20 months to the day after the Government’s last major warzone evacuation, history has been repeating itself all too soon this week, with the RAF working to fly as many UK nationals out of Sudan as possible during the tense ceasefire. Back in Westminster the long-awaited gambling white paper has landed, and the BBC Chairman has been forced to resign after breaching the Governance Code. Whitehall will be hoping for a quieter weekend as it ramps up to the local elections and coronation…
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 UK Government launched evacuation flights to help British nationals flee Sudan, due to clashes between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces which began on 15 April. Addressing the House of Commons this week, the Minister for International Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell, described the situation as “extremely grave” with more than 427 people killed and over 3,700 injured, as of 25 April. Andrew Mitchell stated that a durable ceasefire is required to enable food and water to reach people in the capital of Khartoum and expects the number of people needing humanitarian assistance, currently estimated to be 16 million across the country, to “rise significantly”. A number of MPs have raised concerns about the plan for and pace of the evacuation, with Labour leader Keir Starmer calling on the Government to “do everything in their power to urgently evacuate UK nationals still trapped”. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged the UK will “continue to work to end the bloodshed in Sudan and support a democratic government”.
BBC Chairman Richard Sharp announced his resignation over the Boris Johnson loan row, following the publication of a report from the office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments which found that he failed to properly disclose his involvement in facilitating an £800,000 loan guarantee for the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The report says he breached the Governance Code twice – first by talking to Johnson about the job before he applied to the role, and by assisting Johnson with a “private financial matter”. The two breaches were found to have created “a risk of perception that Sharp would not be independent from the former Prime Minister, if appointed”. Sharp has defended any breach as “inadvertent and not material”, and stated he was resigning to “prioritise the interests of the BBC” and will stay on until a replacement is found.
The long-awaited gambling white paper has been unveiled, representing ‘the most comprehensive reforms to the gambling sector since the Gambling Act was introduced in 2005’. Plans include a statutory gambling operator levy to ensure that operators help fund treatment services and research; new stake limits for online slots games; extra powers for the Gambling Commission; closing loopholes to ensure under-18s cannot gamble either online or via cash fruit machines; and a new industry ombudsman to deal with disputes. Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the measures will help deliver the Government’s “long-term plan to help build stronger communities while allowing millions of people to continue to play safely”. In response, Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell criticised the Government for “dragging their feet” (pointing out that 10 different ministers have been in charge of gambling policy since December 2020) and called for the measures to be brought forward before the summer recess.
The Week in Stats 📉
£2.5tn – UK government gross debt at the end of 2022 – equivalent to 101% of GDP
£139.2bn – Government borrowing over the last financial year, down from the £152bn predicted by the OBR at the recent Budget.
897 – The number of people evacuated from Sudan on UK flights so far this week (at time of writing)
4,000 – UK nationals estimated to be in Sudan
9 – The number of investigations opened into MPs by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in April
£1.9bn – agreement signed this week to export air defence missiles from UK firm MBDA to Poland
300,000 – the number of people in Great Britain estimated to have a gambling addiction
£2 – Limit per stake the Government is proposing for 18 to 24 year old gamblers in its white paper out this week
38.7°C – Highest European April temperature on record reached this week in Córdoba, southern Spain
Other Political News
The long-running dispute between workers and the Government continues as Nurses, rail workers and teachers had strike updates this week. Amidst Thursday's teacher strikes, the National Association of Head Teachers union announced they were going to re-ballot on strike action after the January vote supported striking but did not reach the required 50% turnout. Meanwhile, nurses suffered a blowback as a High Court judge ruled the 48-hour strike by nurses in England over the Bank Holiday weekend was partly unlawful. The strike will now end on Sunday rather than on Monday as the Royal College of Nursing's six-month mandate for strike action will have lapsed by Tuesday. Finally, rail workers have been pitted against Eurovision and FA Cup attendees as the RMT announced a 24 hour strike on 13 May alongside the ASLEF strikes on 12 May, 31 May, and 3 June.
