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Relief for Rishi | Farewell Drakeford | COP Concludes

With just two sitting days until Parliament rises for Christmas recess, Rishi Sunak breathed a sigh of relief as the controversial Rwanda Bill passed second reading on Tuesday. But with 29 Tory MPs deliberately abstaining from the vote, another potential by-election and a grilling from the Liaison Committee next week, it’s safe to say that he’ll be crawling into recess.  


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 much anticipated drama over the Safety of Rwanda Bill passed… without too much drama... for now. Discussions between right wing groups within the Tory Party (ERG, New Conservatives, Common Sense Group, Conservative Growth Group and the Northern Research Group) began early this week, over which way to vote on the Bill’s second reading, sparking a frenzy in Westminster and serious fears for the Prime Minister that he just might be losing control of his Party. Their problem: that the Bill has too many loopholes and is not fit for purpose, essentially not going far enough. Though not as dangerous in terms of voting, pairing this with the more moderate Tories that think the Bill has gone too far, the Prime Minister found himself with a bit of a headache. Fears turned into an emergency breakfast meeting at No.10 on Tuesday morning ahead of the vote, as faces such as Miriam Cates, Danny Kruger, Jonathan Gullis and even Deputy Party Chairman Lee Anderson were seen heading into Downing Street, in an attempt from the Prime Minister to rally the right wing troops behind his trademark bill. And if that didn’t seal the deal, the UK’s lead negotiator at COP28, Net Zero Minister Graham Stuart was flown, from Dubai, in order to participate in the vote, before flying back to Dubai for the final few hours (or minutes) of the conference, before flying back to the UK, as he delivered a Statement on COP in the Commons on Thursday. However, whether it was the fancy breakfast, the promise of tabling amendments to the Bill in the later stages, or the three-line whip, Sunak managed to get the Bill to pass without any serious threats, with 313 votes to 269, with no Conservative MP voting against it. 37 Conservatives abstained or were absent (around 29 were a deliberate abstention), including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, Jake Berry, Miriam Cates, Mark Francois, Andrea Jenkyns, Danny Kruger and Jonathan Gullis. Still a long way from the clear, it is thought that Sunak has agreed with the right wing groups that amendments are likely to be tabled in the upcoming stages of the Bill, in order to tighten the supposed loopholes, though this will not be done easily without a larger upset from more moderates in the Party. Without such amendments however, it is likely that abstainers in the second reading will vote against any further proceedings. It’s a fine line to tread, if there’s even a line to be trodden. The Bill will return for Committee of the Whole House early next year.


Next in Driving the Week… but only at 20mph, Mark Drakeford announced he is to stand down as First Minister of Wales in March. Announcing his resignation, Drakeford confirmed he will remain as a Member of the Senedd until the next Welsh Election in 2026, but wants a new Labour leader, and First Minister in place in time for the UK wide election. The two frontrunners for his successor, Economy Minister Vaughan Gething and Education Minister Jeremy Miles have both announced that they are standing.


COP28 concluded, with a deal agreeing, for the first time, to transition away from fossil fuels. After days negotiating on the draft deal, which originally only called for a phasing down of fossil fuels, the agreement reached proposed stronger action on oil, gas and coal, specifically mentioning a transition away from them. However, the deal has still been criticised by environmental campaigns for not, specifically, calling for their “phase out”.


Coming Up Next Week 📆


Parliament will sit for two days next week before rising on Tuesday ahead of the Christmas holidays. 


In the Commons - The Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill will have its second reading, and the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill will undergo all its stages.


In the Lords - The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, the Victims and Prisoners Bill and the Arbitration Bill will all get their second readings. 


On Committee Corridor - Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will well and truly earn his Christmas holiday with an appearance before the Liaison Committee on Tuesday, where he will be grilled on global, economic and energy issues. Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron will give oral evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and both Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt and Shadow Leader Lucy Powell will appear before the Procedure Committee as part of its inquiry into the ability of the Commons to scrutinise Secretaries of State in the Lords…they could just pop down the corridor to the Foreign Affairs Committee.  


The Week in Stats 📉


£140,600 – Amount awarded to Prince Harry in his mobile phone hacking lawsuit with the Mirror Group Newspapers.


