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Disorder! Disorder! | Trouble on the Horizon | Border Forced Out

Chaos in the Commons, calls for the speaker to resign, ministers in denial and public servants resigning… it all feels a bit 2016.

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 🚨

Lindsay Hoyle’s future as the House of Commons Speaker is in limbo as chaos erupted in the chamber on Wednesday during an SNP Opposition Day Debate calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Ahead of the debate, Labour shifted its position on the war by backing an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” and tabled an amendment to the SNP motion, with Keir Starmer urging the Speaker to have “the broadest possible debate.” The Government also put forward its own amendment calling for an “immediate humanitarian pause” as the Prime Minister said that calling for an immediate ceasefire, without a plan for a permanent solution, was “not in anyone’s interest.” By parliamentary convention, an opposition party amendment (which in this case was Labour’s) to a motion submitted by another party (the SNP) is not put to a vote when there is also a Government amendment. However, Hoyle selected both the Labour and Government amendments to the SNP’s motion, causing fury among MPs who accused him of making an “overly political decision”, given that Starmer was expected to face a mass rebellion had his amendment not been selected. This led to Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt stating that Hoyle had “undermined the confidence” of the House and announced the Conservatives would no longer take part in the proceedings, with both Conservative and SNP MPs walking out in protest. Amid the chaos of the Government withdrawing, a vote did eventually take place and Labour’s amendment to the SNP motion passed without objection. Hoyle later returned to the chamber to apologise, explaining that he took the decision to allow all sides to express their views due to concerns about the safety of MPs who have received personal threats. Despite the vote not affecting UK Government policy, 70 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion declaring they have no confidence in the Speaker. The Prime Minister has also described his decision to depart from convention as “very concerning” which raises further doubt as to how long Hoyle has left in the Speaker’s Chair. Here’s to hoping there’s less drama in the Commons on Monday…  

Meanwhile… Business and Trade Minister Kemi Badenoch found herself in hot water over the weekend after former Post Office Chair Henry Staunton gave an interview in which he claimed that he was told to stall compensation payments to Horizon victims to give the Government a low financial liability ahead of the imminent election. He also claimed that Badenoch had told him that someone had to take “the rap” for the situation when she asked him to step down. Badenoch took to X to dismiss Staunton’s claims, posting: “he has given an interview full of lies about our conversation during his dismissal,” and that she would be discussing the matter with Government lawyers. She added that his “lack of grip getting justice for postmasters” and the “serious concerns over his conduct” were the catalyst for asking him to step down. The following day, she delivered a ministerial statement on the matter, where she doubled down on her reasons for dismissing him and called his actions “a blatant attempt to seek revenge following dismissal.” She also revealed that an investigation was launched when Staunton was in the post regarding his conduct. The Business and Trade Department went into crisis-management overdrive, with Permanent Secretary Sarah Munby denying telling Staunton to slow down payments and the Department sharing the letter Munby sent to him asking him to focus his attention on reaching payment settlements with the victims. Later in the week, Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake also delivered a written statement to give an update on the Government’s response, stating that it aims to pass the legislation to dismiss all convictions in the scope of the scandal by the summer. Meanwhile, Keir Starmer asked Rishi Sunak during PMQs to repeat Badenoch’s allegation that Staunton was “lying”, leading Sunak to side-step the question, instead highlighting the Government's “unprecedented steps to ensure that victims of the Horizon scandal receive compensation as swiftly as possible”.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

The Rochdale by-election takes place next Thursday, with George Galloway currently looking like the favourite to win. With Labour and the Greens both having disowned their candidates, the Tory candidate off on holiday a week before the election, and former Labour MP Simon Dancuzk (best known for sexting a teenage girl) now running for the Reform Party, it promises to be a chaotic day…

In the Commons – MPs will focus on the remaining stages of the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill and the second reading of the Pedicabs (London) Bill next week; and hold a general debate on farming.

