Parliament

The Week in Politics | Jan 13th – 16th

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This is the first entry in Immigration News’ new weekly politics round-up, We will bring you our pick of the latest news and moves in UK politics.

Brexit Big Ben Bong is Probably off

After years of bickering, confusion and stalemate, the UK will officially leave the European Union on the 31st January.

To celebrate this supposedly patriotic occasion, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested in a BBC interview on Tuesday that the government was “working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong” on Brexit day at the precise moment that the UK leaves the EU.

However, the House of Commons Commission had a markedly different position on the bonging. The estimated cost for the 31st January chiming, to the tune of £500,000, means that the bonging is “unlikely” according to the Commission.

And, in a Trump-esque turn of events, it emerged that the public fund to finance Big Ben’s special Brexit bong doesn’t actually exist.

Clock restoration expert Paul Kembery said that even if the public raised the required funds, there probably wouldn’t be enough time to set up a temporary platform and electric motor, which would be necessary for Big Ben to bong on Brexit day.

The estimated cost for the 31st January chiming, to the tune of £500,000, means that the bonging is “unlikely” according to the Commission.

The Daily Express, meanwhile, had a different view. As erudite as ever, the Express’ editors pronounced Big Ben Must Bong for Brexit on their Wednesday front page.

Lord Dubs Demands Child Refugee Protection

Last week, in a move which was condemned by many, MPs voted 348 to 252 against an attempt by Labour to reinstate child refugee protection rights in the Brexit bill.

The removal of child refugee protection rights came after the Conservative’s General Election victory in December. The government said that they removed the rights in order to not have their hands tied in Brexit negotiations and that they have “a proud record of helping vulnerable children”. They also insisted there will be provisions for unaccompanied children in an upcoming immigration bill.

Lord Dubs, who arrived in the UK as a child to escape the Nazis, called the removal of child refugee protection rights “appalling and deeply distressing”.

The Labour peer spoke passionately in the House of Lords this week, warning Mr Johnson to not use child refugees as “bargaining chips” and said that child refugees should be reunited with families at a “very minimum”.

Quite Dubs, quite.

Labour Leadership Contest Enters New Phase

The Labour leadership contest turned up a notch as the next phase in the leadership process got under way.

On Monday, Clive Lewis quit the Labour leadership race, leading to several of his backers switching allegiance to Emily Thornberry, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. She will join Lisa Nandy, Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Jess Phillips in the next phase of the contest.

The candidates must receive the support of at least 5% of local parties or at least three affiliates, of which two must be unions, by February 14th in order to make it into the final ballot.

The current favourites are Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey.

After an underwhelming start to her leadership campaign, Ms Long-Bailey has regained ground and a recent poll puts Long-Bailey ahead of Starmer. Seen as the natural heir to Jeremy Corbyn, Long-Bailey has the firm backing of the left of the Labour party,

Keir Starmer who recently received the backing of the biggest union, Unison, is widely seen, at least from those outside of the party, as the candidate most likely to rekindle Labour’s standing.

Lisa Nandy is emerging as a worthy contender after receiving the backing of the National Union of Mineworkers. The union stated that they believed Mrs Nandy was the candidate to “regain trust with the voters we’ve lost”.

Seen as the natural heir to Jeremy Corbyn, Long-Bailey has the firm backing of the left of the Labour party

Meanwhile, Momentum have done much to maintain their perception as a militant left-wing group, leaving just one option for both the leader and deputy leader roles on their ballot, which were Long-Bailey and Angela Rayner respectively. Momentum’s ballot was labelled as a “ludicrous fake consultation” by the Labour-supporting journalist Paul Mason.

Boris says no to indyref2

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be wondering how she can finally break free from Westminster’s grip as Boris Johnson formally rejected her calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

The Prime Minister stated in a letter to Ms Sturgeon that a second referendum would “continue the political stagnation Scotland has seen for the past decade” and that Ms Sturgeon had previously claimed that the first referendum would be a “once in a generation” event.

Sturgeon responded with a tweet, stating that the “Tories have no positive case for the union – so all they can do is attempt to deny democracy”.

The Scottish National Party won 48 of 59 seats in Scotland in the 2019 UK General Election, leading to a renewed call for a second referendum on Scottish independence. The UK’s impending exit from the European Union has only amplified these calls, with Sturgeon claiming that Scotland is being led out of the EU against the will of the Scottish people.

The latest spat between the two came after Ms Sturgeon made a formal request for the UK government to transfer powers to the Scottish Parliament, which would ensure that any referendum would be legal.

If the SNP perform strongly in the 2021 Holyrood elections, the calls for a second referendum will only grow louder and Mr Johnson might have to open his ears.

Sturgeon responded with a tweet, stating that the “Tories have no positive case for the union – so all they can do is attempt to deny democracy”.

PMQs – Corbyn’s Spark is Flickering Out

Boris Johnson was untroubled in the House of Commons on Wednesday in a rather drab PMQs. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn lacked any spark, his demeanour grey, tired and defeated. Corbyn’s delivery was monotonal, as he questioned the Prime Minister on NHS waiting times, saying that patients are waiting longer for NHS care after 10 years of a Conservative government.

Corbyn spoke of over 2,000 patients waiting more than 12 hours for a bed in December and an increase in the number of people waiting more than four hours at A&E. The increase in cancer treatment waiting times was another cause for concern for Corbyn.

The outgoing Labour leader also pointed out Mr Johnson’s promise to build 40 new hospitals which turned out to be rather fewer, at just six.

Corbyn was also less than pleased with the Conservative’s pledge to enshrine NHS funding into law, labelling it as a “gimmick”.

Mr Johnson has the support of a comfortable Tory majority in the House, and the current shadow government look flat and zestless. Despite Corbyn’s very real concerns, Johnson finds himself in a position where he can easily deflect the questions, and he didn’t look even remotely threatened throughout PMQs.

PMQs is currently like an old, worn-out series of films, lacking any excitement or novelty, and churning out the same old lines and manoeuvres. The main protagonists are singing the same hymns, but we are in desperate need of a new melody. Unfortunately, until the new Labour leader is announced on April 4th, we can expect more of the same.    

Written by
Richard Ballout