A former US President arrested, a former Scottish First Minister’s house searched, and more scandals relating to MPs in Westminster, it might be recess, but that hasn’t stopped the political drama from unfolding…
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
Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell was arrested in connection to an investigation surrounding the finances of the SNP. Murrell was arrested and questioned on Wednesday morning, as Scottish police confirmed they were searching a number of addresses in relation to the investigation including the home of Sturgeon and Murrell, and the SNP HQ. Murrell resigned as the Party’s Chief Executive last month, having held the position since 1999. Speaking of the news, new First Minister Humza Yousef MSP stated it was “a difficult day for the party”, confirming they were fully cooperating with inquiries, though suggested it was not possible to comment on a live investigation. He concluded by paying tribute to his predecessor, reminding the reason for her resignation was because “she had taken the party as far as she possibly could” and sympathised with “just how exhausted she absolutely was” after the pandemic, denying that this investigation played a part in her resignation. Murrell was later released without charge, pending further investigations into the SNP’s finances.
With Easter recess underway, both sides of the House used the break to launch crime policies in the run up to local elections. For the Tories, Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak travelled to the north on Monday, visiting Leeds and Rochdale to launch a new Grooming Gangs Taskforce, which will see ‘specialist officers parachuted in to assist police forces with live child sexual exploitation and grooming investigations to bring more of these despicable criminals to justice.’ The new plans will include data analysts working alongside the police to identify the types of criminals carrying out the offences who may have otherwise been missed, including mandatory recording of data about the ethnicity of the suspects. In a video made by the Prime Minister for The Express outlining the plans, Sunak said such mandation was “because political correctness should never get in the way of keeping young girls safe”.
After calling the new plans “far too inadequate for the scale of the problem”, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Copper turned the focus to antisocial behaviour as she announced a series of pledges to ‘rebuild neighbourhood policing.’ The plans include introducing 13,000 additional police officers and increasing local patrols; introducing new ‘Respect Orders’ for persistent adult repeat offenders who are ruining lives with antisocial behaviour’; taking tougher action against town centre drug dealing; introducing clean-up squads of offenders for fly-tipping; and expanding the use of Parent Orders forcing parents to attend parental classes.
Over at Defra, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey announced a new plan for water. A range of policies were unveiled on Monday evening, from more investment into infrastructure to tackle pollution to consulting on banning plastic in wet wipes, restricting chemicals in water and allowing for tougher enforcement by the Environment Agency. Responding to the announcement, prominent campaigner against the so-called sewage scandal, Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon criticised the plans for being “reannouncements” of policies rather than new ideas (indeed, previous Conservative Governments announced similar policies for wet wipes in 2018 and 2021, both of which failed to materialise).
The Week in Stats 📉
£12.7m – amount TikTok was fined in the UK for allowing 1.4 million children aged under 13 to use the platform in 2020.
4am – time a Conservative MP is alleged to have rung a senior colleague after they woke up in a brothel and couldn’t find their clothes… all guesses welcome
£1.2m – average house price in Salcombe in Devon, which has been named the most expensive seaside town in the UK.
161 – number of officers in the Metropolitan Police who have criminal convictions, confirmed in an open letter released by the force.
6-in-10 – UK rental homes fail to meet the proposed new standards for energy efficiency.
10.1% - rise in the State Pension from next Monday.
15 – Independent MPs in the House of Commons… one more than the Liberal Democrats.
Other Political News
500 men will be housed on a barge off the Dorset coast while their asylum claims are processed, the Home Office announced this week, in its latest policy pledge to ‘Stop the Boats’. The floating barge, with 222 rooms, has been refurbished since it was criticised as an "oppressive environment" when the Dutch Government used it for a similar purpose. It will be located at Portland Port in Dorset for at least 18 months, with the Home Office saying it is “significantly cheaper than hotels”.
Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan visited Brussels to meet with European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, where they discussed research collaboration including the UK’s potential association to Horizon Europe. This meeting was seen as a positive step, indicative of recent willingness from both sides to engage in discussions on UK association to EU programmes. In a move seen to be covering all bases, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology however have also published the ‘Pioneer Prospectus’, setting out how the UK Government would support research and innovation should the UK not be able to associate to Horizon Europe.
