancies, and imposing obligations on landlords in relation to rented home and temporary and supported accommodation. Importantly, the Bill proposes the abolition of “no fault” evictions under section 21 of the Housing Act. With this Bill not receiving Royal Assent during this Parliament’s session, it will be carried over to the next session via a continuation motion and will proceed to the Committee Stage.

Committee Corridor 📜

There are wide regional variations in ambulance response times and not enough is being done to tackle delayed hospital discharges, so argues the Public Accounts Committee in a report out this week. The report further warns that not enough is being done to tackle delayed discharges, with beds unable to be released for new patients.

Public debate on sentencing is “stuck in a dysfunctional and reactive cycle” the Justice Committee has warned in its latest report, which has called on Government and Parliament to identify where there may be genuine and sustained gaps between sentencing policy and public opinion.

Cabinet Office officials must ensure that the data collected in the Civil Service People Survey is made equally and promptly available to all, a report by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has stated this week, following concerns raised about the quality and timeliness of the release of survey data in recent years.  

China poses a “long-term and strategic threat… to the rules-based international order”, the Defence Committee has concluded in its final report before prorogation. The report calls on the MOD to “pursue closer cooperation with partners, including the US and France, and regional allies, to prepare for a range of actions by China against Taiwan”, noting that “the UK Government’s future strategy for the Indo-Pacific is still unclear”.

The Government should publish more information about the structural and functional reform of the UK Mission to the European Union, the European Scrutiny Committee has concluded in its report out this week, which adds that more structured communication is also required between the UK Government and the devolved nations.

A lack of reform by Public Service Broadcasters would lead to a ‘digital extinction’ for the Welsh culture and language, the Welsh Affairs Committee has concluded in its latest report, which stresses the importance of levelling the playing field between PSBs and streaming companies.

The Home Office’s plans to clear the asylum backlog could lead to serious consequences for vulnerable people, so argues the Public Accounts Committee in its final report of the parliamentary session, which lays out the ‘unacceptable costs of an inefficient system, a lack of safeguards for vulnerable people, and greater risk of flawed decisions on people’s asylum claims.’

Key Movements 🔁

John Baron MP revealed that he would be standing down as the MP for Basildon and Billericay at the next General Election, having been an MP since 2001.

Sarah Hodgetts has been appointed as the new Interim Director of the Geospatial Commission.

Sarah Munro KC will lead the public inquiry into the wrongful conviction of Andrew Malkinson, who spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit before his conviction was overturned earlier this year.

Gordon Milligan has been named as the new Chair of National Museums Northern Ireland.

Andy Samuel has been made a Non-Executive Director to the Met Office Board.

This Week’s Polls 📊

43% of Brits lack confidence in the ability of current and future governments to regulate the use of AI, finds a YouGov survey ahead of next week’s AI Safety Summit. 30% of respondents said they had no confidence at all, compared to an optimistic minority of 2% who said they had a great deal of confidence.

However, the economy and inflation remain the country’s biggest concerns, according to the latest Ipsos poll. Concern about the NHS has also increased, with almost a third naming it as an important issue for the country, although concern is notably higher among Labour supporters compared with Conservatives (37% v 21%). Immigration remains the fourth biggest issue followed by housing.

Politicians also remain the world’s least trusted profession, with only 14% of people across 31 countries saying they consider them to be trustworthy. New polling shows that trust is highest in India at 33%, followed by Singapore at 30%, and is lowest in Argentina at just 6%.

Think-Tanking 💭

The IPPR published a report on artificial intelligence and public value creation, assessing potential structural harms to the economy AI could cause and proposing the establishment of an Advanced AI Monitoring Hub.

Policy Exchange published a report urging the Government not to cede control of the Chagos Islands.

Reform published a report setting out proposals to realise a better future for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, a report on hidden waiting lists in the NHS, and a report on delivering policy in Government.

The Henry Jackson Society published a report on the role of natural gas in the Energy Trilemma, focusing specifically on the situation in the UK.

The IISS published a report on ‘radical defence decarbonisation’, suggesting ways to catalyse research and development and address challenges around defence priorities and resourcing.

The Resolution Foundation published a report on mobilising private investment for public policy priorities, a report on the boost higher education can bring to individuals, the wider economy and society, and a report on the development of a skills strategy for the most strategically important sectors for the UK.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report investigating the potential impacts of the Government’s proposed reforms to the Work Capability Assessment.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

It’s not often we write about someone deliberately being funny in this section, but the Prime Minister himself brought laughter all round the House of Commons during PMQs this week, when he welcomed Alistair Strathern as the new (Labour) MP for Mid Bedfordshire, joking that Strathern “may actually support me a little bit more” than his predecessor, Nadine Dorries. Strathern could be seen chuckling to the joke, showing that it’s not always purely partisan in the House of Commons.

Spare a thought for former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who, according to media reports, was left with two broken ribs and presumably a seriously bruised ego in the latest episode of Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins due to air on Sunday. In the sixth episode of the series, former Love Island contestant Teddy Soares didn’t pull any punches in a fight with the Independent MP for West Suffolk, which also sees Hancock given an expletive-ridden dressing down from an interrogator, whilst dressed just in his pants. Happy Friday everyone.


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