With the Easter recess finally well and truly underway, the Government’s so-called ‘take out the trash day’ yesterday saw the small matter of the long-awaited ‘Green Day’, a 26-publication-long net zero strategy covering the future of our energy security released, primarily, at 7am, leaving everyone’s thoughts at Navigate HQ yesterday morning turning very quickly to ‘wake me up when September ends recess begins’…
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
Humza Yousaf was elected as the new leader of the SNP and Scotland’s First Minister, after he won 52.1% of the vote on the second ballot, beating Kate Forbes who won 47.9% and Ash Regan who finished third with 11.1% of the first preference vote. Yousaf is the country’s sixth First Minister and first from an ethnic minority background. In his victory speech, Yousaf said it was the “greatest privilege and honour of my life” and that his “immediate priority will be to continue to protect every Scot as far as we can from the harm inflicted by the cost of living crisis, to recover and reform our NHS and other vital public services, to support our wellbeing economy and to improve the life chances of people across our country”. Unveiling his Cabinet team on Wednesday, Shona Robison was named as the new Deputy First Minister; Jamie Hepburn was confirmed as the Minister for Independence; and Kate Forbes reportedly rejected a demotion from her previous role of Finance Secretary to Rural Affairs Secretary, returning to the backbenches after serving in Government for almost five years.
A series of environmental and energy security policies were announced as part of the Government’s ‘Green Day’ package, including commitments to carbon capture and storage; £160m to support port infrastructure projects; delivering Great British Nuclear; and cutting household energy bills by expanding energy efficiency support. The ‘Powering Up Britain – Energy Security Plan’ is hoped to deliver 500,000 new green jobs by 2023, create a ‘strategic advantage’ on new clean industries and generate opportunities for UK businesses to export their expertise around the world. As part of the plan, the Government also published its response to Chris Skidmore MP’s Net Zero Review and confirmed that it will act ‘partly or fully’ upon 23 of the report’s 25 recommendations for 2025, to ensure the UK’s journey to Net Zero by 2050 is ‘pro-business and pro-growth’. However, Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Ed Miliband criticised the “weak and feeble Groundhog Day of re-announcements” and argued that the policies failed to deliver on the pledge made at COP26 to meet the UK’s climate target.
The UK reached its biggest trade deal since Brexit as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that the UK will join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The CPTPP is a free trade agreement between 11 countries across the Indo-Pacific, including Australia, Canada and Japan and means that more than 99% of UK goods exports to CPTPP countries will now be eligible for zero tariffs. The agreement also protects the UK’s vital industries and entities, such as agriculture and the NHS and upholds animal welfare and food safety standards. Sunak stated that “joining the CPTPP trade bloc puts the UK at the centre of a dynamic and growing group of Pacific economies, as the first new nation and first European country to join”. He added that British businesses will “enjoy unparalleled access to markets from Europe to the south Pacific”.
The Week in Stats 📉
30% – The amount of deposits Silicon Valley Bank UK lost in a single day.
Two years – The amount life expectancy at retirement has reduced since the last time the state pension age was reviewed in 2017 (if you’re interested, life expectancy in the UK is now 80.9 years).
3.1% – The drop in house prices over the last year, the fastest decline since July 2009.
0.08% – The amount the UK’s newly-negotiated membership of the CPTPP is expected the boost the economy by.
£100,000 – The hourly rate leaked documents show it would cost to moor some of the ships proposed for housing migrants.
4.8% – The proportion of GDP the UK currently spends on state pensions, versus…
…8.1% – The proportion it is expected to reach by 2070.
0.1% – GDP growth in the fourth quarter of last year.