The Metropolitan Police may be failing to identify serial killers because it is not properly investigating unexpected deaths the Police watchdog concluded this week, showing a lack of learning from the 2015 Stephen Port case where four young men were killed before proper investigation occurred. The constabulary warned that 'history could repeat itself' as the report highlighted five key failings at the Met; a lack of training, poor supervision, 'unacceptable' record-keeping, confusing policies and 'inadequate' intelligence procedures. On whether these failings were exaggerated by a culture of homophobia the watchdog said it was 'impossible to reach any definitive conclusions' but the Met Police's Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe responded by suggesting that 'we must confront the institutional homophobia Baroness Casey's Review found in the Met.'
Rumoured 2024 US presidential candidate and Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis met with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch as part of his worldwide tour to boost his presidential credentials beyond feuds with Disney theme parks and banning sex education. Along the way he also visited South Korea, Japan and Israel in a similar manner to the unsuccessful presidential candidate John McCain in 2008. However his visit to the UK also highlights the 600 British businesses in his state, who employ more than 50,000 Floridians. His potential competitor former US president Donald Trump is also set to visit the UK next week but with golfing rather than political ambitions. Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also hosted a visit from Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Thursday to discuss, with no surprises, close ties between the UK and Italy, and illegal migration.
Conservative MP Steve Double tempted councils with further opportunities to apply for Levelling Up funding as he reiterated the party’s commitment to the South West, as local elections, long considered the first electoral test for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, approach. Opinion polls are showing a current average rating of 29% in the polls for the Conservatives, leaving them up by 3 points from the 2019 local election results, compared to Labour’s 44% - an increase of 12 points. The Government also announced that an exit poll would be taken to determine the number of people barred from voting due to not having ID after controversy in the Commons with Labour MPs accusing the government of “vote-rigging,” something Communities Minister Rachel Maclean dismissed as “shrill and hyperbolic”.
The UK and Poland signed a record-breaking £1.9 billion missile export deal that should roll out a British air defence system across the European nation and protect European security. The UK firm MBDA completed the deal with the Polish government to provide Poland with 'cutting-edge, ground-based-air-defence capabilities' and hopefully also support hundreds of jobs across the UK. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak commented that 'we have played a crucial role in boosting Euro-Atlantic defences since Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, and this landmark agreement between the UK and Poland is another example of how, alongside our allies, we are committed to protecting our security for generations to come.'
The Government have introduced a new law that aims to 'beef up' the Public Order Bill by giving police powers to tackle slow walking protests. Ministers previously tried to ban slow walking protests by adding measures to the Public Order Bill in the Lords, but were narrowly defeated by peers. Home Secretary and tofu hater Suella Braverman MP suggested the new legislation would more "clearly define" when police can step in to stop "selfish" protesters "wreaking havoc in people's everyday lives". The move comes as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk released a statement on the new Public Order Bill calling it "deeply troubling" as it imposes restrictions on freedom of expression "that are neither necessary nor proportionate to achieve a legitimate purpose as defined under international law".
Around the World
President Biden announced he will run for re-election in 2024 with a campaign video in which he promised to “finish the job” and warned that the election would be a fight for “soul of the United States". He also confirmed that Kamala Harris would remain his Vice-President and running mate. It now looks increasingly likely that the 2024 race could be rematch against Donald Trump, who has recently become the favourite to win the Republican Party nomination. Meanwhile, 2016 and 2020 Democratic nominee contender Senator Bernie Sanders announced he would not run and endorsed Biden’s bid.
The announcement, although expected, is controversial. Biden himself promised in 2019 that, if he was elected, he would not seek re-election and would instead find a successor he could “turn things over to”. One poll found that 70% of Americans, and a slim majority of Democrats, believe he should not run again. This is primarily due to his age, with 48% calling it a "major concern". Indeed, Biden and Trump are already the two oldest men to assume the presidency, which makes the concept of a re-run all the more distasteful for many.
Ukrainian President Zelenksyy talked to Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time since the war began, following comments by a Chinese ambassador which questioned the sovereignty of former Soviet countries (which China has since disowned). Following the call Xi stated that China would "neither watch the fire from the other side, nor add fuel to the fire, let alone take advantage of the crisis to profit", a statement that appears to be targeted at those supporting Ukraine while also appearing to confirm China will not provide Russia with weapons.
