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 Met Police announced they would issue an initial 20 fines for breaches of COVID rules in Downing Street during the pandemic. The Met’s carefully worded press release doesn’t state who they are for, or that this is the final number, setting tongues wagging throughout Westminster all week. In evidence to the Liaison Committee ahead of the Easter recess on Wednesday, the Prime Minister refused to give a “running commentary” on the investigation after being pressed on whether he accepted that “criminality” had occurred in 10 Downing Street.
Over 200 babies may have died due to repeated failures by Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, a report by senior midwife Donna Ockenden reported this week. In a statement to Parliament, Health Secretary Sajid Javid argued the “report paints a tragic and harrowing picture of repeated failures in care over two decades”. The report also concluded that care could have been “significantly improved” in the 12 cases where a mother died. It also noted that of almost 500 cases of stillbirth, one in four was found to give rise to major concerns about maternity care.
A further 14 sanctions were placed on Russia propagandists and state media by the Foreign Office this week. Those impacted include CEO of Gazprom Media Aleksandr Zharov, and the ‘butcher of Mariupol’ Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev.
Keir Starmer launched Labour’s Local Election campaign, under the tagline ‘on your side’. In a speech in Bury he criticised the Government’s “pathetic, miserable response to the cost of living crisis”, argued that average families are £2,620 worse off due to the UK Government, and claimed that the “scandal of P&O would not have happened under a Labour Government” .
Other Political News
Free symptomatic testing for COVID has ended in England. Under new Department of Health guidance from today, people ‘with symptoms of a respiratory infection, including COVID-19, and a high temperature or who feel unwell, [should] try [to] stay at home and avoid contact with other people, until they feel well enough to resume normal activities and they no longer have a high temperature’. Free symptomatic testing will only be available for patients in hospital; those eligible for community COVID-19 treatments; and those working in high-risk settings. Meanwhile, Dame Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency advised this week that people continue to wear masks on trains and in shops after a recent spike in the number of new cases and deaths from coronavirus.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss MP visited India as ‘part of a wider diplomatic push’ following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine last month. As part of her visit, the Foreign Office announced she would ‘progress talks to develop defence-related trade, including innovative security technology’ and will also ‘announce a new joint cyber security programme’.
The National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rises came into effect. The National Living Wage, which applies to workers over the age of 23, has increased by 6.6% to £9.50 an hour, while apprentices will receive an 11.9% increase from £4.30 to £4.81 an hour.
Nicola Sturgeon updated COVID-19 regulations in Scotland in which she announced that ‘legal requirements to wear face coverings on public transport and most indoor public settings will be replaced with guidance in the coming weeks’. The requirement to wear face coverings in indoor areas such as retail spaces and public transport will become guidance on 18th April.
The Government disposed of £1.2bn worth of NatWest shares, representing just under 5% of the company. The Government’s remaining shareholding represents approximately 48% of voting rights in the company, meaning that for the first time since 2008 NatWest is no longer under majority public ownership.
The Department for Education published its Schools White paper, announcing that ‘any child who falls behind in maths or English will get the support they need to get back on track’. The paper also sets out that schools will offer a minimum school week of 32.5 hours by September 2023, Ofsted will inspect every school by 2025, all children will be taught in a school in or in the process of joining a multi-academy trust by 2030, and at least £100m will be invested in the Education Endowment Foundation.
The UK will maintain a periodic Royal Navy presence in the High North under a new UK Defence Arctic Strategy launched by the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in Norway this week. The strategy also announced that the MOD will invest in research and development to build a sustainable and modernised Defence capability for the region.
Parliament Unpacked Podcast: All Party Parliamentary Groups
In this week’s episode of our Parliament Unpacked podcast we delve into the world of All Party Parliamentary Groups Bills or APPGs as they’re known – groups of MPs from across the House who meet to discuss particular topics, or countries of specific interest to them. From Nigeria to Norway, national parks, to the night time economy, if you can think of it there’s probably an APPG on it! In this podcast we take a look at who sits on them, how they’re formed, how they’re run and where you can find out more. Hop on over to our Podcast page to listen to the latest episode - or find us on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
It’s ping pong season in the Commons and Lords. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, Health and Care Bill all returned to the Commons where Lords amendments were disagreed with and further Government amendments passed. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill even made it back to the Lords in the same week, with peers reinserting two amendments back in and batting it back to the Commons for further consideration after Easter. If you want to know more about ‘ping pong’, check out the episode of our Parliament Unpacked podcast ,on How Laws are Made from November last year.
It’s ping pong season in the Commons and Lords. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, Health and Care Bill all returned to the Commons where Lords amendments were disagreed with and further Government amendments passed. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill even made it back to the Lords in the same week, with peers reinserting two amendments back in and batting it back to the Commons for further consideration after Easter. If you want to know more about ‘ping pong’, check out the episode of our Parliament Unpacked podcast on How Laws are Made from November last year.
The Elections Bill completed its committee stage in the Lords. The Bill introduces a number of changes related to elections, including photographic voter ID for UK parliamentary elections.