Scott Benton MP had the Conservative whip suspended, after he referred himself to Parliament's standards watchdog. Reporters from The Times, posing as gambling industry investors, filmed Benton discussing a paid advisory role with their fictional company. Parliament's code of conduct prohibits MPs from lobbying in return for payment and the video captured seems to show the MP offering to table questions, leak a confidential policy document and lobby ministers. A spokesperson for Chief Whip Simon Hart made clear the suspension was temporary while an investigation was underway…
…but not losing the Whip will be Farming Minister Mark Spencer, after the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests concluded Spencer had not broken the Ministerial Code. Sir Laurie Magnus did however criticise the Minister for “shortcomings” when he was Chief Whip in dealing with concerns raised by Nus Ghani when she was sacked as a Minister in 2020, after she alleged she was told her ‘Muslimness’ was ‘making colleagues uncomfortable’.
US President Joe Biden accepted a State Visit invitation but will not be attending the coronation. Instead, it was confirmed that First Lady Jill Biden would represent the US at the event. While there was no timeframe set for the State Visit, a White House spokesperson said it would be "in the near future". The announcement comes as Biden is due to begin a four-day trip to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic on 11th April to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Government is no longer working with the Confederation of British Industry, one of Britain's largest business groups, as an investigation is underway into sexual misconduct allegations. Several misconduct allegations have been made, with the most serious from a woman who claims she was raped by a senior colleague at a CBI summer boat party in 2019. The findings from the first stage of the investigation are expected shortly after Easter, with the CBI postponing all public events pending the outcome, including its Annual Dinner at which the Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey was due to talk.
Around the World
Former President Donald Trump was arrested and appeared in court in New York, where he plead not guilty to 34 charges. All the charges relate to hush-money payments and the falsifying of business records in relation to an affair Trump had with adult film star Stormy Daniels prior to the 2016 election. Following the arraignment Trump blasted the “fake case”, arguing it was politically motivated and claiming his only crime was to “fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it”. The trial itself could begin in January 2024, the month in which the contest to select the Republican Party’s 2024 Presidential Election nominee begins.
Conservative Petteri Orpo has been elected prime minister of Finland, defeating centre left incumbent Sanna Marin. After a tight three-way race, Orpo’s National Coalition Party won 20.8% of the vote; the right-wing populist Finns Party stood at 20.1%; and Marin's Social Democrats received 19.9%. The National Coalition Party is now poised to begin coalition negotiations with smaller parties. Marin became the world’s youngest leader when she assumed the office of Prime Minister at 34, and has steered Finland through Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its accession to NATO…
…On that note, Finland has become the 31st member of NATO when it officially joined the group on Tuesday. At a stroke, the move doubles NATO’s border with Russia and sets back President Putin’s agenda of reducing NATO’s influence on Russia’s borders. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto called it a “great day for Finland”, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg insisted it would “make Finland safer and NATO stronger”. The move officially ends Finland’s long-term policy of non-alignment between Russia and the West.
Jakov Milatovic has been elected president of Montenegro, ousting Milo Djukanovic who has ruled the country variously as prime minister or president since 1991. The 36-year-old centrist Milatovic stood on a platform of curbing corruption, improving living standards and boosting ties with the EU, and declared in his victory speech that he would lead Montenegro into the EU within the next five years. Snap parliamentary elections are due to take place in June.
The Foreign Ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia have held talks, the first such meeting between the two Middle Eastern nations since 2016. The meeting took place in Beijing, after the two countries had agreed to restore ties in a deal that had been brokered by China last month. Following the meeting, a joint statement was released that said discussions took place on reopening diplomatic missions within two months and on resuming flights.
Former prime minister Jacinda Ardern has officially retired from New Zealand’s parliament, delivering a heart-warming speech in which she insisted that “you can be sensitive, kind and wear your heart on your sleeve…and you can lead”. It was also announced this week that Ardern would become a trustee of the Earthshot Prize, Prince Williams’ environmental award.
