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Weekly Roundup 5th November 2021

Welcome to the weekly roundup from Navigate Politics, bringing you all the top news, publications, movements and action from UK politics over the past week, ensuring you’re fully briefed on the week’s top stories ahead of the weekend. If you know somebody who would find this weekly briefing useful, please do forward it on so they can subscribe and get it direct to their inbox each week.

Remember, remember… 416 years ago today Guy Fawkes was arrested whilst secretly guarding barrels of explosives positioned under the House of Lords in an attempt to kill King James I (or VI in Scotland). But you may not know that the Observance of 5th November Act was passed the following year marking 5th November as an annual day of thanksgiving (arguably a precursor to our bank holidays). The Act was repealed, along with a series of other religious days of observance, in 1859… so if it hadn’t been for the Government led by the Earl of Derby and Benjamin Disraeli, we might all be off today.

Driving the week

  • COP26 dominated the agenda at the start of the week, with a number of agreements being reached, but not the breakthrough Boris Johnson and so many others were hoping for. Agreements were reached by more than 100 leaders to halt deforestation and cut methane emissions by 2030, as well as commitments by 18 new countries to phase out coal for the first time. The major deals on deforestation and methane were praised by the Prime Minister at a press conference on Tuesday evening, who said that the “historic pact” on deforestation aims to “save the lungs of our planet”. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also announced that over $130 trillion – 40% of the world’s financial assets – will now be aligned with the climate goals in the Paris Agreement, thanks to climate commitments from financial services firms, with the UK set to become the world’s first net zero aligned financial centre. Boris Johnson concluded that he was “cautiously optimistic” at the end of the conference, whilst President Joe Biden called it a “gigantic opportunity”, but similarly expressed his disappointment that major agreement had not been reached on all emissions, calling it a “big mistake” for the Chinese and Russian presidents to not attend, after neither country signed up to reduce their methane emissions, and China failed to announce any new climate targets.

  • The Government woke up to headlines accusing it of sleaze and corruption on Thursday after it whipped Tory MPs to vote in support of a review of standards investigations, putting the recommended suspension of Owen Paterson MP by the Standards Commissioner, on hold. In total it’s been reported that about 50 Tory MPs rebelled, including 13 who voted against the Government (the exact number who abstained without permission is a little unclear). The vote came just days after the Committee on Standards in Public Life published its report ‘Upholding Standards in Public Life’ following which the Chair of the Committee Lord Evans criticised the Government for creating a “very serious and damaging moment for Parliament and for public standards in this country”. It took less than 24 hours for the Government to U-turn on the vote in the face of the backlash and come forward with new proposals after cross-party talks. Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg MP announced the U-turn on Thursday morning, suggesting that there would also be a new vote on whether to suspend Owen Paterson MP. Within a couple of hours however Owen Paterson announced he was resigning as an MP.

  • The row over fishing rights between the UK and France continues to wage on, however France stepped back from the brink of all-out trade war on Monday when President Macron pulled back from imposing new border checks as he had threatened. The Scottish fishing trawler that found itself at the centre of the row was released by French authorities on Thursday, and Lord Frost has been in talks with France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič since, to try to come to agreement on the issue.

Other Government News

  • We could be one step closer to commercial drone deliveries across the UK following the publication of a report by the independent Regulatory Horizons Council this week, which notes the opportunities remote parts of the UK have for drone testing, and the regulatory challenges involved. The Department for Transport has stated it will respond to the report’s recommendations after the conclusion of a consultation on the future of transport regulation.

  • The US, UK, Germany and France released a joint statement criticising Iran’s nuclear programme at a meeting of the G20 in Rome last weekend. The statement, signed by Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron expresses determination to ensure Iran can never develop or acquire nuclear weapons and concern that it has ‘accelerated the pace of provocative nuclear steps’.

  • 477 locally-led projects are set to receive £200m of Levelling Up funding announced by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove this week. The projects include construction skills training, digital training for unemployed people, electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Scotland, the adoption of low carbon production technologies and help for small businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.

  • COVID infections are rising across the UK. The UK Health Security Agency published data showing the disease has a prevalence rate of almost 6% amongst children aged 5-12, and over 2% in all people in South West England – increasing almost 4-fold since early October. The latest data comes amid some good news that the first antiviral for COVID-19 has been approved by the MHRA.

In Parliament

  • MPs and Peers will now be expected to wear masks in Parliament, after a rise in COVID cases on the parliamentary estate prompted updated advice by the UK Health and Security Agency. Tours of the estate, banquets and receptions due to take place over the next two weeks have all been cancelled, at which point the restrictions will be reviewed.

  • MPs concluded the Budget debate from last week, with the Budget passing its vote on Tuesday.

  • The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, providing new powers for the police and new powers on sentencing and detention, continued its committee stage in the Lords, so far without division and with only Government-proposed amendments passing.

