The PM has bookended the week with his biggest Government rebellion yet triggering two resignations, and a street-side disagreement with a former health worker on the state of the NHS. Perhaps not one to remember. However with his controversial Rwanda Bill having passed through the Commons, his Chancellor making headlines about tax cuts and a heroes welcome in Kyiv, it hasn’t been all bad.
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 🚨
Rishi Sunak survived his biggest backbench rebellion so far but lost two Conservative Party Deputy Chairmen on the way, as his Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill passed its Commons stages and heads to the Lords. Deputy Conservative Chairmen Lee Anderson MP and Brendan Clarke-Smith MP resigned from their positions on Tuesday night, announcing they would back, ultimately unsuccessful, rebel amendments to the controversial Bill. Jane Stevenson MP also resigned as PPS to the Business Secretary to vote for the Amendments, none of which passed. Approximately 60 Conservative MPs voted against the Government, including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick and former Prime Minister Liz Truss. Courting further controversy, Rishi Sunak addressed a press conference on Thursday in which he urged Lords to “do the right thing” and not try and block the Bill, purposefully comparing the “appointed House of Lords” to “our elected chamber”… get the popcorn out for the Lords second reading on 29th Jan.
The traditional mid-January round of set piece speeches took place this week as multiple Cabinet Ministers set out their stall for the year ahead. Defence Secretary Grant Shapps was first to take the stand in a Lancaster House speech stressing the threats from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, repeating the Government’s commitment to support Ukraine, and warning that “the foundations of the world order are being shaken to their core”… cheery. Second up was the Prime Minister in a statement to Parliament on the air strikes on Yemen and £2.5bn of aid committed to Ukraine this coming year. Completing the ministerial speeches was Science, Innovation and Tech Secretary Michelle Donelan who kicked off Tuesday with a speech calling for greater investment in UK scale-ups to close the gap with the US. Throwing a bit of a downer on the whole week was NAO Auditor General Gareth Davies, who used his annual speech to list high inflation, out-of-date IT, and poor public sector staff retention as key items in the next Government’s inbox, also noting that parts of the UK’s national infrastructure are “crumbling”… again, cheery.
The UK’s top politicians exchanged 0°C Westminster for -20°C Davos this week at the annual World Economic Forum jamboree. Keir Starmer, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves and Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds led the charge, with numerous media organisations reporting they could have been confused for the actual UK Government, whose limited attendance – just Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt and Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron – added to long-raised questions about Rishi Sunak’s interest in representing the UK on the world stage. But just as Rachel Reeves’ commitments to “restore Britain’s reputation as a place to do business” began to make headlines, Jeremy Hunt stole the front pages with his biggest public hints yet he is looking to make big tax cuts in his last Budget this March ahead of the next General Election. He also used the conference to call for a “light touch” towards the regulation of artificial intelligence, arguing AI could reduce lead time on a vaccine at the next pandemic from a year to a month.
Coming Up Next Week 📆
In the Commons – The controversial Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill – to grant more licenses to bore for oil – has its second reading on Monday. The Bill sparked Chris Skidmore MP to resign whilst COP26 President Alok Sharma MP has said he too won’t vote for it. An opposition date debate (subject TBC), and general debates on defence and Holocaust Memorial Day make up the rest of the week’s business.
In the Lords – A debate on the UK-Rwanda treaty will see some heated contributions on Monday, ahead of the Rwanda Bill beginning its passage through the Lords the following week. Various Bills including on the UK’s membership of the CPTPP, investigatory powers, and victims and prisoners will also return for debate.
On Committee Corridor – MOD officials are up before the Public Accounts Committee on Monday as they review the Defence Equipment plan; former Cabinet Office Minister Lord Maude appears before Public Administration Committee to discuss his report on civil service reform, and various ministers including Fisheries Minister Mark Spencer, Social Housing Minister Baroness Scott and Development Minister Andrew Mitchell are up for questioning before their relevant departmental committees.
The Week in Stats 📉
2 – The number of Conservative Party Deputy chairs who resigned over the Rwanda Bill.
