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DUP Shock Arrest | Arms Exports Pressure | The Wragg Trade

Convention states Parliament should be in the midst of a quiet recess this week... But after the shock news of Jeffrey Donaldson’s arrest last Friday, the revelation Tory MP Will Wragg has fallen for a classic honey trap, and mounting pressure on Rishi Sunak to suspend arms sales to Israel, and it’s like any old week in Westminster


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 🚨


Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s dramatic arrest last week, coming to light somewhat ironically on Good Friday, sent shockwaves through Northern Irish politics and the Democratic Unionist Party in particular. Charged with rape and other “non-recent” sexual offences, he was suspended by the DUP on Friday, with Gavin Robinson MP swiftly appointed interim leader. His first task – keeping unity in an already divided party, critical of Donaldson’s deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont – may actually be the easiest task to come, with the prospect of a by-election in Donaldson’s Lagan Valley constituency (where the Alliance Party was already being tipped to cause an upset) and a General Election all on the horizon this year. 


Pressure mounted on the Prime Minister to suspend selling arms to Israel this week following an airstrike in Gaza that killed 7 aid workers, including 3 British Armed Forces veterans. The aid workers were working for the World Central Kitchen Charity as security and safety advisors, when all three of their cars in convoy were attacked by missiles on Monday. Their journey had previously been co-ordinated with the IDF, and Israel has called the strike “a mistake that followed a misidentification at night… it shouldn't have happened", although the charity has called it a deliberate attack. Following their deaths, the Lib Dems and SNP have called for a complete suspension of arms sales to Israel, whilst the Labour Party have stated that the Government should cease sales if lawyers believe that Israel is breaching international law. Pressure from Sunak’s own backbenches is also growing, with MPs such as David Jones, Flick Drummond and Paul Bristow, alongside former FCDO Ministers Lord Swire and Alan Duncan now all calling for sales to be halted. Thursday saw even more pressure for Sunak, as over 600 lawyers, including three Supreme Court Justices released a letter written to the PM, arguing that the continued provision of arms to Israel ‘falls significantly short’ of the Government’s commitment under international law, due to the ‘catastrophic’ situation in Gaza leading to a ‘plausible risk of genocide against Palestinians.’ Addressing the calls on Wednesday, Sunak told the Sun that the UK follows a ‘very careful export licensing regime’, though declined to rule out the suspension of sales.


The never-ending Westminster sleaze merry-go-round hit the headlines again this week when Chairman of the Public Administration Committee and outgoing Conservative MP Will Wragg admitted he had been blackmailed into handing over several colleagues’ mobile phone numbers to a man he met on a dating app, after he’d shared “compromising” photos with him. The so called ‘honey trap’ phishing attack saw a series of other MPs and journalists contacted and sent naked photos by two users named ‘Abi’ and ‘Charlie’, to which a further two MPs reportedly sent back pictures (quelle surprise). Wragg has apologised for handing over the phone numbers and will reportedly not be losing the Whip, something former MP and Boris Johnson supporter Nadine Dorries has had a thing or two to say about…


The Week in Stats 📉


£11.44 – The National Living Wage as of 1 April 2024, rising from £10.42


3.7% – Food inflation in March, down from 5.0% in February, its lowest level since April 2022


£9.90 – NHS prescription charge from 1 May 2024, an increase of 25 pence


£145 – Maximum charge that will apply on imports of plant and animal products, such as cheese and fish, entering the UK from 30 April under new post-Brexit charges  


150,000 – Number of jobs London Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to create by 2028 if re-elected


20 – Number of Lancashire councillors that have resigned their Labour memberships in protest over the party’s leadership


$8-20bn per year – The initial cost of a united Ireland according to a new study by the Institute of International and European Affairs


Other Political News 📰


Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act came into force on Monday, new legislation which aims to pull together and expand its existing laws around hate speech, largely to deal with issues that are “stirred by hatred” and offences “aggravated by prejudice”. Under the Act, an offence can be committed by communicating in a manner that may stir up hatred based on age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or transgender identity. JK Rowling has been a prominent critic of the Act, arguing it curtails free speech and prevents authorities from addressing violence against women and girls. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak responded that “we should not be criminalising people saying common sense things about biological sex, clearly that isn’t right… We have a proud tradition of free speech." The Alba Party has started a petition to repeal the Act, and further figures including Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, Douglas Ross MP, Lord Goldsmith, and Elon Musk, have voiced criticism.


The Conservative Party is showing division over its Criminal Justice Bill, as reports emerged that more Conservative MPs are planning to vote against the Bill due to proposed plans to criminalise rough sleeping. The Bill, currently in its report stage in the House of Commons, includes a measure that would prohibit begging or rough sleeping where it causes ‘a public nuisance’ with ‘smell’ listed as one such nuisance. When asked about the proposed new powers on a broadcast round earlier this week, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan argued “people should not be arrested just if they smell”, adding “if somebody is acting aggressively or being a nuisance then that is different.”


