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Retail Crime Crackdown | Playing the Trump Card | Wragg and Phone Man

With Parliament very much in recess, two former Prime Ministers battled it out for press coverage across the pond this week, whilst Labour and the Tories battled it out for column inches back in Blighty. Spoiler alert: Labour definitely had a better week. However with yet another Tory MP losing the whip (weirdly voluntarily…) and a police investigation into Labour’s deputy leader, both parties prepare to return to Westminster next week fighting fires on multiple fronts.

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 🚨

It was a busy week in North America for two former Prime Ministers, as David Cameron and Boris Johnson travelled (separately) to the US and Canada. The Foreign Secretary arrived in Washington DC in yet another attempt to urge US lawmakers to provide continued military support for Ukraine, meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and ‘key figures across Congress’ (although reports suggest he was snubbed by the Republican Speaker, who supposedly refused to meet him). In an unusual turn, he then paid a visit to no less a figure than Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago palace, where they discussed ‘a range of important geopolitical subjects’ (and reportedly agreed to a round of golf the next time Trump visits Scotland). Meanwhile, Boris attended the Canada Strong and Free Network conference in Ottawa, during which he branded Rishi’s smoking ban “absolutely nuts” and “just mad” (the Tobacco and Vapes Bill returns to the Commons next week), before popping up at Georgetown University in Washington, where he refused to rule out a return to frontline politics. That will have made Rishi’s week.

Assaulting a retail worker will be made a standalone criminal offence, as the Prime Minister set out “tough new action” on Wednesday to crack down on retail crime. Perpetrators could be sent to prison for up to six months, receive an unlimited fine and be banned from returning to the shop where they committed the crime, whilst breaching an order will carry a five-year maximum prison sentence. The creation of this new offence marks the culmination of campaigning by almost everyone except the Government… see here Labour promising to create a specific offence for assault against retail workers back in September of last year and here the Government rejecting a Labour amendment to the Crime Bill for this in January. Also included in the PM’s retail crime crackdown was greater use of facial recognition technology, backed by £55.5m investment over the next four years, and action to force serial offenders to wear tags to track their movements.

Labour sought to flesh out more policy this week, announcing they will crackdown on tax avoiders, close the loopholes in the PM’s non-dom plan, improve England’s bus network, and up defence spending. Publishing Labour’s Plan to Close the Tax Gap, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves pledged to raise £5.1bn a year by the end of the next Parliament by cracking down on tax dodgers, with £2bn of this money lined up to tackle NHS waiting lists, provide extra dental appointments and fund free school breakfast clubs. The party have said they will also raise £2.6bn over the course of the next parliament by closing the loopholes in Sunak’s non-dom plan, announced the launch of a panel of tax experts to advise the party on a blueprint for boosting compliance and modernising the work of HMRC, unveiled their five-point plan to “breathe life into Britain’s high streets” (seemingly more of a rebrand of existing policies than any new announcements), set out their plan for a better bus network across England, and expressed a desire to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP “as soon as resources allow”.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

The Commons… is straight back into the action after the Easter Recess, where it will consider the Lords’ amendments to the Safety of Rwanda Bill, as well as the Tobacco and Vapes Bill and the Finance Bill.

The Lords… is also back after a near-three week hiatus, with the Litigation Funding Agreements (Enforceability) Bill, the Victims and Prisoners Bill, and the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill all continuing their passage through Parliament. Peers are also set to reconsider the Safety of Rwanda Bill, again, after MPs reject yet more of their amendments.

On Committee Corridor... The Permanent Secretary at the Home Office Matthew Rycroft, and other senior Home Office officials, will give evidence on asylum accommodation and the UK-Rwanda partnership on Monday (expect questions on reports that housing earmarked for migrants has been sold off to local buyers). Other notable witnesses next week include Charlie Bigham (of posh ready meal fame) talking about food, diet and obesity; and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams who will be asked about the governance of the Union.

The Week in Stats 📉

0.1% – the percentage GDP grew by in February.

3 in 3 – The number of ministers who have resigned is as many weeks, after Graham Stuart MP joined James Heappey MP and Robert Halfon MP on the backbenches this afternoon.

7.54 million – The number of NHS treatments waiting to be carried out in February, a decrease from 7.58 million in January.

£4.3bn – The amount of the foreign aid that went to supporting refugees and asylum seekers in the UK last year.

30 – the number of charities that have written to Home Secretary James Cleverly regarding plans on rough sleeping.

4 – the number of seats Reform MP Lee Anderson definitely won’t campaign against because “friendship means more” to him.