  • The Critical Benchmarks (References and Administrators’ Liability) Bill, supporting the wind-down of benchmarks and powers granted to the Financial Conduct Authority, passed its third reading in the Lords and will now pass to the Commons.

  • The Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill held its report stage in the Lords during which one amendment was passed, to retain the earnings link uprating for the state pension triple lock and instead allow the Secretary of State to adjust for distortions in the ONS average weekly earnings figures to correct for distortions as happened during the coronavirus pandemic last year. The amendment will without doubt be removed when the Bill returns to the Commons.

  • The Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, to enable the establishment of the Agency, passed its second reading in the House of Lords.

  • MPs voted to delay a decision on the conduct of Owen Paterson MP and reform the parliamentary standards process… before Jacob Rees-Mogg U-turned on Thursday after the opposition parties refused to join the new Committee (see above).

  • The Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill, making provisions for the financing of future nuclear energy generation projects passed its second reading in the House of Commons.

  • Proposals for an inquiry into the war in Afghanistan, and the use of medical cannabis were the topics of this week’s backbench business debates in the Commons on Thursday.

  • The creative industries, biometric recognition technologies in schools, and safety remediation costs for leaseholders were all topics of debate in the Lords on Thursday.

Committee Corridor

  • The rollout of smart motorways should be paused until their safety can be delivered and assured according to a report by the Transport Select Committee, which argues that five years of safety and economic data is required before a judgement can be made on their future rollout.

  • The MOD’s systems for purchasing defence equipment are ‘broken’ and ‘need an urgent rethink’ according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee, which it states is ‘extremely disappointed and frustrated by the continued poor track record of the MOD and its suppliers’.

  • The Government should improve its work in the fight against modern slavery, according to a report by the International Development Committee, following a review by the independent aid watchdog ICAI which scored the work ‘Amber/Red’ on its traffic light scale.

  • The Government should establish a new Steel Sector Deal to address long-running challenges to the industry’s competitiveness, according to a report published by the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Select Committee which argued the steel industry cannot be left to continue to ‘lurch from crisis to crisis’.

Key movements

  • Former Special Adviser to six Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, Lord Caine, has been appointed a Minister at the Northern Ireland Office.

  • Angela Richardson MP has been reappointed PPS to Michael Gove MP… less than 15 hours after she was sacked from the role after abstaining on an amendment to the vote on Owen Paterson’s conduct, for which there was a Government three line whip.

  • The Bishop of Chelmsford, Gulnar Francis-Dehqani, was introduced to the House of Lords.

  • Former CEO of the British Meteorological Office, Lord Hunt of Chesterton retired from the House of Lords at the age of 80.

  • Former Labour Government Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly has been appointed Chair of the Thames Freeport

Around the UK

  • Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made a series of announcements at COP26 earlier this week including £1m of funding to support a partnership with the Climate Justice Resilience Fund to help communities repair and rebuild from climate-related events, such as flooding and wild fires. She also announced that California had become the first US state to sign Scotland’s Edinburgh Declaration committing devolved bodies and administrations around the world to take transformative action to protect nature and halt biodiversity loss around the globe, and that everyone under the age of 22 in Scotland will have access to free bus travel from 31st January 2022 in order to encourage greater use of public transport to tackle climate change.

  • Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford also travelled to Glasgow for COP26 where the Welsh Government announced that all new school and college buildings will be required to meet Net Zero Carbon targets from 1st January 2022, and announced an additional £150m to retrofit social homes with new technologies and insulation to help curb Wales’ emissions.

  • Northern Ireland First Minster Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also both attended COP26 alongside Environment Minister Edwin Poots who announced a new online funding hub to encourage greater access to his department’s schemes.

New Consultations

  • The technical application of the Plastic Packaging Tax, is out for consultation by HMRC this week, with the tax due to come into force on 1st April 2022.

  • The Government’s revised Energy National Policy Statements are the subject of this week’s major select committee consultation launched by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which seeks views on the NPS’ scope and effectiveness.

Think-Tanking

  • The Institute for Government published a report on lessons future infrastructure projects can learn from HS2.

  • The Centre for European Reform published a report entitled ‘How to solve a problem like Poland’ examining the Polish government’s defiance over the rule of law and what it means for the EU.

  • Reform published its annual ‘State of the State’ report looking into how public services have performed over the past year.

  • Policy Exchange published a report on the Northern Ireland Protocol and the origins of the current crisis, and a report on Britain and the Geopolitics of Space Technology on safeguarding the long-term UK space interests in an era of great power competition.

You’ve got to laugh

  • This week’s piece to end on comes with a disclaimer. If you’re in any way squeamish about hair or, more specifically, a picture of Boris Johnson made out of… yes… hair, then please do not click on this link. Thanks to BBC Breakfast Presenter Jon Kay for tweeting out the story of a stylist from Somerset who make a collage of Boris Johnson in lockdown out of human hair. Revolting but oddly impressive…

On that note… have a lovely weekend