Record net migration figures, more trouble for Boris Johnson and your standard pre-recess take-out-the-trash day – at least MPs are off for a week, giving Government Affairs Managers everywhere (sorry colleagues in Scotland – not you), a week to catch their breath before we all hit the long, hot road to the summer break…
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 latest migration figures, showing net migration to the UK has risen to a record high of 606,000 people in 2022, were the hotly anticipated moment of the week, with the Government clenching for an assault from all sides – taking hits from its usual outspoken backbenchers, and the Labour Party. The ONS figures revealed estimated long-term immigration reached 1.2 million in 2022 (made up largely - 77% - of non-EU nationals) whilst 557,000 people emigrated from the UK. The net migration figures were almost 100,000 lower than the 700,000 figure that had been circulating, leading some to criticise the Government for trying to overplay the figures in an attempt to limit the damage… which largely appears to have worked, despite the huge discrepancy between the figures and the pledge first made under Cameron’s Government to reduce net immigration down to the “tens of thousands”. The stats came in another week of headaches for the Home Office, which saw Home Secretary Suella Braverman accused of breaching the ministerial code by reportedly asking civil servants to try and arrange a private speed awareness course after she was caught breaking the limit last year, something the PM has since dismissed.
Boris Johnson is back in the news (when has he been out of it?) amid fresh evidence that may show he broke lockdown rules with friends and family in Downing Street and at Chequers on further multiple occasions during the pandemic. The allegations, ironically, stem from evidence he himself submitted to his Government funded lawyers, instructed to assist him during the COVID inquiry. As they are funded by the Government, his diaries were also passed to civil servants in the Cabinet Office, who subsequently passed them on to the Metropolitan Police and Thames Valley Police, as per the civil service code, after discovering potential offences under lockdown rules. The former Prime Minister has since cut ties with his Government lawyers, and his remaining (anonymous) allies have been vocal in criticising the Government of “yet another politically motivated stitch-up”. Worth noting comments by his former chief political adviser Will Walden who said this week, “it’s probably, as usual with Boris, a bit more opaque than he makes out…”
Take out the trash day was back with a vengeance on Thursday. Whilst a mere eight written statements were published (far fewer than usual… 17 were published just before Easter this year), they included some gems, including that Commissioners have been sent into Woking Borough Council (under Tory control until last year) due to the £1.9bn debt it has racked up. In a change of parliamentary tact, that cynics would call an attempt to keep the announcements as secret and late as possible (‘you might very well think that, I couldn’t possibly comment’), Government ministers made two major announcements via oral statements, keeping them off the morning order paper. The two statements confirmed the Government was canning the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and that eight of the 40 new hospitals promised by Boris Johnson, wont get built until after 2030 due to increased construction costs amongst other factors, replaced for now by a different eight.
The Week in Stats 📉
8.7% – Inflation in the 12 months to April 2023, down from 10.1% in the 12 months to March.
0.4% – UK GDP growth in 2023 according to the IMF’s latest forecast, a 0.7 percentage point upgrade on their April forecast.
606,000 – Net migration to the UK in 2022, with 1.2 million people arriving in the UK and 557,000 emigrating away.
39% – Percentage of people arriving for study related reasons, down from 47% in 2021.
19% – Percentage of people arriving on humanitarian routes, including Ukrainian schemes. This is up from 9% in 2021.
£2,074 – The Energy Price Cap level from 1 July 2023, a £1,206 reduction from the £3,280 that was set in April. The typical bill had been capped at £2,500 however through the Government’s Energy Price Guarantee.
£1bn – Amount the Scottish Government’s funding shortfall could be in 2024-25, according to the Scottish Fiscal Commission.
9 – Number of declared Conservative candidates seeking to be the London Mayoral candidate in 2024, after London Assembly member Nick Rogers withdrew. They include Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy Paul Scully MP (who stood down as Minister for London), Boris Johnson MP’s former Special Adviser Samuel Kasumu, and David Cameron’s former Special Adviser Daniel Korski.
30,000 – Number of long-term empty homes in London, worth an estimated £20bn, according to analysis from City Hall. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is calling for stronger powers to tackle the major issue.