The Government launched the first phase of its “biggest ever expansion” to childcare earlier this week, with the new scheme entitling parents in England to 15 hours a week of free childcare for children under the age of 5. The Government is slowly rolling out the scheme in stages, with two-year olds now eligible for the free care, and the entire scheme due to be up and running by September 2025. There have been concerns that the childcare sector may not be able to support this expansion, and the National Day Nurseries Association noted that the sector had faced challenging circumstances including last-minute funding decisions, workforce shortages and a lack of access to capital support to expand. However the Government has stated it is ‘confident’ that it will be ‘ready to deliver the offer and make sure parents have the childcare they need.’


The National Living Wage increased by £1.02 on Monday, raising the minimum wage for over-21s to £11.44 an hour. The increase will represent a £1,800 boost to a full time employees’ yearly pay cheque. The minimum salary for those on the Skilled Worker Visa has also increased, going from £26,400 to £38,700 in an effort to decrease migration.


Around the World 🌍


Turkey’s opposition dealt President Erdogan the biggest defeat of his tenure in stunning results during mayoral and local elections. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) retained or won the mayoralties of Turkey’s five biggest cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, and increased its vote share nationwide by almost 8%. Overall, the CHP won 35 of Turkey's 81 provincial capitals, while the ruling AK Party-led alliance won 24.


Joe Biden and Xi Jinping held their first direct engagement since November in a phone call that lasted almost two hours. It was described as ‘candid and constructive’, although President Xi set out a range of areas of frustration such as America’s ‘interference’ in the South China Sea and its sanctions on Chinese-owned companies, while President Biden criticised China’s tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its trade policies.


NATO’s foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to mark the 75th anniversary of the alliance’s founding. Ministers considered plans proposed by leader Jens Stoltenberg which would see the alliance’s support for Ukraine shifted away from the U.S. European Command, a proposal interpreted as an attempt to ‘Trump-proof’ support for Ukraine. It was also the first meeting Sweden and Finland have attended as full NATO members.


Alongside its actions in Gaza, Israel assassinated a senior leader of Iran’s foreign militia. Thirteen people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on the building next to Iran’s embassy in Damascus, Syria, including Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He is the most senior IRGC officer to be killed since the assassination of Qasem Soleimani by the USA in 2020.


Togo has delayed its general election after its parliament approved controversial reforms which would move the country from a presidential system to a parliamentary one. While the reforms would officially reduce the power of the presidency, opposition parties fear they could allow the incumbent President Gnassingbe to stay in power. Gnassingbe claimed the delay was to allow for “consultations” on the changes, and no new date for the election has been given.


Committee Corridor 📜


There are major shortcomings in the FCDO’s disability-inclusion work, the International Development Committee has argued in its Easter recess report out this week, arguing that the disproportionate impact of aid cuts on people with disabilities, marginalised people, and women & girls has left stakeholders in the sector dubious about the sustainability of the UK's previously leading role in international development going forward.


The Government must clamp down on unregulated canine fertility clinics and unlicensed pet breeders, the Environment Committee’s latest report out this week concluded. The report calls for a list of licensed breeders to be made public, and a change in the licensing regulations to include breeders of two or more litters a year, in order to counter low welfare breeding practices and provide assurance to buyers.


The England and Wales Cricket Board must match their ambition with action in order to tackle racism in cricket, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee concluded in a follow up report on the issue this week, calling on the ECB to publish a progress report in September 2024.


Key Movements 🔁


Gavin Robinson MP has been appointed Interim Leader of the DUP after Jeffrey Donaldson MP stepped down and was suspended by the party.


Pippa Lambert has been appointed Interim Chair of the Senior Salaries Review Body for six months, with a further five new appointees to the board.


Cath Denholm has been appointed Interim Chair of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee – the statutory nature advisor to the UK Government


This Week’s Polls 📊


The predicted Reform Party vote is up in Blue Wall seats, on 14%, according to Redfield and Wilton’s latest blue wall polling. According to the poll, Lib Dem and Green Party voting intention has also increased in Blue Wall areas, while the Conservative vote is at its lowest ever, on 26%, and Labour votes are down, at 34%.


However, in the country as a whole, Labour continue to dominate polling, with YouGov’s latest poll predicting a 154 seat majority for the party. According to the latest research, Labour would take 403 seats, the Tories 155, the Lib Dems 49 and the SNP 19. It gets even worse for the Tories looking at Survation’s latest MRP analysis, with polling predicting the party to win just 98 seats, including none in Scotland and Wales, with Labour on 468. Both polls also show risks of key Tory figures losing their seats, as Survation’s poll suggests Sunak is less than 2.5 percentage points ahead of Labour in Richmond, and YouGov’s findings suggesting that Hunt is currently trailing behind the Lib Dems in Godalming.


Think-Tanking 💭


Reform published a report on transforming England’s approach to health which considers how to move from a treatment-oriented model to one geared towards health creation.  


The Social Market Foundation published a report on rental regulations, subsidies and tenants’ rights across the English-speaking world, which calls on the Government to make renting genuinely affordable for the long-term and abolish section 21 evictions.


The IFS published a report on the longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the dietary purchasing choices of British households, finding that  takeaway consumption in the first quarter of 2022 was around 400 calories a week – 50% above pre-pandemic levels.


The Institute for Government published a short paper highlighting five key challenges that any government seeking to reduce regional inequalities will need to address.


The IPPR published the results of a survey on public transport use, arguing that politicians should stop treating transport as a ‘culture war’.

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