7 – The number of times Northern Ireland’s assembly has been recalled since May 2022’s general election, all of which have failed to establish an Executive.
2,800 – The number of jobs that will be lost over the next 18 months with Tata Steel’s closure of both blast furnaces in Port Talbot, south Wales.
6.7% – The confirmed pay rise for MSPs, bringing the base rate for members to £72,195.
3.2% – The amount retail sales volumes fell by in December 2023, the sharpest decline since the pandemic.
13 – The number of BAFTA nominations Oppenheimer received.
Other Political News 📰
Tata Steel confirmed it will close both of its blast furnaces at its site in Port Talbot by the end of the year, in favour of greener electric arc furnaces, which will result in 2,800 job losses in the area. The announcement comes after the company rejected calls from unions to keep the blast furnaces whilst opening the electric arc furnace in a transition period, to safeguard jobs and British steel. The move to the electric furnace, which is being funded by £500m in Government support, is thought to reduce the UK’s total emissions by 1.5%, though has been heavily criticised due to the level of redundancies and disruption it will cause.
Northern Ireland’s Executive again failed to elect a speaker on Wednesday, meaning that an election in the country is now required to restore power in Stormont, as the official deadline for restoring an Executive has now passed. This deadline however has been moved by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris MP in the past, who today released a Statement saying he intends to ‘introduce new legislation which will take a pragmatic, appropriate and limited approach to addressing the Executive Formation period and support Northern Ireland Departments to manage the immediate and evident challenges they face in stabilising public services and finances.’
DESNZ approved plans for Drax power station to install carbon capture technology at two of its four biomass units. Drax’s proposals are for a new BECCs project – bioenergy with carbon capture – and would aim to create zero carbon energy, as the trees planted which Drax will eventually burn for energy, will absorb carbon before being burnt and will in theory therefore only release the same carbon back into the atmosphere. The approval of the project has faced severe backlash from environmental groups, as they suggest that the BECCs project assumes that Drax only uses sustainable wood in its boilers, however previous investigations have found that the company has used wood from environmentally important forests in its boilers. Green MP Caroline Lucas condemned the Government for continuing to subsidise Drax, which she described as the ‘UK’s single biggest source of carbon emissions.’
A new initiative between the UK and Ukraine was launched, to facilitate ‘commercially-driven partnerships and growth in both tech sectors and further support Ukraine’s recovery.’ The UK-Ukraine TechBridge will seek to ‘facilitate digital trade and investment by supporting relationships between high potential Ukrainian businesses and UK tech firms and investors, and through a series of virtual “missions” in priority sectors such as healthtech, agritech and fintech.’
The final report into the Infected Blood Inquiry was again delayed, despite pressure mounting from the victims calling for it to be published straight away. The new date for the report is expected to be 20 May, with the delay said to be so that the gravity of the situation can be conveyed effectively and so that the report can do the situation justice.
£17m in funding has been given to local authorities help rough sleepers off the streets, which will see the London Boroughs of Hammersmith, Lambeth and Greenwich share £3m, whilst Nottingham City Council and Bristol City Council receive £700,000 collectively. The total funding given in the Rough Sleeping Initiative has now reached over £547m.
Sir Tony Lloyd, who served as an elected politician in Manchester since 1979, died this week. First serving as a councillor, he was subsequently elected to Parliament in 1983 in the seat of Stretford, and from 1997 in the seat of Manchester Central. In 2012 he stepped down as an MP to take up the role of Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner, and was appointed the first Mayor of Greater Manchester on an interim basis in 2015. He returned to Parliament as MP for Rochdale two years later and was knighted in 2021. Sir Tony announced he had been diagnosed with cancer in January 2023.