80.4 million – Number of entries and exits to London Liverpool Street Station between 1 April 2022 and 21 March 2023 (surpassing London Waterloo as the most used railway station in Great Britain!)


803 – Number of Airbnb’s currently being advertised in Ilfracombe, Devon, compared to only 19 rental properties available on Rightmove.


£1,565 – Predicted extra amount Brits will spend during the festive period, 63% more than they would normally spend.


4000 acres – Amount of Land Environment Minister Robert Douglas-Miller, who was made a peer today, reportedly owns in Scotland. 


3 years – Time the Scottish Government will delay its National Care Service scheme by due to rising costs.


Other Political News 📰


The Home Office launched a new strategy to tackle organised crime, with the National Crime Agency estimating that there are at least 59,000 people in the UK involved in serious and organised crime which costs the economy £47bn each year. The strategy will: roll out the 'Clear, Hold, Build’ policing tactic to every police force in England and Wales by next spring; introduce new powers in the Criminal Justice Bill to prohibit 'articles used by criminal gangs, such as templates for 3D printed firearm components, pill presses and vehicle concealments, as well as banning electronic devices such as signal jammers used in vehicle theft'; and 'strengthen Serious Crime Prevention Orders, making it easier for police and other law enforcement agencies to place restrictions on offenders or suspected offenders and stop them from participating in further crime'.


Police forces in England and Wales are also set to receive up to £922m extra funding next year. The Home Office said the proposed funding package for 2024/25 could see a total of up to £18.4bn pledged to support the police to reduce crime in communities, tackle anti-social behaviour and pursue county lines, adding this represents a 30.7% rise in cash terms compared to 2019-20. However, the Police Federation slammed the package, arguing that it ‘falls flat when considered against the payroll commitment for 233,832 full-time equivalent workforce as of 31 March 2023.’


Unlimited financial penalties have been introduced for companies who pollute the environment, as the previous £250,000 cap on Variable Monetary Penalties (VMPs) has been scrapped and the range of offences they cover expanded. Offences that can be punished by the Environment Agency now include: breach of permit conditions from sites that discharge into rivers and seas; illegal discharges to water where there is no permit; illegal waste offences; and permit breaches from manufacturing industries and power stations which contribute to air pollution.


The Deputy PM chaired the first meeting of the Economic Security Public-Private Forum, alongside the Business Secretary, with attendees from 11 businesses across sectors such as AI, communications and defence. The business leaders received a declassified threat briefing from the National Protective Security Authority, in which they were told the threats posed by terrorists and states are diversifying; and were briefed on the steps their organisations can take to defend themselves. Future meetings of the Forum will take place quarterly, with each receiving a declassified economic security briefing from relevant experts.


The target to move Government roles out of Westminster was brought forward to 2027 following new figures showing that 16,061 roles have already been moved out of London, exceeding the Government’s commitment to relocate 15,000 roles by 2025 and 22,000 by 2030. Under new plans, Aberdeen has been chosen as the location of a second headquarters for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero; Darlington as the second headquarters for the Department for Business and Trade; and Salford for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.


Another by-election could be on the cards after Christmas as the Committee on Standards published its report into the conduct of Scott Benton MP, in which it found that the MP for Blackpool South committed an ‘extremely serious breach’ of standards rules, after he was filmed meeting with undercover reporters posing as gambling industry investors and offering to lobby Ministers. The Committee recommended Benton be banned from Parliament for 35 days, and if the Commons approves this then he could face a recall petition. Benton has been sitting as an independent MP having had the Conservative Whip removed when the film emerged.


Around the World 🌍


The EU voted to begin membership discussions with Ukraine and Moldova, a move which Ukrainian President Zelenskyy hailed as a “victory”. Both countries had applied for membership last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Hungary was expected to block the move, it appears that the vote took place while the Hungarian leader had temporarily left the room (although all sides insist this was agreed upon). EU membership discussions can take years to conclude.


With eerie similarity, opposition parties in France united to vote down a key immigration bill. The bill would have made it easier to expel migrants with long prison sentences and limited migrants bringing family members to France. Following the vote, immigration-hardliner Interior Minister Darmanin offered his resignation, but President Macron rejected it.