Hundreds of thousands of passport applicants have been let down by unacceptable delays at HMPO, the Public Accounts Committee has argued in a new report. The report notes that the consequences of these delays included people being unable to travel for family emergencies, losing money spent on holidays and having difficulties proving their identities.
The Digital Services Tax brings in more revenue than expected but concerns remain about future avoidance or evasion by big tech, so warns the Public Accounts Committee in its second report of the week. Designed as an interim measure while the OECD implements a more complete international tax agreement, the tax raised £358m in its first year – 30% more than expected. However, the PAC is concerned that likely resulting delays to implementation may prompt the large multinational businesses in scope of the tax to consider using the expertise at their disposal to circumvent it.
UK-EU police cooperation could halt without action on the trade agreement, the European Scrutiny Committee has said in a report. The report warns that if the UK Government does not align with the EU’s proposed ‘Prüm 2’ proposals, UK police could be locked out of EU-wide databases and blocked from accessing critical biometric information on criminals operating in Europe, hindering their ability to target organised crime across borders.
New proposals to improve the governance and transparency of All-Party Parliamentary Groups have been set out in a report by the Committee on Standards, amid concerns of improper influence where the Groups receive external financial benefits. Recommendations include an outright ban on secretariats funded or provided by a foreign government; a cap on the number of APPGs for which an MP could be an officer; and for all APPGs to publish an annual income and expenditure statement.
The Government has failed to learn lessons in responding to state hostage taking, according to a Foreign Affairs Committee report. The report calls for a ‘zero tolerance approach’ to cases of state hostage taking and arbitrary detention which poses a ‘growing challenge for the Government, as hostile states resort to abduction and exploitation of British nationals to achieve their geopolitical ambitions and neuter the ability of rules-based order abiding countries to act’.
James Babbage has been publicly named for the first time as Commander of the National Cyber Force. He has been in the role since the inception of the NCF in 2020.
Kate Jones has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum.
Sian Mulholland is the new MLA for North Antrim, replacing Patricia O’Lynn who had stepped down.
Professor Julienne Meyer has been named as the Chair of the Older People’s Housing Taskforce, which will ‘work to support the growth of a thriving older people’s housing sector across the country.’
Sir Robert Buckland MP will lead the Government’s Autism Employment Review, which will ‘consider how the Government can work with employers to help more autistic people realise their potential and get into work.’
Home Secretary Suella Braverman will be the Conservative candidate for the new constituency of Fareham and Waterlooville at the next General Election, after she beat fellow Conservative MP Flick Drummond to the nomination.
This Week’s Polls
Labour currently leads by 19% among Red Wall voters ahead of local elections next month, according Redfield & Wilton’s latest poll. When Labour and the Conservatives were pitted against each other on issues such as the economy, NHS and education, Labour was more frequently trusted on every policy issue.
The political dominance of Labour in London also continues, as YouGov figures show the party now sits 40 points ahead of the Conservatives with 58% of the vote. This marks Labour’s largest lead over the Conservatives since YouGov started tracking London voting intention in 2010.
Meanwhile in Scotland, Redfield & Wilton found that when it came to a General Election, the SNP’s lead over Labour has fallen five points. The survey has the SNP down three points since last month, and suggests they would win 36% of the vote at the next General Election.
Onward published a report on ‘Burnt Out Britain’, setting out how more people than ever are ‘burnt out’ but that the ‘common diagnosis’ fails to address the root causes.
RUSI released a report looking at the issue of ransomware and insurance, specifically in the field of extortive crime.
The Adam Smith Institute issued a policy briefing on childcare, suggesting a series of reforms aimed at ‘cutting costs, boosting quality and increasing parental choice.’
The IPPR published a report on elective waiting lists in the NHS, as the number of people waiting for elective healthcare is currently at record levels.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies released a research paper on flexible work arrangements.
The Institute for Government published a report setting out the steps needed to ‘empower England’s degraded, underfunded and fragile system of local government and make English devolution succeed’.
Wishing you a very Happy Easter from the team at Navigate Politics