This week we’ve had a crucial Brexit vote, frontpages dominated by partygate and a damning indictment of culture in the Met Police. We’ve also had the near collapse of another centuries-old international bank. Oh and the King can’t go to France… Bear with us as we try to work out whether we should dig up and reuse old Weekly Roundups from 2021, 2008… or 1801.
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 Metropolitan Police Service is 'institutionally homophobic, sexist, misogynistic', and racist – those are the shocking findings of Baroness Casey’s review published this week, which also argued that a ‘boys club’ culture is rife within the organisation, and that it has failed women and children. The 363-page document is full of examples of failures from the Met, and the Commissioner Mark Rowley called the review’s findings ‘ghastly, generating feelings of ‘anger, frustration [and] embarrassment’. Addressing the Commons, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, fresh off a plane from Rwanda, highlighted “serious failures of culture, leadership and standards”. Labour leader Keir Starmer responded to the report by committing a Labour Government to an “overhaul of policing and raised standards, with strengthened training and mandatory vetting”.
Boris Johnson faced three hours of questions from MPs on the Privileges Committee on Wednesday, who must soon make a decision on whether he inadvertently, recklessly or intentionally misled the House of Commons when he told MPs no lockdown rules had been broken, whilst parties were taking place in 10 Downing Street. Navigate watched the three hours so you didn’t have to… but so did every other news organisation, so you can see the whole thing whittled down into 5 minutes on Sky News here (other news organisations are available). After swearing an oath on the Bible (10 years since this has last been called for) the most excitable moments of evidence came two hours in when tempers flared as he insisted that a gathering in the Downing Street garden was a work event, and necessary to motivate staff, and shortly afterwards, when he was criticised for failing to take advice from appropriate senior staff on whether rules had been broken. It had been suggested that supporters of the former Prime Minister would be on hand afterwards to give him their backing but this failed to materialise. The Committee continues its inquiry.
MPs voted to back the Windsor Framework in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon by 515 votes to 29. Former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, along with 20 other Conservative MPs, joined the DUP in voting against the amendment to the Northern Ireland Protocol that Rishi Sunak agreed with the EU at the end of February; however the Framework was passed comfortably with 281 Conservative MPs voting in favour. The DUP announced on Tuesday that it would be voting against the ‘Stormont Brake’ aspect of the Windsor Framework in Parliament, arguing ‘it does not deal with some of the fundamental problems at the heart of our current difficulties’ as the brake ‘is not designed for, and therefore cannot apply, to the EU law which is already in place and for which no consent has been given for its application’. Whether the DUP will agree to enter into a power sharing agreement with Sinn Féin to recreate the Northern Ireland Executive anytime soon, remains to be seen.
The Week in Stats 📉
4.25% – new Bank of England base rate set this week – an increase of 0.25%
$28,750 – Price of one Bitcoin this week – the highest since June 2022, and 80% higher than it’s recent low in November last year
10.4% – CPI inflation for the year to February 2023, increasing by 1.0% on last month
2 – Weeks until the Easter weekend
£16.7bn – the highest February UK public deficit this year since monthly records began 30 years ago
52 – pages of Boris Johnsons’ written evidence submitted to the Privileges Committee
3 – hours Boris Johnson sat being questioned by MPs on Wednesday
£432,493 – what Rishi Sunak paid in tax in 2021/22, as he published details this week
£67,033 – What Keir Starmer paid in tax in 2021/22, revealed as he too published his tax details
Other Political News
Freeports had a big week with the Thames Freeport receiving final Government sign off, and Celtic Freeport in Milford Haven and Port Talbot & Anglesey Freeport on Ynys Mon chosen as Wales’ first freeports. The Thames Freeport will now ‘receive up to £25 million seed funding from Government and potentially hundreds of millions in locally retained business rates to drive growth in the UK’s advanced manufacturing, biomanufacturing, logistics, and low carbon industries.’ Meanwhile in Wales, the two freeports, which aim to attract £4.9 billion in public and private investments, go through to the next stage of the process to develop a business case.
The Hydrogen Champion Report was published by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, setting out recommendations for how to accelerate the growth of the hydrogen sector. It recommends the Government ‘drive rapid development of the hydrogen economy by stimulating demand in blending, heating and transport’; and calls on industry to ‘work closely with Government to identify UK strengths, make voluntary commitments to deliver UK content and to formulate a wider supply chain strategy that builds on UK strengths, as has been done for aviation.’
Strikes were back on the agenda this week in mixed news, with the RMT calling off rail strikes due to take place on 30th March and 1st April next week, whilst the British Medical Association has called strikes for junior doctors between 11th and 15th April. In contrasting stories, RMT members at Network Rail voted to accept a new pay offer, and it is now in talks with the Rail Delivery Group to conclude agreements for all its members, in what the DfT called a “positive step”; whilst the BMA is calling for a 35% pay-rise for junior doctors, which Health Secretary Stephen Barclay called “unreasonable” on Twitter on Thursday.
The Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee raised the interest rate from 4% to 4.25%. Seven members of the MPC voted to increase the rate by 0.25 percentage points, while two members preferred for it to stay at 4%. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves MP responded to the announcement by arguing that “the Government think the cost of living crisis is over but the reality is that too many families are dealing with a Tory mortgage penalty and battling with soaring food prices.”
Parliament’s select committees will be reformed to reflect the recent Departmental changes. According to a motion on the order paper that has been tabled but not yet moved by the Government, the biggest change will see the International Trade Committee axed and replaced by an Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, to be chaired by an SNP MP. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee will become the Business and Trade Committee; the Science and Technology Committee will become the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee; and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee will revert to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
Around the World
President Macron’s government survived two votes of no-confidence after it forced controversial changes to the age of retirement through parliament. The first motion, tabled by left-wing parties, narrowly failed after receiving 278 of the 287 votes required. The second unsuccessful motion was spearheaded by Marine Le Pen’s hard-right National Rally party. Marches against the Government subsequently took place, with some turning violent, causing a state visit by King Charles to be postponed.
A former Indian presidential candidate has been sentenced to two years in prison for making comments in 2019 that appeared to mock Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rahul Gandhi led the Indian National Congress Party during the 2019 General Election, during which he made the comments. Gandhi comes from a long line of political leaders, with his father, grandmother and great-grandfather all having served as Prime Minister of India. He intends to appeal the sentence.
President Xi visited Russia for the first time since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, marking China’s most overt statement of support yet for President Putin. While China attempted to stress the visit was a peace-making project following the publication of its 12-point proposal to end the conflict, the visit was widely regarded as an endorsement of Putin’s leadership. President Xi called Putin a “dear friend” and stated his belief that he would be ‘re-elected’ next year. Western states have warned that China is considering providing Russia with military support.
Turkey and Hungary have ratified Finland’s accession to NATO after initially opposing its bid. Turkey had opposed Finland and Sweden joining the bloc due to their historic support for Kurdish independence groups in Turkey, but last week President Erdogan lauded Finland for taking “concrete steps” in this area. Hungary has accused the Nordic countries of spreading “outright lies” about the state of its democracy and the rule of law. Neither country has made any progress on Sweden’s accession, and Finnish President Niinistö has said that his country’s NATO membership “is not complete without Sweden”.
Thailand’s king has dissolved parliament ahead of elections that are expected by early May. Incumbent Prime Minister and General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s conservative and pro-monarchy party faces a strong challenge from the Pheu Thai Party, led by the daughter of the hugely influential former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Prayuth seized power in a coup in 2014 and ‘won’ the disputed presidential election in 2019. Pheu Thai Party is projected to become the largest party, but may face opposition from the military should it attempt to form a government.
The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill continued its committee stage in the Lords. The Bill places a duty on the Government to set Levelling Up missions and produce an annual Levelling Up report, creates a new County Deal model of combined authority, gives local authorities powers to bring empty premises back into use, and digitises neighbourhood planning to make it easier to engage with and limit speculative development.
The Social Security (Additional Payments) (No. 2) Bill passed all its stages in the Lords and received Royal Assent. The Bill retrospectively enacts the announcement of cost of living support payments announced in the November 2022 Autumn Statement.
The Seafarers’ Wages Bill returned to the Lords for consideration of Commons amendments, which were agreed, and has now received Royal Assent. The Bill ensures that seafarers get paid at least equivalent to the UK National Minimum Wage, and was introduced by the Government to close a loophole that allowed seafarers who work on vessels that serve UK ports to be paid below the UK National Minimum Wage. The legislation was brought forward in the wake of P&O Ferries dismissing 800 workers in March earlier this year.
The UK Infrastructure Bank Bill returned to the Commons for the final time where MPs agreed with a final amendment made in the Lords. The Bill which puts the UK Infrastructure Bank on a statutory footing and clarifies its powers to lend to local government, has now received Royal Assent.
The Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill also returned to the Commons for the final time where MPs agreed with a minor corrective Government amendments made in the Lords. The Bill, which will ratify and implement the UK’s free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, has now also received Royal Assent.
The Electronic Trade Documents Bill passed its third reading in the Lords and now moves to the Commons. The Bill enables businesses to choose electronic trade document systems in transacting international trade.
World Down Syndrome Day and the so-named Energy Trilemma were the subjects of Backbench Business debates in the Commons on Thursday.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill completed its committee stage in the Lords without amendment. The Bill amends the legal framework governing industrial action to enable Minimum Service Levels to be set in key sectors during periods of strike action.