Around the World 🌍
Taiwan’s pro-independence party won re-election, with its presidential candidate Lai Ching-te taking 40% of the vote, compared to the 33.5% achieved by the opposition KMT. The highly anticipated election was watched around the world, as it could set the stage for a confrontation between China and the USA over Taiwan’s status. The vote was somewhat split by third party candidate Ko Wen-je, who took votes from both parties and finished with over 26% of the vote. Outgoing DPP President Tsai Ing-wen said the result demonstrated Taiwan's "determination to maintain democracy" and the people’s "love for Taiwan and for freedom” – comments pointed firmly at China, which had declared that the result ‘cannot stop the unstoppable trend of the eventual reunification of the motherland’. However, the DPP lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since 2016, with the KMT winning 52 seats to the DPP’s 51.
Nauru subsequently cut ties with Taiwan in favour of China, reducing the number of countries with diplomatic relations with Taiwan to just 11. Under China’s ‘One China’ policy, countries cannot hold official relations with both China and Taiwan. Nauru previously made the switch from Taiwan to China in 2002, before restoring ties with Taiwan in 2005.
Donald Trump stormed to victory in the Iowa primary, all but confirming him as the Republican Party’s nominee. Trump won over 50% of the vote, with his 30-point margin the largest ever for a non-incumbent in the Iowa Republican primary. He won in 98 of Iowa's 99 counties, losing by only a single vote in Johnson County. Neither of Trump’s main competitors, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, managed to establish themselves as the second candidate, taking 21% and 19% of the vote respectively. Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy (who has aped Trump’s agenda throughout the debates) dropped out of the race after winning under 8%. Both he and Haley have been touted as potential running mates for Trump.
Iran conducted military operations in three separate countries over the space of a week. It bombed what it claimed was an Israeli base in Iraqi Kurdistan; launched missiles in Syria at the ‘perpetrators’ of the twin bombing in Iran on January 3rd that killed more than 90 people; and launched missile and drone attacks on terrorist groups in western Pakistan. Pakistan retaliated with missile strikes against Iran, killing nine people. The attacks, if not directly related to the ongoing conflict in Gaza, reflect the incredibly febrile atmosphere of the Middle East.
Kuwait has formed a new Government following the death of its Emir. Sheikh Mishal, who was previously the oldest crown prince in the world at the age of 83, formed a new government following the death of his half-brother Sheikh Nawaf last year. He appointed new ministers for oil, finance and foreign affairs, and is expected to maintain Kuwait’s positive relations with Western and fellow Gulf nations.
Comoros President Azali Assoumani was re-elected for a fourth term. He won 63% of the vote on just a 16% turnout amid a boycott by the official opposition, with riots breaking out following the result’s announcement. Assoumani came to power in a coup in 1999 and ‘won’ his first election in 2002.
Highlights from Parliament 🏛
The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill passed its third reading and two days in the Committee of the Whole House. The Bill passed with a 44 majority. It also underwent its first reading in the House of Lords and is set for its second reading on 29 January.
Backbench Business debates on Loan Charge and HS2 compensation were held on Thursday. The HS2 debate was held as Transport Secretary Mark Harper delivered a statement stating that the Government was releasing land that would not be used for HS2 and would ‘no longer object to proposed development in the area.’
In the House of Lords, the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill passed its second and third reading and is now in its final stages before receiving Royal Assent. The Automated Vehicles Bill had its second day in committee and the Arbitration Bill (Law Commission Bill) had its second reading.
Committee Corridor 📜
The Rwanda treaty should not be ratified until its safeguards have been implemented, so argues the Lords International Agreements Committee. Its report highlights that the Government has provided no indication of the timeframe for the completion of these steps, but the evidence suggests it will clearly take some time, concluding that the arrangements it provides for are incomplete. The report is due to be debated in the House of Lords on Monday.
Urgent action is needed to protect tenants from the ‘catastrophic’ impact of poor housing on health, according to a Health and Social Care Committee report. It calls on the Government to proceed without delay in the steps needed to update the Decent Homes Standard for social housing tenants and set out a timetable for its extension to cover the private rented sector.
Defra has no overall target for the UK’s level of long-term flood resilience warns a report by the Public Accounts Committee. It draws attention to Environment Agency forecasts indicating that flood protection will be provided for at least 40% fewer properties than planned and criticises the Government’s “failure to strike the balance between maintenance and construction.”