Former Vice-President Mike Pence has testified before a grand jury about Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, after a court rejected his appeal to block his appearance. He reportedly testified for over seven hours behind closed doors, and the evidence he provided could prove invaluable to the case being built against Trump.
Former Brazilian President Bolsonaro has been interviewed by the police as part of investigations into the insurrection in Brazil’s capital in January following his presidential election loss. The interview mainly centred on a video he shared on Facebook two days after the riot, which alleged the election had been rigged by electoral authorities. Bolsonaro claims he shared the video by accident while on morphine in hospital.
The US and South Korea have agreed a new deal to counter North Korea’s nuclear threat. The US agreed to periodically deploy nuclear submarines to South Korea and inform it of its nuclear planning operations in the region, in return for promises from South Korea that it will not develop its own nuclear arsenal. In equally important news, as part of his visit to the White House to agree the deal, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol treated the world to this rendition of ‘American Pie’.
The Non-Domestic Rating Bill passed its second reading and awaits the Committee of the Whole House in the Commons. The Bill would change the revaluation period of business rates from a 5 to 3 year cycle after calls from businesses, though Labour’s front bench have still argued it omits ‘any substantial improvements to our outdated, dysfunctional business rates system.’
The Commons considered a Lords message on the Public Order Bill, which now awaits Royal Assent. Further Lords amendments regarding stop and search were voted down by the Commons, due to the fact that similar provisions were already in place. The Bill, which would put further provisions in place for protest-related activities and serious disruption, sparked Just Stop Oil to protest in London this week, releasing a statement on Thursday stating that the marches “come in wake of the comments from the Home Secretary vowing further measures in order to ban legal forms of dissent as the Public Order Bill passed through the Commons.”
The Illegal Migration Bill passed its report stage and third reading in the Commons and now moves to the Lords. A group of Tory MPs led by Tim Loughton raised an amendment which would require court approval to detain unaccompanied children for longer than 3 days, though it was not brought to a vote after Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick MP committed to working with members on the issue.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and the Online Safety Bill continued their committee stages in the Lords. Debates convened on planning policy for local communities and environmental protections, and child protection on app stores retrospectively.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Level) Bill completed its report stage in the Lords and will return for its Third Reading on 09 May. An amendment moved by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd was passed, which limits the application of the Act to England only, something the Government will undoubtedly seek to remove from the Act when it returns to the Commons.
Water quality and the cost-of-living crisis were the topics of Tuesday’s Opposition Day debates, with several Labour MPs citing the recent inflationary statistics in food pricing as a cause of concern for families. Reforms to NHS Dentistry was the subject of this week’s sole Backbench Business debate.
Improvements are required by the Child Maintenance Service to help reduce child poverty, so argues the Work and Pensions Committee in its latest report out this week. As well as criticism of the CMS for being ‘slow and ineffective’ on enforcement for some parents, the report also concludes that it is imposing unaffordable payments on others, and has called on the Government to instigate a series of reforms to help solve the issues.
The Government should pause its shake-up of post-16 education or risk making skills shortages worse, the Education Committee concluded in its latest report, which stated that rushing ahead with major reforms to post-16 qualifications risks leaving young people stranded without suitable qualification pathways, and may deepen worker shortages in key sectors.
The UK must rapidly increase the generation of fossil fuel-free electricity, the Business and Trade Committee has argued in its report on decarbonisation of the power sector published this week. The report concludes that, failure to do so will place a physical limit on the volume of electric vehicles, electric heat pumps and other newly electrified processes that can be powered through low-carbon electricity, adding that, at the current pace of change, the UK is set to fail to hit its target of decarbonising the power sector by 2035.
The Gulf state trade deal must not compromise UK values – this is the message from the International Trade Committee in its final report published before being replaced by the Business and Trade Committee. The report highlights major regional concerns including on human rights and weak environmental standards, and calls on the Government to ensure UK values and obligations are not compromised by any deal.
