Parliament Bridge

The Week in Politics | Feb 10th – 13th

Boris Johnson gave the green light to HS2 this week, in spite of growing concerns about the cost of the project.

In the other big news this week, despite considerable criticism, 17 foreign nationals with criminal records were deported from the UK.

HS2 Gets the Go Ahead

Boris Johnson announced in parliament this week that the HS2 high-speed rail link will be built, but admitted that it was a “controversial and difficult decision”. The Prime Minister said he “would restore discipline to the programme” after heavy criticism of the management of the scheme.

Proponents of the scheme claim that HS2 will create jobs, help to rebalance the UK’s economy and improve transport times.

Liberal Democrat MP, Munira Wilson, said that “key to cutting carbon emissions and tackling climate change is cutting domestic flights and moving people on to our railways and so that’s why the HS2 announcement is to be welcomed and building a third runway at Heathrow is an act of environmental vandalism.”

Proponents of the scheme claim that HS2 will create jobs, help to rebalance the UK’s economy and improve transport times.

What is HS2?

HS2 is a rail project which involves the building of 345 miles of new high-speed track, with an aim to connect London, the West Midlands, Manchester and Leeds. It is a highly ambitious project with a blueprint of designing a railway which can accommodate more trains per hour than any other high-speed line worldwide.

The project will be built in stages and the current estimate for its completion is 2040. Phase 1 will link London to Birmingham, and phases 2a and 2b will link the West Midlands to Crewe, Crewe to Manchester and the West Midlands to Leeds.  

Amazingly, HS2 will cut travel times between London and Birmingham by a whopping 29 minutes according to the Department for Transport.

The proposed travel times are looking a bit more promising elsewhere, with Manchester to London travel times reducing from 2 hours and 7 minutes to 1 hour and 7 minutes, and Birmingham to Leeds reduced from 2 hours and 9 minutes to 49 minutes.

HS2 Route. [Image: BBC]

Criticisms of HS2

HS2 has come under considerable criticism. One of the biggest criticisms of the project has been the rising costs, which have far exceeded budget estimations.

Originally, it was estimated that the project would cost between £30.9 billion and £36 billion, but the most recent estimation is to the tune of £88 billion. One estimate suggested that the cost could be as high as £106 billion.

Those who live near the proposed line have continually said that their lives will be blighted as a result of the proposed lines. The BBC reported this week on a couple from the Colne Valley, who are being ordered to leave their home next month to make way for the new route.

Ron Ryall said:

“It’s completely wrecked our lives. I’m finding it difficult that someone can just walk into your life and destroy it. My family has lived in this lane for 100 years. I was born here.”

One estimate suggested that the cost could be as high as £106 billion.

The proposal has also been widely criticised by environmentalists who have suggested HS2 will affect 693 classified local wildlife sites, 21 designated local nature reserves, 33 sites of special scientific interest, five wildlife refuges of international importance and 108 ancient woodlands. 

The Green Party labelled it “an act of ecocide”. Green MP Caroline Lucas said that HS2 would “destroy or damage hundreds of important wildlife sites, areas of ancient woodland and local nature reserves”.

Also, the Stop HS2 group have suggested that HS2 would not solve the North-South divide and would, in fact, reinforce the economic dominance of London.

Deportation Row

Despite significant opposition, a Home Office flight departed this week from the UK to Jamaica with 17 Jamaican nationals on board who all had criminal convictions. The convictions of those on board ranged from rape, violent crime and drug possession to robbery and burglary.

The original Home Office plan was to deport up to 56 individuals, before a legal challenge was made on the basis that some of those who were detained did not have access to legal advice. Lawyers argued that mobile phone signal problems meant that some of the detainees could not get legal advice.

Many have questioned whether this was a decision made with a racist motive, suggesting that such moves would not be made if the criminals in question were white.

Campaigners also argued that most of those detained had spent the majority of their lives in Britain, and should not be considered foreign nationals.

Director of charity Detention Action, Bella Sankey, told the BBC this week that: “In these cases where people have been here for a long time and are to all intents and purposes British, by deporting individuals like that you are doubly punishing them.”

David Lammy
David Lammy in Parliament this week. [Image: The Voice]

Labour MP, David Lammy, asked the House of Commons “when will black lives matter?” Home Secretary, Priti Patel, left the chamber at the start of Lammy’s address to parliament, leading several MPs to shout “shame!” at her.

Lammy went on to say: “The government wants to give the impression that everyone who was deported was a hardened violent criminal, but the reality is many of those who were scheduled to be deported had committed non-violent, one-time drugs offences.

“The lessons from Windrush have not been learned. Lives are being ruined because we don’t remember our history.”

Labour MP, David Lammy, asked the House of Commons “when will black lives matter?”

The government, unsurprisingly, took an entirely different view of the situation, espousing the wisdom and validity of the deportations.

Former chancellor, Sajid Javid, said:

“It is absolutely right that when they have served their sentence that we send them out of the country…

Many have related this case to the Windrush scandal, but Javid was quick to quash these suggestions, stating:

“They are not British nationals, they are not members of the Windrush generation, they are all foreign national offenders.”