Other Political News 📰

The long-awaited Cass Review was published this week, heavily criticising the “toxicity” of the debate around gender identity services and arguing physicians and medical professionals have been “afraid” to air their opinions for fear of a backlash on social media. Dr Cass’ report recommended the NHS stop proscribing puberty blockers in all but the most serious of cases, calling them an “unregulated treatment” that hasn’t gone through proper clinical trials. Both the Health Secretary Victoria Atkins and Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting welcomed the review. Atkins criticised the “culture of secrecy and ideology over evidence and safety” that permeated through the NHS’s gender identity services, whilst Streeting performed a 180 on previous comments about trans identification, calling the report “a watershed moment” and stating Labour will enact the review’s recommendations in government.

NHS waiting lists are slowly improving but the targets are still being missed. That’s the headline in a nut shell from Thursday’s monthly stats dump. The latest figures show 74.2% of people visiting A&E were seen within four hours, missing the target but up from the 70.9% the previous month. Similarly NHS waiting lists have fallen slightly to 7.5m but this figure remains 300,000 higher than when Rishi Sunak pledged to reduce them 15 months ago, causing him a bit of a headache.

Rishi Sunak met Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Downing Street on Tuesday in a meeting that discussed the partnership to fly illegal migrants to the UK to Rwanda for processing, with both leaders agreeing they hope to see the first flights take off soon. The meeting however also marked the thirtieth anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi population in Rwanda. (Editor’s note: Navigate’s Director visited Rwanda in early 2020 with the charity Cricket Builds Hope to see the way the country has rebuilt itself over the past 30 years… and get thoroughly trounced by some incredible young, up and coming local cricketers. CBH – whose patrons include cricketing legends Brian Lara, Jonathan Agnew and Heather Knight – does incredible work in the country so please do check it out)

William Wragg’s April went from bad to worse this week when he effectively suspended himself from the Conservative Party after the Prime Minister failed to do so, and quit as Chair of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee. He was then ridiculed online when it emerged he had inadvertently shared his WiFi password in a photoshoot with the Observer (more on that below). This week it’s also emerged that the Met Police began an investigation into the honeytrap last year after they were informed by House of Commons staff… but did not warn MPs. The number of Westminster insiders targeted is also rising, with Politico reporting it’s identified 22 people contacted by the fictional ‘Charlie’ and ‘Abi’ so far…

Angela Rayner hasn’t been having a great April either, and on Friday Greater Manchester Police confirmed they have launched an investigation into whether the Deputy Labour Leader has broken electoral law by using a different address to her main residence on the electoral roll. The Conservative Party have been calling for police to act after questions arose about whether the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne had paid tax on the sale of her council house in 2015.

Around the World 🌍

South Korea’s Liberal Opposition Party, the Democratic Party, won a majority in the country’s National Assembly elections, in what was seen as a vote of confidence in Conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol at the mid-point of his Presidency. The DK took 175 seats of the 300 chamber, widening their majority over Yoon’s People Power Party, who have been struggling to achieve its legislative agenda. Following the results, the PPP’s Party Leader (leading the campaign) and Prime Minister have offered their resignation. There has been growing resentment in the country for President over rising food prices, a rapidly aging population and an ongoing doctors strike. 

The European Parliament approved reform to tighten migration and asylum rules, after 8 years of negotiations. The Pact requires all EU Member States to share responsibility regarding asylum seekers, through taking migrants from ‘frontline countries’ such as Italy, Greece and Spain, or providing financial support and resources to help these countries manage the volumes of migrants. The pact also states that applicants with a low chance of success should be dealt with rapidly, without necessarily admitting them into EU territory. The Pact will now go to the Member states for a vote, and is expected to be fully approved by the end of April.

New Zealand tightened its work visa rules, citing ‘unsustainable’ levels of migration. Under the new rules, low-skilled applicants must fulfil English language requirements for the visa, and will only be allowed to stay for three years, down from five. Other changes include setting a minimum skills and work experience threshold for workers.

President Biden reiterated the United States’ ‘ironclad’ support for Israel following threats from Iran seeking revenge against Israel for a strike on its consulate last week. During a press conference with the Japanese Prime Minister in Washington, Biden stated that the US believes an attack on Israel by Iran is imminent, assuring the US’ commitment to the security of the Jewish State. The reassurance comes as there are growing calls from the US for a ceasefire in Gaza.   

Arizona’s Supreme Court has ruled the State can enforce a near-total abortion ban, which was brought in in 1864 and precedes Arizona becoming a State. The law makes abortion punishable by a 2 – 5 year prison sentence, except when the mother’s life is at risk. The decision comes after a period of uncertainty and legal wrangling, about whether a pre-statehood law, which had essentially been dormant for nearly half a century due to the introduction of Roe v Wade in 1973, could be enforced, with the court voting by 4 votes to 2 in favour of. It remains unclear how the law will be enforced.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev appointed a caretaker Government on Tuesday, with a snap election now due to be held on 9 June, coinciding with the European Parliament election. The new June election will be the sixth for the country in the last three years, as negotiations for a new government collapsed last month.