The MOD lacks the necessary powers to deal with the fragmentation of its inventory management, so concludes another report by the Public Accounts Committee this week. It warns that long-standing weaknesses remain in the management of the UK armed forces’ supplies and spares for immediate and potential use, seeking information on how the Government intends to work with industry to ensure greater resilience in its inventory management.
Key Movements 🔁
Deputy Conservative Chairmen Lee Anderson MP and Brendan Clarke-Smith MP have resigned from their positions, after saying they would back rebel amendments on the Rwanda Bill (none of which passed).
Jane Stevenson MP also resigned from her role as PPS to the Business and Trade Secretary to vote for the amendments.
Sir Jeremy Quin MP has been elected as Chair of the Defence Select Committee, beating Rehman Chishti to the position by 371 votes to 101.
Timothy Riley has been appointed as Deputy Chair of the Food Standards Agency.
Tom Little KC has been appointed First Senior Treasury Counsel to the Crown, from 1 April 2024.
Amerdeep Somal has been confirmed as the next Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, starting the post on 1 February.
And the Department for Work and Pensions have appointed six new members to the Social Security Advisory Committee.
This Week’s Polls 📊
7 in 10 Britons aren’t confident that the Conservatives can provide strong and stable leadership, according to Ipsos polling showing these figures have worsened from when Rishi Sunak first became Prime Minister in October 2023 (at that time 35% were confident and 54% not confident). It also shows that the picture is now very similar to the days before Liz Truss left office when 71% lacked confidence, against 23% confident.
40% also believe that the Government should scrap its Rwanda policy altogether, with a YouGov poll finding that 20% believe it should be kept as it is and 17% say it should be adapted to something similar. Additionally, a Savanta poll indicates that 72% of voters feel the Government’s ‘stop the boats’ pledge has gone badly.
And just when you think things can’t get worse for Sunak, Redfield & Wilton polling highlights that the Government now holds negative net approval ratings on every issue (Covid pandemic, education, crime, the economy, housing, immigration and the NHS) except defence.
The Institute for Government published a report about how the Treasury wields too much influence across Government and dominates strategic thinking at the centre, along with an overview of how this power imbalance could be addressed.
Policy Exchange published a report arguing that electrolysing the UK’s wasted renewable energy and wind generation could produce tonnes of green hydrogen.
The Institute of Economic Affairs released a paper on the biomass controversy, concluding that ‘in the transition to Net Zero, there is a strong economic and environmental case for building new gas and nuclear power stations, in addition to expanding renewable sources of energy, rather than doubling down on woody biomass.’
The Centre for Social Justice released a report exploring the relationship between parents and schools. It calls on the Government ‘to prioritise parental engagement as part of a national effort to curb crisis levels of absence.’
Reform UK published a report titled ‘From sidelined to systemic: the role of Whitehall’s Chief Scientific Advisors’, which puts forwards recommendations for embedding CSAs at the heart of policymaking and for ensuring departments are utilising science across their portfolios.
Onward published a report on public opinion of immigration levels in the UK, highlighting the stark difference between perception and reality.
The IISS released a report looking at long-range strike capabilities in Asia-Pacific and the implications for regional stability.
RUSI published a paper on ransomware incidents in the UK, which outlines the harm that ransomware causes to organisations, individuals, the UK economy, national security and the wider society.
You’ve Got to Laugh 😂
Could we see a US-style septuagenarian revival in British Polics? Not if Gordon Brown has anything to say about it. Asked this week on Sky News if he’ll do a ‘Cameron-style comeback, he responded “I’m too old to be a British politician and too young to be an American politician.” (h/t The Spectator’s James Heale)
We can probably all agree Therese Coffey does know Kigali is the capital of Rwanda, after a clip of her contribution to the Rwanda Bill debate in Parliament earlier this week that appeared to suggest the opposite, went viral. Her protestations that her words have been misinterpreted may not have got quite the same coverage; but this ‘Cunk or Coffey’ quiz has – happy Friday!