The PM might be on holiday but the 24 hour news cycle hasn’t shown any sign of letting up this August. The rollout of controversial immigration proposals, major national data breaches and new GDP stats have been more than enough for Deputy PM Oliver Dowden to deal with this week.
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
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Driving the Week 🚨
‘Small Boats Week’ concludes today, with the Prime Minister having spent the early stages of August in California taking part in a Taylor Swift-themed spinning class during his self-imposed exile, while his colleagues looked to evidence that the Government was succeeding all too well in its pledge to reduce small boat crossings. With Sunak away, we saw Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick face criticism and then shake it off by announcing a new partnership had been agreed with Türkiye to enhance cooperation on tackling illegal migration, following his recent trips to Türkiye, Belgium, Tunisia and Italy. Taking a fearless approach, reports have reemerged the Conservatives and the European Convention on Human Rights are never ever, getting back together, as senior Conservatives were quoted as saying a blank space on their next General Election Manifesto may be filled with a pledge to leave the ECHR if deportation flights to Rwanda continue to be blocked. This week also saw the first group of asylum seekers board the Bibby Stockholm barge, with a number who were supposed to be moved to the ship refusing to do so. In response, Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party and lover of controversy Lee Anderson saw red and sought to enhance his controversial reputation by saying that those who refused should “f**k off back to France” (maybe Paris?). After just a few days, in news that we might see Anderson saying “don’t blame me” for, those on board were moved off the barge after traces of the treacherous Legionella bacteria were found in the water. Potentially creating further bad blood amongst Tory MPs, we heard this morning that over 100,000 people are estimated to have made the journey across the Channel from France to the UK since records started in 2018. You see Rishi, Look What You Made Me Do.
Two major data breaches were revealed this week, as the Electoral Commission and the Northern Ireland Police Service both confirmed different, but nevertheless serious, information losses. The Electoral Commission revealed it had identified a ‘complex cyber-attack’ in October 2022 which made it clear that ‘hostile actors had first accessed the systems in August 2021’. The registers affected held data including the name and address of anyone in the UK who registered to vote between 2014 and 2022, as well as the names of those registered as overseas voters. Police officers in Northern Ireland have been left ‘incredibly vulnerable’ after a staggeringly self-inflicted security breach which saw the publication of the surname, initials, rank or grade, work location and departments of all PSNI staff, in response to an FOI request. The breaches come following last week’s publication of the National Risk Register, which outlined the most serious risks facing the UK.
The UK is still not in a recession, with the ONS estimating that UK GDP grew by 0.5% in June 2023. The growth was put down to there not being a Bank Holiday in June, compared to the three in May, while the Director of Economic Statistics at the ONS Darren Morgan said that “manufacturing saw a particularly strong month with both cars and the often-erratic pharmaceutical industry seeing particularly buoyant growth”. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt welcomed the data, arguing that the Government’s actions to combat rising prices were “taking effect”, while also noting that the Bank of England was predicting the UK would avoid a recession entirely. June’s figures mean that UK GDP grew by 0.2% between April and June.
The Week in Stats 📉
111kph – The speed at which Lioness Chloe Kelly’s winning penalty kick went into the goal at their match vs Nigeria on Monday, just shy of 4kph faster than any of the goals scored in last year’s Men’s Premier League (beating record holder Saïd Benrahma at 107.2kph)
11:30am – Time that England’s Quarter-Final against Colombia in the Women’s World Cup begins tomorrow.
2,160 – The number of bus routes closed between 2022 – 2023, according to Traffic Commissioners data.
£60,000 – The highest possible fine firms could be charged if found to repeatedly employ illegal migrants. First time offenders will be fined somewhere between £15,000 to £45,000.
33% – The drop in the number of overseas visitors to Wales in the last three years.
£6 million – The amount available to local authorities this year to improve air quality.
7.6 million – The estimated NHS waiting list, up from 7.5 million in May.
£135 billion – The amount state pensions are projected to cost by 2025, £2 billion more than the combined budget of the DfE, Home Office and MoD.
12,000 – The number of jobs at risk following the collapse of High Street brand Wilko this week.
Other Political News 📰
The UK will host a new London Energy Security Conference in Spring 2024, ‘bringing together countries from around the world to shore up critical energy supplies and make the system more resilient to shocks.’ The conference will be held around the time of the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and will focus on: building energy resilience nationally and internationally; speeding up the deployment of clean and resilient energy infrastructure; advancing technologies and innovation to promote greater energy independence; cooperating internationally to boost energy security around the world; and helping provide customers and businesses with cheaper, more secure energy. DESNZ also announced a £10m Community Energy Fund this week, supporting rural and local communities in setting up energy projects that will provide local jobs and deliver energy security.
The Foreign Secretary announced 25 new sanctions targeting Putin’s access to foreign military equipment. This includes individuals and businesses in Turkey, Dubai, Slovakia and Switzerland who are supporting the war in Ukraine, as well as taking further action to tackle Iran and Belarus’ support for Russia’s military. James Cleverly stated that the “landmark sanctions will further diminish Russia’s arsenal and close the net on supply chains propping up Putin’s now struggling defence industry. There is nowhere for those sustaining Russia’s military machine to hide”.