In the Lords – The Victims and Prisoners Bill will continue through its committee stage and the Media Bill will have its second reading. Peers will also debate the implementation and effectiveness of the Windrush Compensation Scheme, as well as river pollution and the case for regulation of private water companies.

Committee Corridor – Science Minister Andrew Griffith and Scotland Minister John Lamont will face questioning on support for science in Scotland, whilst Rail Minister Huw Merriman will be quizzed by the Transport Committee on rail service reliability and HS2. City Minister Bim Afolami will also face questions on support for SMEs in need of finance. Meanwhile, former Post Office Chair Henry Staunton will provide evidence on progress on redress to Post Office Horizon scandal victims, alongside sub-postmasters including Alan Bates.

The Week in Stats 📉

71 – Signatures on the Early Day Motion (at the time of writing) declaring no confidence in Speaker of the House of Commons Linday Hoyle.

66 – The age at which at which a voter is more likely to vote Conservative than Labour (up from 39 in 2019), according to WPI.

2.9% – The annual growth the UK will need to see over the next 50 years to maintain current spending on services for the elderly.

80,057 – The number of divorces granted in 2022, an almost 30% decrease from 2021 and the lowest level since 1971.

25% – The increase in the average price of baby milk formula over the past two years.

£1,690 – The typical annual household energy bill from April.

21% – Birmingham City Council’s increase in council tax as it seeks to recover from insolvency, with cost-cutting measures such as dimming street lights and reducing bin collections to a fortnightly rota also set to implemented.

1,769 – The number of affordable homes set to begin construction in London this year, a 76% drop from 7,363 in 2022-23.

1.49 – The fertility rate in England and Wales, the first time it has dropped below 1.5 since records began.

Other Political News 📰

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Neal was sacked from the post for speaking to the media about the 15-or-so reports he had submitted so far this year but were yet to be published. The Home Office said Neal ‘breached the terms’ of his role and had ‘lost the confidence’ of the Home Secretary. Neal had claimed that Border Force failed to check passengers on hundreds of private jets arriving at London City Airport (which the Home Office deny); and also that the Home Office had issued 275 visas to a care home that didn’t exist. The list of reports from Neal awaiting publication can be seen here, and they stretch back to April 2023… Neal is also due to give evidence on Tuesday to the Home Affairs Select Committee on the topic of ‘Border Security’, so get your popcorn ready.

The Prime Minister aimed to harvest some extra votes this week, as he became the first Prime Minister in 15 years to deliver a speech at the National Farmers’ Union Conference. With the Conservatives’ having lost by-elections in rural seats in recent years, the PM stated that farmers “embody those British values of strength, resilience, warmth and independence” and assured that the Government will support the industry as it “goes through its biggest change in a generation.” A package of support measures were announced, including the ‘largest ever grant offer for farmers in the coming financial year, expected to total £427m’. A new annual UK-wide Food Security Index will also take place; the Farm to Fork Summit will be held annually; a £15m fund will be launched to tackle food waste; and new legislation will be introduced to alter permitted development rights to enable farmers to develop buildings and diversify earnings through farm shops, commercial space and sporting venues.

The Energy Price Cap will be reduced to £1,690 from 1 April 2024, a 12% reduction on the current level, and equivalent to a drop of £238 over the course of the year. Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho welcomed the news, with a series of other measures confirmed that are aimed at reducing costs for people across the UK. Two new working groups on customer protections and innovation are being set up; £10m is being invested into three projects to trial innovative energy tariffs and technology; and a new scheme is being launched to ‘help customers repair or replace smart meter in-home displays after the one-year warranty’.

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the UK Government have marked the occasion by publishing a new UK Defence Drone Strategy, including £4.5bn of investment over the next decade. The Strategy has been informed by lessons learned from Ukraine, and sets out how ‘Defence will realise the significant opportunities and tackle challenges in uncrewed systems.’ Defence Secretary Grant Shapps gave a statement to the Commons to emphasise the UK’s continued and unwavering support for Ukraine, revealing that the International Fund for Ukraine had now pledged £900m; that Kosovo and Estonia were joining Operation Interflex (the training programme for Ukrainians); and announced the UK would be sending 200 Brimstone anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

The UK has agreed a ‘working arrangement’ to tackle illegal migration with Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson was in London to see the arrangement being signed, with cooperation to begin ‘as soon as possible with an initial focus on sharing expertise and information on common priorities.’ As part of the arrangement, the UK will have access to ‘new levers and intelligence to make the UK and EU’s borders safer and more secure.’