After the flight left, the Home Office said:

“Today 17 serious foreign criminals were deported from the UK. They were convicted of rape, violent crimes and drug offences and had a combined sentence length of 75 years, as well as a life sentence…

We make no apology whatsoever for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals.”

The government is seemingly ignoring all concerns surrounding the deportations. The Home Office said: “We will be urgently pursuing the removal of those who were prevented from boarding the flight due to a legal challenge over a mobile network failure.”

“They are not British nationals, they are not members of the Windrush generation, they are all foreign national offenders.” (Sajid Javid)

Who knows that could happen over the coming months and years. All signs are pointing towards further hardline stances, with no apology.

Lord Dubs Endorses Sir Keir Starmer

Senior Labour peer and ImmiNews favourite, Lord Dubs, has given his endorsement to Sir Keir Starmer in the Labour leadership race and warned that the “whole future of the party is at stake”.

Lord Dubs said Starmer has “been very supportive of my campaign to improve protections for child refugees” and that the leadership favourite has a “very strong determination” to boot out anti-Semitism from the Labour party.

Dubs also spoke of his concern for the future of the Labour party after their General Election drubbing and amidst deep divisions within the party. He said that “if anyone is going to lead us to victory over this dreadful government then I think it’s Keir”. In this writer’s opinion, you’ve got it right again Dubs.

Lord Dubs gave his endorsement to Keir Starmer this week. [Image: BBC]

This week, Starmer’s campaign received another boost after he secured the backing of at least 294 constituency Labour parties. This is nine more than Jeremy Corbyn received in his 2016 landslide victory.

Starmer also pledged to keep Labour’s policy of scrapping tuition fees should he become leader, saying “we lost the election, but we did not lose our values”.

“If anyone is going to lead us to victory over this dreadful government then I think it’s Keir” (Lord Dubs)

In other Labour leadership news, the heat was turned up a notch between Labour leader hopefuls Rebecca Long Bailey and Emily Thornberry, after Thornberry accused Long Bailey of not raising the issue of anti-Semitism in the party.

Ms Thornberry said about the issue: “I think also it has to be said that Keir and I were both in the Shadow Cabinet and would regularly, the two of us, call for a regular report to the Shadow Cabinet.”

When pressed whether Long Bailey had asked for the reports, Thornberry replied “No I don’t think Rebecca did, but Keir and I did regularly.”

Long-Bailey interrupted with: “I did, I think you’ll find.”

Thornberry replied: “Sorry, I don’t remember.”

According to the most recent figures, Long-Bailey has 136 nominations, Lisa Nandy has 57 and Emily Thornberry has 21.

In more Labour news, deputy leadership candidate Richard Burgon said Labour should print a free tabloid-style newspaper for commuters. He suggested that the move would help to push Labour’s message out and counter traditional media.

An alternative to the Metro, however biased it might be, would be welcomed with open arms.

Corbyn Tears into Johnson Over Deportations

At PMQs this week, things got a little tasty as Corbyn launched a personal attack on Boris Johnson with a thinly-veiled remark about the Prime Minister’s past drug use.

In Corbyn’s tirade against Johnson, he condemned the government’s decision to deport Jamaican nationals with criminal records and claimed that the government had misled the public about the severity of the crimes.

Mr Corbyn also said the government had “learnt absolutely nothing” from Windrush, implying that the deportations were a continuation of the highly controversial scheme.

Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament
Jeremy Corbyn in PMQs this week. [Image: Yahoo]

The outgoing Labour leader asked: “If there was a young white boy with blonde hair, who later dabbled in class A drugs, and conspired with a friend to beat up a journalist, would he deport that boy?

“Or is it one rule for young black boys from the Caribbean, and another for white boys from the US?”

In response, Mr Johnson said “The Right Honourable Gentleman demeans himself and besmirches the reputation of the Windrush generation who came to this country to work in our public services to teach children in this country to make lives better…

He has no right to conflate them with those with foreign national offenders we are deporting today.”

“Or is it one rule for young black boys from the Caribbean, and another for white boys from the US?” (Jeremy Corbyn)

In spite of Johnson’s rebuttals, Corbyn came out on top in the playground of PMQs this week.

Cabinet Reshuffle

We end this week with news of Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle, which is still ongoing at the time of writing.

Sajd Javid is the biggest name to lose his position, though he left of his own accord after refusing to accept demands for all of his personal team to be sacked. He said that “no self-respecting minister” could accept these conditions.

Rumours are circulating that there are deep tensions between Javid and the endearing, unelected Dominic Cummings. Javid has been replaced by Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rishi Sunak.  

Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid resigned today. [Image: Financial Times]

In a widely criticised move, Housing minister Esther McVey was removed from her position, making her the ninth Tory Housing Minister casualty since 2010. Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “The revolving door at the Ministry of Housing means Tory Ministers have repeatedly failed to get a grip on these issues”, referring to levels of homelessness, lack of affordable housing and the Grenfell tragedy.

In other reshuffle moves, Oliver Dowden replaces Baroness Morgan as Culture Secretary, and Northern Ireland Secretary, Julian Smith, and Business Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, have both been sacked. Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, is also out of government.

Written by
Richard Ballout