Four of Japan’s cabinet ministers resigned over a fundraising scandal in which it is alleged that £2.8m has disappeared into a slush fund over a five-year period. One of the four ministers was Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno, widely seen as one of Prime Minister Kishido’s most loyal supporters. The affair is further bad news for the government, which this week saw its popularity fall below 30% for the first time since 2012.


In totally unsurprising news, President Putin confirmed his intention to stand for re-election next year. Re-election would see him serve until 2030, his fifth term in office. His announcement came a day after officials set 15-17 March 2024 as dates for the election.


Guatemala’s attorney general declared the results of the country’s presidential election void, a move which the EU labelled an ‘attempted coup’. Anti-corruption campaigner Bernardo Arévalo won the election in June with over 60% of the vote, but the result has been repeatedly challenged by his political rivals. The Guatemalan electoral commission responded that the result was "unalterable" and insisted that Mr Arévalo will be sworn in next month as planned.


Argentina’s new libertarian president vowed to deliver economic "shock treatment" in his maiden speech. He warned that "there is no money" and pledged a programme of severe austerity in an attempt to reduce the country’s inflation rate, which currently stands at 140%.


A conflict in Latin America appears to have been averted after the Venezuelan and Guyanese presidents agreed not to use force to settle their territorial dispute. Venezuela lays claim to a large portion of Guyana, and had massed what appeared to be an invasion force on the border after holding a questionable referendum in which 98% of Venezuelans apparently supported seizing the region by any means. The potential for the conflict to ignite set alarm bells ringing internationally, with the issue raised urgently in the House of Commons yesterday.


Highlights from Parliament 🏛


The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill underwent its second reading. The focus was unsurprisingly on the revelation that the Bill does not actually ban new houses being sold under leasehold, although the Government has promised this change will be introduced via amendment to the Bill at a later stage.


The Finance Bill also passed its second reading. The Bill seeks to implement changes announced in the Autumn Statement, with this week’s debate focused on the impact of the tax changes announced in the Budget. 


Backbench Business debates on knife crime and the potential merger between Vodafone and Three were held on Thursday.


In the House of Lords, the Pedicabs (London) Bill and the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill began their committee stages; the Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill continued in committee; and the National Insurance Contributions (Reductions in Rates) Bill passed its second reading.


Committee Corridor 📜


Government inaction and a dependence on foreign dictatorships has left the UK’s critical minerals supply chains ‘vulnerable’, declared the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report this morning. It lamented that ‘successive UK governments’ had ‘failed to recognise the importance of critical minerals’ or identify the ‘aggressive capture of large parts of the market, over the last three decades, by China’. The Committee criticised the Government’s Critical Minerals Strategy as ‘too broad’ and called on it to ‘publish specific targets for priority sectors and to provide a more detailed implementation plan’.


The UK faces the ‘high risk of catastrophic ransomware attack at any moment’, warned the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy’s latest report. It criticised the fact that ‘swathes of UK critical national infrastructure’ remains ‘vulnerable to ransomware’ and added that ‘victims currently receive next-to-no support from law enforcement or Government agencies’. It also: noted the ‘woeful lack’ of cyber insurance coverage; labelled the UK’s regulatory frameworks ‘insufficient and outdated’; and called for responsibility for tackling ransomware to be transferred from the Home Office to the Cabinet Office.


Integration is ‘key’ to improving the health services said the Lords Integration of Primary and Community Care Committee report. The report highlighted the need for a ‘seamlessly integrated patient-centric healthcare sector where patients are given the type of care they need, when, where, and how they need it’ and suggested the Government ‘focus more on preventative rather than reactive care to tackle the needs of an ageing population’.


The Government is unable to demonstrate value for money across billions of pounds of public procurement due to poor quality and incomplete data, declared the Public Accounts Committee’s latest report. It found that of 235 large contracts, 20% received only one bid, and ‘around a third of the total contract value of more than £100bn awarded by major departments during 2021-22 were not subject to competition’. It also warned that the Government ‘may not be prepared to successfully implement’ the recently-passed Procurement Act.