Around the World 🌍

The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, gained the backing from the US, UK and Germany to become the next NATO General Secretary. This means Rutte now has support of two thirds of NATO countries, making him the likely successor when the incumbent Jens Stoltenberg steps down in October.

Two political parties in Pakistan reached a formal agreement following a 10 day period of uncertainty due to an inconclusive election. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) agreed to back the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) in a new administration after 6 days of negotiations, meaning former Prime Minister and President of PMLN Shahbaz Sharif is set to become PM again. Both parties failed to reach the necessary 134 seats needed in the most recent election (with PMLN taking 79 and PPP taking 54), both also notably less than Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), who won 93. However it is thought the two parties in the new administration, along with support from 4 other minor parties, will have a majority of 264.

Albania agreed to a migration deal with Italy, which will see it hold up to 3,000 migrants at once in two Italian-run processing centres near the Albanian port of Shengjin for periods of about a month, with Italy hoping to process 36,000 migrants in the country a year. The deal, though different to the UK’s Rwanda plan as it allows for migrants to enter Italy once asylum has been granted, has been criticised by Amnesty International, who said it would “create an unlawful and harmful system” that would “increase people’s suffering”.

President Biden announced over 500 sanctions against Russia, marking the anniversary of the war in Ukraine and the death of Alexei Navalny. The sanctions include export restrictions on nearly 100 firms or individuals, targeting people connected to Navalny's imprisonment and Russia's war machine. The announcement follows the EU, who also announced further sanctions against Russia this week.

The Canadian Government successfully seized the last remaining permits for oil and gas development off its Pacific Coast. Confirming the announcement, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson stated it marks an important milestone in the permanent protection of the rich waters in the west coast of Canada.

Highlights from Parliament 🏛

The Commons descended into chaos on Wednesday evening during the SNP’s Opposition Day Debate on a ceasefire in Gaza, leading to SNP and Tory MPs walking out of the chamber and leaving Lindsay Hoyle’s future as Speaker of the House in doubt. Also making the headlines on Monday was Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who accused former Post Office Chair Henry Staunton of lying when he claimed that he was instructed to “go slow” on compensating postmasters. This was raised by Labour leader Keir Starmer in PMQs, when he asked the Prime Minister to repeat her allegations and commit to investigating this matter. Other topics discussed in the Commons this week include the death of Alexei Navalny, the civil nuclear roadmap and the UK’s accession to the CPTPP. The controversial Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill also passed its third reading, and will head to the Lords for debate.

In the Lords, a number of Bills were debated: the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill underwent its second reading, the Automated Vehicle Bill passed its third reading, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill continued through its committee stage, the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill was read a second time, the Road Traffic Offences (Cycling) Bill had its first reading, and the Finance Bill was read a second and third time and passed.

Committee Corridor 📜

The Online Safety Act may take years to have a noticeable impact, despite the public’s high expectations, so concluded the Public Accounts Committee in its first report out this week. The report argues Ofcom faces significant challenges in regulating overseas providers, with much still to do to implement an effective regulatory regime, and calls on Ofgem to let members of the public know the outcome of complaints.

MPs should be given a vote on the UK’s membership of the CPTPP before the Government moves ahead, the Business and Trade Committee have stated in its report out this week. The Committee have argued that MPs must have their say due to controversial aspects of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bloc – and the lack of clarity over the benefits of doing so, concluding that it is “difficult to estimate the potential benefits of CPTPP or its impact on economic growth”.