Other Political News
With May 4th fast approaching, the Local Election campaigns are getting into full swing, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats both holding their launch events. Labour leader Keir Starmer visited Swindon (home of two Labour targets for the next General Election…) with his Deputy Leader Angela Rayner and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, to set out his party’s main pledge that they would freeze Council Tax this year. The Liberal Democrats, while doing Liberal Democrat things, (more in You’ve Got to Laugh) launched their campaign in Hertfordshire, as leader Ed Davey pledged to win votes from both the Conservatives and Labour. The Conservatives had launched their campaign last Friday, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak travelled to the Black Country and called it the “perfect place” for the launch, as he was accompanied by local MPs and Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street. Don’t worry if you missed it, the PM’s own recap of his week didn’t mention it…
Laughing Gas, littering and graffiti will be treated with the ‘urgency it deserves’, as the Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan was unveiled by the Government this week. An Anti-Social Behaviour Taskforce, to be led by the Home Secretary and Levelling Up Secretary, will be established with the ‘sole focus of addressing anti-social behaviour and restoring pride in place in communities’. Other measures in the plan include: increasing fines for graffiti, litter or fly tipping to up to £500 and £1,000; giving police more powers to test for drugs on arrest; and the banning of Nitrous Oxide, commonly known as Laughing Gas.
King Charles III undertook his first State Visit as King, (after his trip to Paris was postponed due to protests over pension reforms) travelling to Germany where he delivered a speech to the Bundestag, in which he spoke in both English and German. In the speech, he said the UK and Germany could “take heart from our unity” in the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, praised the role both nations were playing in tackling climate change, from offshore wind to hydrogen, and celebrated that “our universities and research institutions collaborate more often with each other than any other two countries in Europe.” He also addressed the Federal President’s State Banquet where he expressed confidence that “the connections between us will grow ever stronger as, together, we pursue a more sustainable, prosperous and secure future”.
The State Pension age will rise to 67 between 2026-28, after the Government published the State Pension Age Review 2023. While mass protests are carried out in France over plans to increase the State Pension age to 64, the UK’s State Pension age will rise from 66 to 67, after the Work and Pensions Secretary, off the back of two independent reports, concluded increasing the age ‘remains appropriate’. The Government also plans to have a further review within two years of the next Parliament to reconsider rising the age to 68 by 2037-39.
The regulation of Artificial Intelligence in the UK will be guided by five main principles, after the Government published the AI White Paper setting out a ‘new approach to regulating artificial intelligence to build public trust’ and to help the sector, which employs over 50,000 people in the UK, to thrive. The principles – safety, transparency, fairness, accountability, and contestability – should be considered by regulators to ‘best facilitate the safe and innovative use of AI in the industries they monitor’.
Around the World
Former US President Donald Trump has become the first ex-president to face criminal charges, following an investigation over a payment his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to the adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. The payment, of $130,000, is thought to have been made to buy Daniels’ silence over an alleged affair, a move which is not in itself illegal. However, when Trump reimbursed Cohen, it was recorded as legal fees, thus falsifying business records, which is a criminal offence in New York. There are also calls to suggest that this move broke election law, because the attempts to hide the payment to Daniels was motivated by hiding the affair from voters: which could evoke a more serious charge in court. Trump denies wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of ‘political persecution’. He will face the charges in Court on Tuesday.
President Netanyahu announced he would pause the proposed justice reforms in Israel until the next session, with the hopes to ease the unprecedented set of strikes and protests that have been happening in the country over the last month. The ongoing strikes and protests in the country increased after Netanyahu’s reinstatement as President, reflecting deeper divisions in Israel over the role of religion and state due the right-wing nature of Netanyahu’s Government. However they intensified over the weekend, with hospitals, airports, shops and bank services stopping, after Netanyahu fired his Defence Minister, who campaigned against the judicial reform which would limit the powers of the justice system. Netanyahu announced the postponement of the reforms to allow time for a dialogue with opposition on the proposals, though it received mixed responses, with some vowing to push on with protests.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen arrived in New York to begin her trip to through the US to Central America. Whilst Tsai is only transiting in the US to reach her final destinations (visiting Guatemala and Belize), it is thought she may meet with the US House Speaker on her journey, a meeting which China has condemned and said could lead to ‘serious confrontation.’ China’s Senior Envoy to Washington urged the US ‘not to repeat playing with fire on the Taiwan question’, stating that allowing the Taiwanese President in the US ‘seriously undermines China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.’