Simon Harris was elected as Ireland’s new Taoiseach, following the resignation of his predecessor Leo Varadkar. He was the only candidate to become Party leader, and is, at 37, the youngest person to lead the Republic of Ireland.

Committee Corridor 📜

The creative industries are suffering from ‘precarious rates of pay and employment conditions’, concludes the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report into the sector. It recommends the creation of a Freelancers’ Commissioner and calls for action to be taken to ensure creators are compensated for ‘private copying’.

Scientists working across government should be allowed and encouraged to take on a wider public facing role in the media to combat the spread of misinformation, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has concluded in it’s second report out this week. The report stems from concerns around the shortcomings of Government communications during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Key Movements 🔁

Graham Stuart MP resigned as Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, stating he will focus on “fighting and winning” his seat at the next election.

William Wragg MP resigned the Conservative Whip and stepped down as Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and as Vice Chair of the 1922 Committee over the Westminster honeytrap scandal.

Shadow Financial Secretary James Murray MP will chair Labour’s panel of tax experts to advise the party on ways to tackle tax avoidance and modernise the work of HMRC, with members including Margaret Hodge MP, Sir Edward Troup – former HMRC Permanent Secretary and ex-Treasury Special Adviser on tax, Bill Dodwell –  ex-director of the Office for Tax Simplification; and Mike Bracken – founder and former Executive Director of the UK Government Digital Service.

Jessica de Mounteney has been appointed as the new First Parliamentary Counsel and Permanent Secretary of the Government in Parliament Group, Cabinet Office.

Peter Hill CBE has been appointed as Chair of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Dame Christine Gilbert has been appointed to lead an independent learning review into Ofsted’s response to the tragic death of Ruth Perry.

Lindy Cameron has been appointed British High Commissioner to the Republic of India.

Victoria Harrison has been appointed as the UK’s first totally blind Ambassador, leading the UK Government’s relationship with Slovenia from August 2024.

Paul Glibbery has been appointed as a Non-Executive Director to the Security Industry Authority.

Jo Bradwell has been appointed as Non-Executive Commissioner to the Forestry Commission.

This Week’s Polls 📊

1 in 5 Britons believe it is ‘acceptable’ to protest outside of MP’s homes, according to a new Ipsos poll which looked at opinions on protest. 61% of respondents felt that it was acceptable to protest outside of Parliament, while 53% believed it was acceptable to protest in parks and green spaces. The poll also looked into how divided the public believes Britain to be, with results showing that 81% believe it to be divided and 70% responded that they were concerned about the state of democracy in Britain.

Incumbent Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is leading the Mayoral election polls by 13 points, according to Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest poll. It is looking like Khan’s bid for an unprecedented third term as the capital’s mayor will be successful, as Conservative candidate Susan Hall falls behind him with 30%, followed by Green Party’s Zoë Garbett with 10% and the Lib Dem’s Rob Blackie with 8%. The poll showed that Khan has retained the support of 73% of those who voted for him in the 2021 election, while 67% of those who voted for the Conservative Party’s 2021 candidate Shaun Bailey would vote for Susan Hall.

Labour is leading the polls among Scottish voters as 33% of Scots intend to vote Labour in the next general election, with YouGov’s latest poll showing that this is the first time Labour has led the polls since the independence referendum in 2014. According to YouGov’s voting intention tracker, the SNP has been on a steady decline since August 2020, when it had the backing of 54% of Scottish voters.

Think-Tanking 💭

The IFS published a report on the short and medium-term impacts of Sure Start on educational outcomes; and a report examining the association between local pay and retention of NHS hospital and community staff in pay bands 1 to 4 of the Agenda for Change framework.

The Social Market Foundation released a paper on the current state of education in prisons, and why it is failing to deliver on its aims of supporting employment and reducing reoffending.

The IEA published a paper written in the style of a report from the future (the year 2035), in which Britain has successfully solved its housing crisis.

The Resolution Foundation released a briefing note looking at what has been driving the rapid increases in rents over the past two years, and what that means for the future.

The Higher Education Policy Institute published a collection of essays into the challenges of financing higher education, exploring a range of potential funding models.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

The “bombshell” news this week that former Prime Minister Harold Wilson did indeed have an affair (just not with whom everyone believed at the time), means that more than a third of the 11 Prime Ministers who have served over the past 50 years have had (publicly-confirmed) affairs. Wilson joins Major, Johnson and Truss on the naughty list.

Parliament2015! That’s William Wragg MP’s parliamentary Wi-Fi password… well, we assume/hope his staff have changed it by now… h/t to PoliticsJoe’s Political Correspondent Ava Evans for spotting the security breach in a photoshoot to accompany an article in The Observer. Other items on Mr Wragg’s desk/in-shot – providing an insight into the daily life of an MP – include his congestion charge login details, a near-empty bottle of aftershave, what appears to be a half-used toilet roll, and a picture of a cocker spaniel puppy (Navigate’s Chief Morale Officer approves of the last one).


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