The risk of homelessness among Ukrainians in the UK is likely to increase, so concluded the Public Accounts Committee in its second and final report out this week. According to the Committee, the Government does not have a full and accurate picture of homelessness within the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and 4,890 Ukrainian households who were in England under the scheme have been left homeless as arrangements between Ukrainian guests and their UK sponsors have ended or broken down.

Key Movements 🔁

Scott Benton MP will likely lose his seat, after Parliament’s Independent Expert Panel published its decision dismissing his appeal against the Standards Committee’s finding that he had breached the Code of Conduct and upholding its decision to suspend him for 35 days. A recall petition in his Blackpool South constituency is now likely to be triggered.

Cat Little was appointed the new Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office. She is currently Second Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury.

Ian Mearns MP announced he will not seek re-election. He has represented the constituency of Gateshead since 2019, and also happens to be the 10th committee Chair set to stand down ahead of the next election.

Sammy Wilson MP resigned as Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) chief whip.

Samir Shah was appointed the new Chairman of the BBC.

Ross Matthews was appointed Ambassador to the Republic of Chad.

Gareth Rhys Williams was appointed Chair of the National Highways.

Anthony Rogers was appointed interim HM Chief Inspector of His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI). The process to find a permanent postholder will be launched in Spring. 

Shirley Cooper was appointed the new Crown Representative for small businesses.

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson and Mary Archer were appointed to the board of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.

This Week’s Polls 📊

Well over a third of French, Spanish and Italians don’t care who wins the war in Ukraine, according to new research by YouGov. On the opposite end of the spectrum just 13% of Swedes, 14% of Danish and 19% of Brits argued the same, with 70% of Brits stating they either care a great deal or fair amount who wins the war. Similarly, whilst 50% of Brits argue Britain should support Ukraine in its efforts against Russia until Russia withdraws, this drops to just 28% in Italy, where 45% of respondents support a negotiated peace, even if it means Russia has control over some parts of Ukraine.

Just 54% of 2019 Conservative voters across the UK would vote for the party again if there was a General Election tomorrow, according to Deltapoll’s latest research – demonstrating a significant voting collapse over the last four years. Interestingly, this figure rises however to 69% in Scotland, but is at its lowest in Wales, at just 48%.

Penny Mordaunt could be the Conservative Party’s best choice of leader to take them into the next General Election – so reveals the same Deltapoll research, which shows she is the only potential Conservative leadership contender to have a net positive rating over Rishi Sunak when 2019 Conservative voters were asked who would give the Tories a better chance of winning. In a Savanta poll of all voters that introduced Tom Tugendhat into the mix, he too scored marginally higher than the PM.

Think-Tanking 💭

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report looking at the key budgetary and public service issues for the Scottish Government for the 2024–25 financial year and beyond, and a report examining how much the Scottish Government spend on higher education, and the challenges it faces on university funding and living cost support.

The Resolution Foundation published a report assessing the economic and fiscal outlook ahead of the upcoming Budget, and a report looking at how Britain’s exposure to international trade has changed over the past two decades.

RUSI published a report on Russia’s unconventional military activities outside Ukraine, including in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and a report on the reasons for limited transatlantic cooperation on China.

The Henry Jackson Society published a report on how supporting Ukraine on the digital battlefield can help improve the UK’s online resilience.

The Institute for Economic Affairs published a report on how red tape is fuelling the cost of living crisis.

Policy Exchange published a report on protecting the UK’s undersea cables from hostile actors.

The IPPR published a report on the City’s role in industrial strategy and tackling climate change.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

Prominent former Lib Dem member Liz Truss is not particularly known for her ideological immovability, and her appearance this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) suggested she has completed the transformation into a Republican-style hard-right culture warrior. Truss embarked on a bizarre tirade against “wokenomics” and apparent “communists” in the British economic establishment, and argued that “the West has been run by the Left for too long”, leaving one feeling they should immediately inform the Conservative Party that there’s been a hostile takeover. She was apparently received with confusion, with American attendees either seeking to avoid her or straight up not having a clue who she was. Of course, her appearance at the conference and the inflammatory, headline-seeking language she used has nothing to do with the upcoming publication of her book


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