6th – Position in the Premier League Brighton and Hove Albion will finish this season, meaning they qualify for European football for the first time. The last fixtures in the Premier League take place on Sunday, with Man City already Champions and Rishi Sunak’s Southampton already relegated. (Editor’s note: Forgive the thinly veiled attempt to flag Brighton’s success this season by Navigate’s Account Director Andrew Niblett. Your Weekly Roundup Editor will be watching through his hands on Sunday to see if Everton can do enough to stay up )
Other Political News 📰
The UK's inflation rate fell to 8.7% in April from 10.1% in March – the first dip below 10% since August 2022. Slower rises in energy bills, compared to a year ago, were one of the reasons credited for the overall inflation drop. However, the inflation rate fell by less than expected and food costs remain 19.1% higher than a year ago leading to expectations that the Bank of England will raise interest rates above 5% before the end of the year. This has led to a range of mortgage lenders increasing the cost of new deals, with Nationwide the most significant with increases of up to 0.45 percentage points on Friday. In response, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt MP said he would back further interest rate rises by the Bank of England, even if they risk plunging the UK into recession, in order to limit instability.
Jeremy Hunt also unveiled a £650m life science growth package to grow the economy through one of the UK’s most successful sectors. The creatively named 'Life Sci for Growth' package will group 10 different policies to improve commercial clinical trials to bring new medicines to patients faster, to fund scientific innovation to prepare for any future health emergencies (fingers crossed this isn't needed for a while), to increase the capacity of the UK’s biological data bank further aiding scientific discoveries that help human health, and to incentivise pension schemes to invest in our most promising science and tech firms. The package also includes plans to relaunch the Academic Health Science Network as Health Innovation Networks to boost innovation by bringing together the NHS, local communities, charities, academia and industry to share best practice.
Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves MP continued the flood of recent Labour policy from the last few weeks with a speech to the Peterson Institute in Washington DC in which she outlined a mission to ensure economic security across the UK by rebuilding Britain's "industrial foundation" through "securonomics". The plan includes a bigger role for the Government in running the free-market economy and fostering new partnerships with international allies as Reeves also aligned the plan with the Biden Administration's Inflation reduction Act. Former Goldman Sachs chief economist and former Treasury minister Jim O'Neill called Labour’s economic mission as a whole "daft" but conceded that borrowing could be beneficial.
Extra checks for postal and proxy voting were announced this week, after Jacob Rees Mogg MP's suggestion that requiring photo ID to vote was an attempt to 'gerrymander' at the National Conservatism conference last week. Currently people can hold their postal vote indefinitely, but have to provide a fresh signature every five years. The new plans will mean voters will have to reapply for postal votes every three years, and people will be able to cast fewer proxy votes. The Government have said the changes will reduce the opportunity for people to "steal votes"; although have been met with criticism from disability groups who have said the changes will make voting harder for disabled people. It’s worth also noting that there were just six counts of voter fraud were found at the last General Election out of the 32 million votes cast.
Around the World 🌍
The G7 held their most recent meeting in Japan, with threats from Russia and China, and the importance of economic security making the top of the priority list. The meetings saw the launch of the G7 Coordination Platform on Economic Coercion, aiming to enhance ‘ongoing strategic coordination on economic resilience and economic security by reducing vulnerabilities and countering malign practices that exploit and reinforce them’, addressing China’s economic power to coerce countries like Australia and Lithuania over political disputes for instance. The group’s commitment to Ukraine was also reaffirmed, with a visit from President Zelenskyy prompting a statement condemning Russia to be released. The group also discussed strengthening supply chains for critical minerals, trade and sustainable development and a commitment to the Global South.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced his Presidential bid on Wednesday, though a Twitter glitch meant it did not go as planned. The 44 year old, seen as Trump’s main rival for the Republican candidacy, who in his time as Governor has overseen an expansion of gun-ownership, restrictions on sex and gender education in schools and limits on abortion, will likely market himself in the campaign as a continuation of Trump policies without the drama attached, referencing his anti-lockdown stance and plans for education reforms in the launch. His policies were however completely overshadowed on Wednesday, as the official launch, which was held on a Twitter stream and hosted by Twitter owner Elon Musk, saw a series of glitches, technical problems and crashes leading to long pauses. Though DeSantis’ marketing team were quick see an opportunity in the glitches, stating that the announcement ‘broke the internet with so much excitement’, Twitter didn’t see it as such a positive, as engineering Chief, Foad Dabiri announced he would be leaving his job only a day after the launch, after 4 years of working at the social media platform.
Greece is heading towards another General Election, after the centre-right New Democracy party fell short of a majority in Parliament by 5 seats, winning 41% of the vote. Following the failure of parties to form a coalition, an interim Government, led by Ioannis Sarmas, will replace the current New Democracy Party’s Government as caretakers before a new election is held on 25th June. Speaking of the results, outgoing Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, stated votes collected gave his party a clear mandate for a four-year government.