Italy became the first Western nation to ban ChatGPT, due to privacy concerns relating to the model. The Italian data protection authority has said it will ban and investigate the software immediately to understand if it complies with GDPR, following concerns over the mass collection and storage of personal data. The regulation authority has given Open AI, the creator of the software, 20 days to respond to the concerns, under a penalty of a fine of €20 million.
UN Human Rights Experts have condemned Uganda’s controversial ‘anti-LGBTQ’ Bill which would make homosexuality punishable by death. MPs voted on the Bill last week which saw it approved in a landslide, by 387 votes to 2. The Bill will now go to President Museveni, who can veto the Bill or sign it into law, though previous speeches he has delivered suggest he will do the latter. The UN has responded, stating that the new Bill is a breach of article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adding that Ugandan MPs have been made aware of this on previous occasions in recent years.
The Illegal Migration Bill was rushed through its committee stage via the Committee of the Whole House. The controversial legislation seeks to prevent and deter unlawful migration to the UK. Its report stage and third reading are scheduled to take place on 25 April.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill continued its committee stage in the House of Lords this week. The Bill places a duty on the Government to set Levelling Up missions and produce an annual Levelling Up report, creates a new County Deal model of combined authority, gives local authorities powers to bring empty premises back into use, and digitises neighbourhood planning to make it easier to engage with and limit speculative development.
The Energy Bill began its report stage in the House of Lords. The Bill seeks to further regulate the energy market including the licensing of carbon dioxide transport and storage and commercial arrangements for industrial carbon capture and storage and for hydrogen production.
The Public Order Bill entered its final stages this week as the Commons considered the Lords amendments with narrow support for an amendment to ‘mitigate the impact of the suspicionless stop and search power.’ It now once again returns to the Commons. Who doesn’t love a bit of ping-pong (or whiff-whaff…)
The Finance (No. 2) Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons. Its committee stage is due to begin after the Easter recess on 18 April.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill continued its committee stage in the House of Lords this week. The Bill would introduce an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery to address the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
The 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was the topic of debate this week that was approached “sensitively” by both sides of the House. There was general consensus that all hoped for a “prosperous and more reconciled future” for Northern Ireland.
Creating a dedicated human rights ombudsperson could risk creating overlap with the functions of existing bodies, a report published by the Joint Committee on Human Rights has argued. The report concludes that human rights are already considered as part of the work of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, and creating a new additional role risks creating confusion.
Greater support is needed to realise the ambitions of the National Bus Strategy, so states a report published by the Transport Committee ahead of recess. The report argues that while the Government’s 2021 National Bus Strategy was ambitious, full of good ideas and supported by extra, much-needed funding, the Government must maintain its focus to achieve it and build a network fit for the post-pandemic world with more investment in cashless payments, smart ticketing, priority bus routes and demand responsive services.
Urgent action is needed to ensure opportunities of new health care restructure are realised, the Health and Social Care Committee has stressed in its latest report, which warns of a serious lack of clarity in some areas with risks that acute short-term pressures could be given priority over longer term ambitions such as preventing ill-health.
Margaret Ferrier MP should be suspended from the Commons for 30 days, the Committee on Standards has recommended in its latest report of MP wrongdoing. The MP was suspended from the SNP in October 2020 for breaching COVID lockdown rules, and the Committee has ruled she ‘caused significant damage to the reputation of the House’. MPs must vote on the conclusions of the report but it is likely her suspension will go ahead, which will automatically trigger a recall petition, following which she will almost certainly face a by-election.
Stuart Anderson MP and Nicola Richards MP both announced their intention to step down from their current constituencies at the next election, citing personal and family reasons.
Julian Knight MP appears to have been reinstated as Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee after an inquiry by the Met Police into allegations of sexual assault was dropped. He has not had the Conservative Whip returned.