Failures of regulators, water companies and the Government is leaving the public and environment in the mire, so argues the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee, which argues in a report that under investment, insufficient government strategy, and inadequate co-ordination has resulted in a failure to “treat water with the care and importance it deserves”.
Investment is needed in new technology, cleaner fuels and workforce training so that the UK’s maritime sector can compete with the world, so argued the Transport Committee in it’s latest report out this week. The report calls it a ‘sometimes-overlooked “Cinderella” sector that is vital to the UK economy’.
DWP’s Restart scheme will cost more per person and help fewer of them than planned, the Public Accounts Committee has argued in its latest report, which notes that the Department for Work and Pension’s work coaches referred about half as many long-term unemployed to the scheme as expected.
The BEIS Committee has reached agreement with the Government over it’s Investment Security Unit (ISU) according to a report and announcement on Thursday. The agreement means the Committee will now have access to the information it needs to scrutinise the work of the ISU and the UK’s new system of screening investments for security risks.
STEM ambitions must be matched by commitment to diversity and inclusion, MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Committee have argued in their report out this week, which highlights the acute underrepresentation of people from Black Caribbean backgrounds, and others, across all STEM subjects throughout education and work.
The UK is a service export superpower but productivity is below what it should be, so argues the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in the final report of the week. According to the Committee, the UK must find a way to adapt to the macro-changes it is facing including its aging population and the introduction of new trading arrangements following its departure from the EU, including through increased business investment in skills, workers, and technology.
Miles Dorrington has been appointed Traffic Commissioner in the West Midlands Traffic Area. He has been serving as acting Traffic Commissioner since June 2022.
Sir Hugh Taylor has been appointed to the role of Chief Negotiations Adviser for the negotiation of the successor to the voluntary scheme for branded medicines pricing and access (VPAS).
Bosses from top firms including the Co-op, Greggs, Iceland, and Oliver Bonas have been appointed as Employment Advisory Board chairs in all 92 resettlement prisons.
This Week’s Polls
People are slightly more positive about the Government’s handling of the economy with 21% of people now approving, compared to 71% who disapprove – not something Downing Street will likely write home about, but the best figures they’ve had since June last year, according to YouGov.
70% of people think Boris Johnson did mislead MPs over partygate according to Savanta’s latest poll, taken ahead of his evidence session this week. This compares to just 18% of people who think he didn’t and 13% who don’t know.
Kate Forbes leads in approval ratings with the Scottish public amongst the candidates to be SNP Leader and First Minister of Scotland next week. According to Ipsos’ latest poll, her net approval rating of -8 compares to -20 for Humza Yousaf and -24 for Ash Regan. However Yousaf leads over Forbes amongst SNP voters where he has a +11 approval rating compared to her +6.
Over half of British voters think China poses a significant risk to international peace and stability, according to Redfield & Wilton polling this week. 57% of those polled answered in the affirmative, compared to 17% who said it didn’t and 26% who don’t know.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a working paper on old age risks, consumption and insurance.
The Resolution Foundation has published a report arguing that wages are flatlining.
Onward has published a report looking at how to reduce climate migration to the UK.
The Fabian Society has published a report calling for a complete overhaul of income support to create a new British employment insurance system.
Policy Exchange published a report arguing the British Government should not return or lend the Elgin Marbles to Greece.
You’ve Got to Laugh
If you don’t get the Times Red Box, you’ll have missed out on a great story this week on the high jinx that occurs on the Conservative MP WhatsApp group, in which a number of MPs wished Conservative MP for North West Devon, Oliver Carpenter, a happy birthday. Oliver Carpenter of course, does not exist, and it was not until Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey questioned what on earth they were talking about, was the hilarious ruse rumbled. However this was not before one unwitting but keen to please Tory MP wished the non-existent Oliver a happy birthday and suggested they could all celebrate at the away day last weekend… (h/t to Times Red Box reporter Lara Spirit)
For a Parliamentary Assistant, particularly one working for an MP whose party is in Government, Early Day Motions can be the bane of your life. Not a day goes by without an inbox full of constituents emailing in to demand MPs sign the latest nonsensical motion often tabled by an MP from one or other end of the political spectrum demanding the Government resign immediately / end all taxes / send Matt Hancock back to Australia [delete as appropriate]. However occasionally an EDM is tabled that is so good, you hope the whole House signs it and all business is cancelled so this vital subject can be debated. And that vital subject is, of course – Dolly Parton. So our inaugural EDM of the Week award, goes to the MP for Strangford, Jim Shannon MP, for EDM 992, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the queen of country music’s song ‘I will always love you’, noting, as he put it ‘what it means to so many, including the wife of the hon. Member for Strangford’. Editor’s note – excellent EDM, excellent use of the third person.
That’s the end of this week’s 9 to 5. We hope you have a lovely weekend.