The BBC is stuck in a TV and radio era without the resources to compete in global market or on content, the Public Accounts Committee’s latest report has concluded. The report argues that the BBC is bullish about moving to a fully digital future but must take care that no one is left behind, adding that to achieve its goals, the BBC must work with government and other stakeholders, including on the rollout of broadband across the UK.
Lord Offord of Garvel has been appointed a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Business and Trade, in addition to his role in the Scotland Office.
Science, Technology and Innovation Secretary Michelle Donelan MP has begun maternity leave and has been replaced by interim Secretary of State Chloe Smith MP.
Richard Sharp resigned as Chairman of the BBC after a report found he breached rules while being interview for the role.
Tim Peake, Baroness Alison Wolf and Ron Dennis are among the seven inaugural non-executive members of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology Start-Up Board.
Timothy Start will become the UK’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan in August 2023, after he was named as Timothy Torlot’s replacement. Fiona Blyth has been appointed the UK’s Ambassador to Mongolia, and will begin her posting in July 2023.
Lee Freeman and Michelle Skeer have been appointed to the dual roles of His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary in England and Wales and Inspector of Fire and Rescue in England.
Stephen Lightfoot is stepping down as Chair of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on 11 July.
Dame Carolyn McCall, the Chief Executive of ITV plc, has joined the Levelling Up Advisory Council.
Andrew Bridgen has been expelled from the Conservative Party, having previously been suspended over a tweet that compared COVID-19 vaccines to the Holocaust. Bridgen is rumoured to be joining the Reclaim Party….
…and in other news of former Tory MPs, Chris Pincher has unsurprisingly said he will not be seeking re-election at the next General Election. He is currently suspended from the Conservatives following allegations he groped two men at a Private Members’ Club.
This Week’s Polls
Labour hold a 15 percentage point lead over the Conservatives, finds Politico’s most recent Poll of Polls ahead of next Thursday’s Local Elections. Labour are on 44%, the Conservatives are on 29%, with the Lib Dems on 9% and Reform and the Greens tied on 5% each.
The majority of people in the UK support voter ID laws, including 82% of 2019 Conservative voters, reports a poll from YouGov. With the Local Elections on 4th May the first time everybody will need to show ID in order to vote, 63% of the general population were found to be supportive, while just 28% opposed.
32% of people would be willing to pay more income tax to combat climate change, according to a poll from Ipsos to mark Earth Day. 63% believe the UK Government needs to do more to tackle climate change, while 43% suggested a financial incentive would encourage them to make more environmentally friendly purchases.
King Charles III is doing a good just fine job as Monarch, finds a poll from Ipsos ahead of his Coronation on 06 May. 57% of those surveyed said they were satisfied, with 15% dissatisfied. The figures are a little better for the Prince of Wales, with 62% satisfied and 10% dissatisfied.
The Centre for Policy Studies published a report on biofuels, calling for the Government to phase out the use of food crops in the fuel.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a paper by the World Bank Group on the relationship between firm size and effective corporate tax rates.
The Resolution Foundation published a report on effectively enforcing labour market rights in the 2020s and beyond, and a report looking at how families were faring in March 2023.
The Institute for Government published a report looking at decision making in the Treasury during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Henry Jackson Society published a report looking at public support for research collaboration with high-risk countries.
Reform published a report looking at international lessons for reform of the health system.
Demos published an essay on rebuilding local, social and civic foundations.
The IPPR published the interim report of its commission on health and prosperity of people in the UK
You’ve Got to Laugh
If you’re having a late lunch, early dinner, or are catching up over your Saturday morning cornflakes, look away now, as Conservative Party Chair Greg Hands MP gave us an image no one needed this week, posing as a mermaid in Hastings whilst out campaigning for the upcoming local elections…
Matt Hancock (a regular guest in You’ve Got to Laugh), hit social media career heights this week in his most-watched TikTok yet… as he took aim at anti-vaxxers via the social media platform’s latest ‘Oh no, I’m devastated’ meme. He also confirmed on TikTok this week that he will not be taking part in Strictly Come Dancing, much to your Editor’s disappointment.
With those images now firmly in your mind, we wish you a very pleasant Bank Holiday weekend