Key Movements 🔁


Mims Davies MP has been given the portfolio for disabled people in the Department for Work and Pensions. It comes as Downing Street confirmed it will not be appointing a new Minister for Disabled People to replace Tom Pursglove MP who was made Minister for Legal Migration last week.


Simon Fell MP has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s new Anti-Fraud Champion.


James Daly MP has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Pakistan; Rob Butler MP as Trade Envoy to Morocco; and Dan Carden MP as Trade Envoy to Mexico.


Doug Chalmers has been appointed as Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.


General Sir Roly Walker KCB DSO has been appointed as Chief of the General Staff and Aide-de-Camp to His Majesty in the rank of General.


Chris Grigg CBE has been reappointed as Chair of the UK Infrastructure Bank for a further 3 years from 3 May 2024, and Muriel Dube has been appointed to the Board as Non-Executive Director for 4 years.


Naomi Burgoyne and Dan Turnbull have been confirmed as the CMA’s Senior Director for Mergers and Senior Director for Markets respectively.


David Jones has been appointed as the Chair of the DVLA, taking up his post at the end of January.  


Deputy Senior District Judge Tanweer Ikram CBE DL has been appointed as a judicial Commissioner of the Judicial Appointments Commission for a tenure of 3 years.


Justice Fraser has been appointed as a Lord Justice of Appeal.


Martyn Henderson OBE has been appointed as the interim Chief Operating Officer to lead the preparatory work to set up the new independent regulator for men’s elite football.


Karly Greene, Michael Counahan and John Hood have been confirmed as new Tourism Northern Ireland (Tourism NI) Board Members.


This Week’s Polls 📊


84% of people think that the Government is handling the issue of immigration in the UK badly, compared to 8% who say ‘well’, according to YouGov. Meanwhile, only 20% of respondents believe that the Government’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda is good value for money, versus 49% who think it is not. This comes as Rishi Sunak faces a record low net favourability score of -49, comparable to that of Boris Johnson at the time of his resignation (-53).


With Mark Drakeford announcing his resignation as Wales’ First Minister, it looks like Vaughan Gething is leading the polls to become his replacement. In a Redfield and Wilton poll of Welsh voters (carried out before Drakeford’s resignation), 16% said they would most like to see Vaughan Gething replace Drakeford, with Eluned Morgan coming in second with 13%. Respondents were also asked how they would vote in a referendum on Welsh independence, with 58% saying they would vote no, and 34% yes.


Trust in politicians has hit its lowest score in forty years, with just 9% of the British public saying they trust politicians to tell the truth, according to Ipsos. The picture is the same for Government Ministers, who join politicians as the two least trusted professions in Britain.


Nearly 50% of voters think that members of the House of Lords should be chosen by the public via elections, according to new research from Savanta. The polling also revealed that only 23% of respondents thought that it was ‘acceptable’ (49% said ‘not acceptable’) for someone to be appointed to the Lords specifically so they can serve as a cabinet minister.


Think-Tanking 💭


The IFS published their sixth annual report on education spending in England. It showed that in 2022-23, total public spending on education stood at £116bn (including the cost of issuing student loans) – an 8% or £10bn fall in real terms since the Conservatives first year in power back in 2010-11.


The IFS also published their Pension Review report, setting out key challenges for the UK’s state pension system and suggesting a way forward for the future.


The Centre for Social Justice published a report on the state of poverty in the UK, stating that ‘the UK is in danger of sliding back into the “Two Nations” of the Victorian era’.

The IPPR released a publication on influence and inequality in British democracy, arguing that the next wave of democratic reform should be guided by ‘the principle of political equality’.


Demos published a report on joining up public services and housing for vulnerable young people and families; and a report on fixing the relationship between people, power and places, with core schools of thought on how best to achieve this.


The Fabian Society released a publication on a progressive strategy for climate resilience and adaptation, arguing that ‘the next Government must do better to prepare for a climate-changed future’.


You’ve Got to Laugh 😂


The Business Statement, which sees MP swinging between taking hefty potshots at one another and raising vitally important issues, is a classic example of the quaint eccentricity of the UK’s legislature. However, this week, Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt took it up a notch when she treated members to a “festive roundup on SNP morality”. It was certainly a contrast to the tone of her conference speech earlier this year.


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