The Subsidy Control Bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords and returns to the Commons for consideration of amendments. The Bill implements a post-Brexit domestic subsidy control regime, now that the UK is no longer subject to EU state aid rules.
The Building Safety Bill passed its report stage, passing a further four amendments. It returns for its third reading next week, squeezing in ahead of the Lords Easter recess. The Bill, brought forward after the Grenfell Tower fire, is designed to ensure greater accountability for fire and structural safety issues throughout the lifecycle of a building, following the Hackitt Review.
The Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill passed its third reading in the Lords without debate. The Bill makes provisions for the financing of future nuclear energy generation projects.
The National Insurance Contributions (Increase of Thresholds) Bill passed its remaining stages in the Lords. The Bill relates to the measures to align the threshold at which National Insurance Contributions are paid, with the income tax personal allowance, as announced in the Spring Statement.
The impact of long COVID on the workforce was the subject of a backbench business debate on Thursday, before the traditional pre-recess debate on ‘matters to be raised before the Easter adjournment’, at which the late Sir David Amess (known for his regular contributions in the pre-adjournment debates) was remembered.
The Appointment of Lord Lebedev to the Lords was the subject of a Labour-led opposition day debate on Tuesday in the Commons.
The Judicial Review and Courts Bill had its report stage in the Lords, passing a further four amendments. The Bill restricts judicial review of certain decisions of the Upper Tribunal and introduces a number of procedural measures across criminal courts, Employment Tribunals and Coroner’s Courts.
Lord Blunkett provided an entirely unintentional April Fools’ by referring to the former Lib Dem MP Sir Simon Hughes as the “late Simon Hughes” in a debate on Friday morning, before later having to apologise, to laughter from the Chamber, for his error.
The DCMS Committee refused to endorse the Government’s selection of Charity Commission Chair. In a report published this week, the Committee stated that it had no grounds for concern about Orlando Fraser’s appointment, but cited concerns about the process and lack of diversity in the shortlist.
The Government is making ‘inadequate’ progress against commitments on cancer services, according to an independent expert panel brought together by the Health Select Committee. Their report out this week argued the lack of adequate long-term planning for, and investment in, the cancer workforce undermined progress made and justified the inadequate rating.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng MP announced Dr Peter Highnam, who was announced the new CEO of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency in February, would not be taking up the role due to ‘personal reasons’.
David Linden MP stepped down as SNP Work and Pensions Spokesperson, citing his desire to ‘focus more of [his] time on constituency casework’. Kirsty Blackman MP replaces him.
Michael Jary has been appointed as the Government’s Lead Non-Executive Director. A strategic advisor by trade, he is also a non-executive director of Barclays Bank, and chair of Duchy Originals.
Sian Jones has been appointed as the interim Chair of the UK Statistics Authority. She is currently CEO and founder technology and data company Correla Ltd.
Eryl Besse has been appointed as the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s new Welsh Commissioner.
This week’s polls
Labour’s lead drops to under 3 points. An average of the five UK General Election voting intention polls out this week (Savanta Comres, Survation, YouGov, Techne and Redfield & Wilton) show Labour’s lead in the polls has shrunk to just 2.8% if a General Election was held tomorrow:
The Resolution Foundation published a report on how the squeeze in UK living standards is pushing households into ‘fuel stress’.
Chatham House published a report on Global Britain in a divided world.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies published a report on the use of non-nuclear strategic weapons, and a report on European options in response to China’s ambition to unite Taiwan with the mainland.
The Institute for Government published a report asking whether levelling up missions will help reduce regional inequality.
The Henry Jackson Society published a report on providing Ukraine with air defence capabilities.
The Fabian Society published a report on how ‘shadow welfare’ has overtaken social security.
The Adam Smith Institute published a report on how safer smoking alternatives can level up health and tackle the cost of living crisis.
You’ve got to laugh remember it’s April Fools’ Day
It’s that day every year when we get to see our elected politicians do their best stand-up routines on Twitter. There have been some abysmal attempts which we won’t bore you with, but it’s safe to say it’s been a day of eye-rolling at Navigate towers… To save you the pain, we’ve picked out three actually quite good jokes that should make you LOL: Third place goes to Luke Pollard MP for calling on the Royal Navy to paint one of the old nuclear submarines in his constituency yellow to celebrate 56 years since the Beatles released Yellow Submarine. Tim Farron MP takes second place for winding up Twitter’s keyboard warriors by announcing he would be hosting a new fight show on GB News called ‘GBH with Tim Farron’. But the overwhelming winner is ex-Tory MP Rory Stewart, for being quick out the blocks this morning, with the announcement of his appointment as the new 10 Downing Street Director of Communications.
We don’t like to trash talk our competition but today always reminds us of the day one political monitoring company sent out – as fact – details of a story crafted by the UK Defence Journal and tweeted out in jest by then Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood, that the RAF Voyager fleet were being fitted with rotating engines to allow the seemingly physically-impossible feat of landing the 60m long planes on an aircraft carrier… we recommend you stick with Navigate (or if you don’t already use us – do drop us a line…)