MP Angus MacNeil was expelled from the SNP following a fallout with the Party’s chief whip. MacNeil was suspended from the SNP’s Westminster group last month due to a clash with Brendan O’Hara over missing votes in the Commons. An investigation then took place into his decision not to rejoin the group after his suspension, which lasted a week. MacNeil previously said his decision was not linked to that incident and stated he would not rejoin until at least October, criticising the Party’s independence strategy. However, the SNP Conduct Committee confirmed this week that MacNeil was expelled due to a breach of their code of conduct. Posting in response, he said ‘I didn’t leave the SNP – the SNP have left me.’ He will now sit as an independent MP in the Commons, joining 14 other MPs.
A new taskforce to prosecute rogue immigration lawyers was launched by the Home Office, following recent media reports that a small minority have been helping illegal migrants stay in the UK by encouraging them to make false claims. The Professional Enablers Taskforce is bringing together regulatory bodies, law enforcement teams and Government departments to tackle immigration abuse in the legal sector by improving how intelligence and information is shared by regulators, as well as bringing fresh prosecutions against corrupt lawyers who could face up to life in prison. There are also plans to expand the work of the taskforce to other ‘professional enablers’ – such as doctors, accountants and employers – who use their expertise to facilitate illegal migration.
Around the World 🌍
One of Ecuador’s presidential candidates was assassinated in the capital, Quito. National assembly member Fernando Villavicencio was leaving a campaign rally when he was shot, with it suggested he was targeted due to his willingness to allege links between the Government and organised crime. President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency but insisted the election would go ahead on 20 August. The killing has fuelled fears about the increasing power of organised crime in Ecuador, which until recently was considered one of the safer countries in the region.
Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been sentenced to three years in prison and barred from holding office for five years. Arrested over the weekend, he was sentenced on corruption charges and immediately imprisoned in Islamabad, with his supporters so cowed there was barely even a protest. Khan has appealed the conviction. Separately, the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament was dissolved in preparation for elections that must be held by mid-November.
Poland will hold its general election on 15 October, the Government announced. The ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) will seek an unprecedented third term in power, and currently leads the main opposition centre-right Civic Coalition (KO) by six points. Poland has enjoyed faster economic growth than most other EU states over the last few years and has impressively low unemployment, but has also undergone a serious democratic erosion under PiS’s leadership.
Committee Corridor 📜
The Government must make tackling ‘tech abuse’ a priority, MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee have argued in the one report out from committee corridor this week, warning that the use of smart technology and connected devices in facilitating domestic abuse is becoming a growing problem. The report also calls for more to be done to protect the privacy and rights of children, with young people increasingly likely to interact with connected technology at home and in schools.
Key Movements 🔁
Julie Harrison has been appointed the new Permanent Secretary to the Northern Ireland Office.
Lord Mendoza has been appointed the new Chair of Historic England.
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford MS announced he will step down as a member of the Senedd at the next election, due in or before May 2026. He had previously suggested he would stand down as First Minister in advance of the next election.
Paul Sweeney (NB not the Labour MSP) has been appointed Interim Chair of The National Lottery Community Fund.
Bas Javid has been appointed Director General of Immigration Enforcement. He will take up the role in November. He is currently Deputy Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police Service, and brother to former Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Matt Clifford, CEO of Entrepreneur First and Chair of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, and Jonathan Black, former UK G7 and G20 Sherpa and Deputy National Security Adviser, have been appointed to spearhead preparations for the UK to host the first major international summit on the safe use of artificial intelligence.
This Week’s Polls 📊
A majority of the UK (52%) say Coutts was wrong to close Nigel Farage’s bank account, while 17% say the decision was right found Redfield and Wilton in recent polling.
80% of Britons believe the Government is handling immigration badly, found YouGov polling this week, despite being one of PM Rishi Sunak’s pledges at the beginning of his premiership.
48% of Scottish respondents say they would vote ‘no’ in an independence referendum tomorrow and 45% say they would vote ‘yes’ according to Redfield and Wilton’s monthly polling on the matter.
Labour gained one percent to reach 49% in the latest Red Wall voting intention polling from Redfield and Wilton. Conservatives were down two percent to 28% and Liberal Democrats gained two to 8%. Reform UK dropped to 8% and the Green party remained at 4%.
The IFS published a report exploring how employment, earnings and incomes performed in Scotland compared with the rest of the UK and what has driven geographic inequalities within Scotland.
The IISS released a research paper on the digitalisation of Defence in NATO and the EU and how to make European defence fit for the digital age.
The Institute for Government published a paper examining what evidence is used when making tax policy as they predict that taxes are likely to be a key battleground in the next election.
The Centre for Policy Studies published a report on the Energy Price Cap which argues that it was costing consumers more while also driving inflation.
Onward published a report exploring how local government funding misses areas with fewer opportunities, entitled the ‘Social Mobility Penalty’.
You’ve Got to Laugh 😂
At risk of giving him more publicity… if you haven’t seen the Matt Hancock ‘I’m Just Ken’, Barbie soundtrack cringe-inducing mime video, you’ve either a) been living under a rock or b) have successfully avoided the horror of it. In either case, congratulations, and apologies in advance – here it is.