Groups of pro-EU protestors gathered in Moldova’s Capital Chisinau, in a demonstration of more than 75,000 people organised by the country’s President Maia Sandu. The protest comes after Moldova applied to join the EU back in March, with the pro-Western Government accusing Russia of making efforts to destabilise the country by using foreign ‘saboteurs’ to overthrow the Government. EU representatives have claimed that Moldova will be ‘welcomed with open arms’ once reforms required by the EU, such as changes to the justice system, are put in place.
South Carolina joined the majority of Southern US States by signing restrictions on abortion into law. The new Bill, known as the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, bans abortion in most cases after cardiac activity can be detected, which normally occurs around 6 weeks into pregnancy, a period when most women are unaware they are pregnant.
France banned domestic short-haul flights where alternative train routes exist in an effort to cut carbon emissions, two and a half years after law makers had voted to end them. The new ban, which covers flights where alternative train journeys would last less than 2.5 hours means that flights from Paris to cities like Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux will no longer go ahead.
In Parliament 🏛
The Non-Domestic Rating Bill passed its remaining stages in the Commons on Monday without fanfare and supported by the Opposition (Editor’s note: this did not set the tone for the week...). The Bill sets out to reform business rates to incentivise property improvements and support more frequent revaluations, although Labour have called for greater support for small businesses, so you can expect a number of amendments to be tabled in this area in the Lords where it receives its first reading on 19th June.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is having a less straightforward time passing through Parliament, and is currently in ping pong between the two Chambers, with MPs voting to remove all non-government amendments passed in its passage through the Lords over the past few months. We can expect the Lords to push back on this when it returns post-recess before it eventually gives in.
The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill finally (to the great relief of Navigate’s housing policy team) concluded its committee stage in the Lords. We could write a thesis on what it does and doesn’t do, but in essence, 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. That make sense?
Leasehold Reform and the Safety of School Buildings were the subjects of Labour’s two opposition day debates on Tuesday in the Commons, whilst MPs passed a motion in a Backbench Business Debate on Thursday naming the 1933 Holodomor famine as a genocide by the leadership of the Soviet Union against the Ukrainian people.
The Illegal Migration Bill began its Lords’ committee stage. The controversial bill, dubbed the ‘Stop the Boats Bill’, faced backbench rebellions in the Commons, and condemnation from the Archbishop of Canterbury at its second reading. The Bill seeks to prevent and deter unlawful migration to the UK by essentially preventing asylum seekers arriving illegally in the UK from receiving protection.
The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is now also in ping pong, with amendments made in the Lords rejected/reamended by MPs on Wednesday. The Bill, which will end the special status of retained EU law in the UK statute book at the end of this year and enable the Government to more easily amend, repeal and replace EU-derived legislation, returns to the Lords for further consideration a week on Tuesday.
The Online Safety Bill continued its long committee stage in the Lords. The Bill introduces further regulation to online activity, such as banning anonymous online hate on social media, alongside enabling limited access to legal but harmful content for children.
Committee Corridor 📜
Levelling up policy will fail unless Government provides long-term funding for councils, so warns a report from the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee. The report argues that DLUHC has limited strategic oversight of levelling up funds and has failed to coordinate across departments, raising concerns over the delivery, allocation and funding methods, and the competitive bidding processes involved in these funds which are designed to tackle regional and local inequalities across the country.
Strategy to reform children’s social care falls short in delivering the radical reset needed, the Lords Public Services Committee has argued in a report. It highlights that the Government’s strategy lacks the scale, ambition, funding and pace required to achieve long-term reform, and calls on them to ensure that all children and families engaged in the care system see some immediate benefit.
An ambitious global strategy to support countries who host refugees is essential, states a report from the International Development Committee. Ahead of the UN Global Refugee Forum later this year, the Committee is calling for a meaningful debate on how the global community supports host countries to move from the initial humanitarian response to a longer-term development approach that incorporates the needs of host communities.
Key Movements 🔁
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk MP was sworn in as Lord Chancellor at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab MP announced he will not be seeking re-election at the next General Election.
Alastair Long has been appointed HM Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain in succession to Roderick Drummond. He previously served as Trade Commissioner for Africa in Cairo.
Richard Porter has been appointed HM Ambassador to the Plurinational State of Bolivia in succession to Jeff Glekin. He previously served as Commercial Counsellor in Bangkok.