Tom Goldsmith has been appointed the 52nd Clerk of the House of Commons, succeeding the outgoing Sir John Benger. The Clerk serves as chief advisor to the House regarding parliamentary procedure.
The Earl of Minto has been appointed a Minister of State in the Department for Business and Trade.
Three re-appointments to the Trade Envoy programme took place: David Mundell MP was reappointed Trade Envoy to New Zealand; Heather Wheeler MP to Cambodia and Laos; and Laurence Robertson MP to Angola and Zambia, with Ethiopia also added to his portfolio. Gareth Johnson MP was appointed Trade Envoy to the United Arab Emirates.
John Marshall has been appointed ambassador to the Republic of Guinea.
Air Marshal Sir Richard Knighton has been appointed new Chief of the Air Staff.
Simon Bowen and Gwen Parry-Jones were appointed as interim Chair and interim CEO of Great British Nuclear respectively.
Adrian Usher has been appointed the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.
This Week’s Polls
People can’t decide on who would make the best Prime Minister, as Survation’s latest poll found Labour leader Keir Starmer just 1 percentage point ahead of PM Rishi Sunak, at 38% vs 37%. The research also shows that the two are tied at 38% each when it comes to who people trust on the economy, though Starmer’s net approval ratings are higher at 17% compared to Sunak’s 2%.
Humza Yousaf faces an uphill struggle as Scotland’s new First Minister, with 50% of Scots believing that things are heading in the wrong direction, finds a poll from Ipsos. Handling of the NHS is a key concern, with the Scottish Government having a -30% net rating on this, while education and the economy also have negative net ratings of -19% and -16% respectively.
Sentences handed by Courts should be longer than they are, according to a poll conducted by Savanta on behalf of the House of Commons Justice Committee. 38% of respondents said sentences were ‘much too lenient’ with another 33% believing they were ‘a little too lenient’. This compares to just 4% of respondents who answered that sentences were ‘too tough’.
A plurality of British voters have a negative opinion of the police, finds research from Redfield and Wilton carried out after the publication of the Casey Review. 40% have a negative view compared to 26% who hold a positive view, in stark contrast to a year ago when 38% had a positive view and 25% had a negative view.
The Resolution Foundation published a report on how the public sector can play its part in ending the UK’s low-investment rut.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies published a report examining the success of Ukrainian cyber defences.
Demos published a report on levelling up in the Black Country.
The Institute of Economic Affairs published a report on the Serious Fraud Office, asking if it is fit for purpose.
Policy Exchange published a report on gender ideology and safeguarding in schools.
The IPPR published a report on worker surveillance in the UK after the pandemic.
You’ve Got to Laugh
The earliest you’ve got to laugh moment of the week we’ve had so far went to Mark Garnier MP at just before midday on Sunday, for tweeting in support of Michael Gove’s announcement to make the possession of laughing gas an offense, in an attempt to clamp down on antisocial behaviour. Only, the Wyre Forest MP forgot to include the crucial word ‘gas’, resulting in a tweet (which had amassed over 1 million views by Monday alone) that read: “Delighted to see laughing to be banned. It’s not just the antisocial behaviour - it’s the human tragedy of harm to long term users”…
Lewis Capaldi and Netflix get a nod and a lol for dipping into the weird world of British politics, after they used a picture of a young Liz Truss (in her days as a scarily accurate Lewis Capaldi lookalike) on a billboard advertising a new documentary about the singer. The former Prime Minister looks almost as unrecognisable in the picture as her politics was when the photo was taken… given she was speaking, remarkably, as a Lib Dem activist at the #winninghere party’s 1994 conference in Brighton.
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery… not quite what we suspect Ed Davey had in mind when he drove a tractor with a giant ‘Lib Dems winning here’ banner plastered on the front into a wall of blue-painted hay to mark the start of their local election campaign on Wednesday. To be fair to the Lib Dem leader, logistically it worked pretty well… the only problem is Boris was driving his tractor, whilst Ed sat looking like a small excitable schoolboy in the buddy seat…