Sir Ron Kalifa and Frances O'Grady have been reappointed as Non-Executive Directors of the Court of the Bank of England.
This Week’s Polls 📊
Trust in the Conservative Government’s immigration polices falls back to 29%, after seeing an eight point jump in confidence in March 2023. By contrast, polling by Ipsos reveals that 38% trust the Labour party in this area, a small three point gain compared to March.
Perceptions of Suella Braverman’s performance as Home Secretary remain stable, according to research by Ipsos. In line with March scores, 19% think she is doing a good job in her role, with 37% disagreeing.
The SNP could fall to just 27 seats if an election were held tomorrow, YouGov modelling found this week, with Labour gaining 23 from their nationalist rivals to bring their seat tally up to 24, while the Tories and Lib Dems would take four apiece.
68% of medium and large businesses are encouraging staff to use ChatGPT, according to Savanta’s latest UK Business Tracker. It found smaller businesses are taking longer to embrace ChatGPT, as 56% of those aware of the model have not introduced it to their staff and 15% have actively discouraged usage.
The Institute for Government warned that ‘deep-rooted institutional and cultural problems’ at the Home Office have undermined its performance and its approach to crime, immigration and asylum seekers, in its latest piece.
The Centre for European Reform argued that the Competition and Markets Authority is ‘ready to regulate big tech’, as it released a paper that looked at the CMA’s decision to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision.
Demos published a paper on the skills gaps facing the UK, arguing that ‘equipping young people with the skills that employers need is key to tackling youth unemployment and promoting the UK’s future prosperity’.
The Centre for Social Justice shared analysis which found that over 700,000 people on sickness benefits want to work, finding that helping these people into work could provide the Treasury with £7bn in benefit savings and taxes.
The Centre for Policy Studies published a report which argued that fuel duty and vehicle excise duty should be replaced by a ‘fairer’ per-mile charging system, with higher mileage allowances for those living in rural areas.
Policy Exchange published a report calling for a series of reforms to be made to the Apprenticeship Levy, including that it be transformed into an ‘Apprenticeship and Skills Levy’.
The Adam Smith Institute released a paper on the UK’s visa system, which recommended that employers be permitted to buy visas for prospective workers from overseas via an auction.
RUSI published a report on the nature and extent of crime-enabled terrorist financing in Europe, evaluating policy and law enforcement in response to the issue.
You’ve Got to Laugh 😂
MPs sure love their flags – whether they’re red, white and blue… or just red is only a matter of detail. And so, our inaugural “LOOK AT MY FLAGS!” award, this week goes to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who left us in no doubt who he is supporting as he flagged up (sorry…) his call with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov in a tweet on Tuesday. In addition to the Ukrainian flag emoji, there were not one, but two Ukrainian flags in his office, one of which is taller than he is. I might be wrong... but we think he's supporting Ukraine.
Leader of the House of Commons and chief sword-wielder Penny Mordaunt had another good week in the Commons when she was faced with the prospect of responding to more conspiracy theories on the COVID vaccine from former Conservative and now Reclaim MP, Andrew Bridgen. In response to his question criticising the BBC for “spreading disinformation”, she replied to highlight that “we may have just heard the first cuckoo of spring…”
PMQs has been full of awful gags since we can remember (they get worse every year), but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and so this week, giving credit where credit is due, Labour Leader Keir Starmer managed to bag a good laugh in the Commons at the expense of the embattled Suella Braverman MP. Questioning the Prime Minister about the immigration stats due out the following day, he referenced her recent speeding fine, asking “why does he think his Home Secretary seems to have such a problem coping with points-based systems?”
We learned this week that the PM uses Jilly Cooper’s novels as a form of “escapism”. Famous for her raunchy reads, we can’t help but wonder if the PM will be tucking into former Downing Street aide Cleo Watson’s first novel ‘Whips’. This week we were treated to the delight of radio legend Mariella Frostrup reading some of the saucier passages from the new book. If you’re still in the office or on the tube… best put some headphones in for this one…
Finally, we leave with a mea culpa for our clients after we gave former Deputy Prime Minister and outgoing MP Dominic Raab a Caribbean twist in your 0830 Morning Briefings on Tuesday, referring to him mistakenly as ‘Former Deputy Prime Minister Dominican Raab MP’. Perhaps he is considering his near-namesake for his next foreign holiday.
We hope you have another enjoyable bank holiday weekend