This week’s edition looks at PMQs, the Queen’s Speech, the latest set of scandals and the standstill in Northern Ireland’s Assembly.
In last week’s round of PMQs, the main issue of debate was the cost of living crisis. Keir Starmer opened his set of questions by advocating for a windfall tax on energy companies to raise billions of pounds, and argued that this would allow energy bills to be cut. He asked the Prime Minister whether he was in favour of a windfall tax, against it or on the fence. Boris Johnson, clearly undecided about the idea, gave no straight answer throughout the debate. Instead, his initial response was to accuse Starmer of not being able “to define what a woman is” (not entirely relevant to question) before arguing that the Conservatives are not in favour of higher taxation. He went on to say “dogs bark, cats miaow and Labour puts up taxes”. In responding to another question on the cost of living crisis in which Starmer mentioned the case of someone who is on a dialysis machine but struggling to pay the high and increasing energy bills, Boris Johnson brought up Crossrail and tried to take credit for it on the basis that he was Mayor of London when it began being built and is PM now it is completed. This is despite the project being initiated by Ken Livingstone (the London Mayor before Johnson) and the Blair government, opening four years late, being almost £4billion over its initial budget, and (unsurprisingly) not being relevant to the question.
The rest of the questions were mostly focused on the cost of living crisis with the PM trying his best to slip in as many statistics as possible to suggest the UK’s economy is strong as a result of his government’s actions.
The Queen missed the State Opening of Parliament, which took place on the 10th May, for the first time since 1963 due to mobility issues. Prince Charles took her place and read the speech, which is written by the Government. This laid out the Government’s agenda for the next session of Parliament and mainly focused on levelling up, post-Brexit reforms and the economy. Some of the key bills include the Bill of Rights, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, the Energy Security Bill, the Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Public Order Bill.
The Bill of Rights will fulfil the Conservative Party manifesto commitment “to update the Human Rights Act”. According to the government, the purpose of this is to “end the abuse of the human rights framework and restore some common sense to our justice system”. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is one of the main elements of Johnson’s agenda. The bill will enshrine the 12 levelling-up targets that were set out in the White Paper earlier this year into law. The bill also aims to give powers to local authorities to force landlords to rent out empty shops in an attempt to revive high streets. The Energy Security Bill aims to decrease the UK’s reliance on imported fuels and boost renewable energy production. The Financial Services and Markets Bill aims to “maintain and enhance the UK’s position as a global leader in financial services having left the EU”. The Public Order Bill follows on from the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, criminalising various protesting tactics.
The Conservative Party have been at the heart of a number of serious scandals recently. On the 17th May an unnamed Conservative MP was arrested following accusations of rape and sexual assault offences that took place between 2002 and 2009. Another Conservative MP, Neil Parish, resigned on the 30th April after admitting to watching pornography twice while in the House of Commons chamber. He claims that the first time was an accident: he was looking at tractors which somehow led him to a porn website. However he does admit that the second time was deliberate. Imran Ahmad Khan, the former Conservative MP for Wakefield, submitted his resignation on the 25th April after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008. David Warburton, the MP for Somerset and Frome, was removed from the Conservative Party in the beginning of April following allegations of drug abuse and sexually inappropriate behaviour.
The ‘Partygate’ scandal is coming to a close. The police inquiry into it has ended after a total of 126 fixed-penalty notices were issued with Boris Johnson, Carrie Johnson and Rishi Sunak each receiving one. Sue Gray’s report is expected to be published in full in the coming week.
Meanwhile Keir Starmer is now facing his own scandal (’Beergate’) after having spent months criticising Boris Johnson for ‘Partygate’. However, Starmer has promised to resign if he is found to have broken the law.
Northern Ireland Assembly
On the 5th May, the Northern Ireland Assembly election took place following Paul Givan’s resignation as First Minister in protest against the Northern Ireland protocol. Sinn Féin became the largest party with 27 of the 90 seats, making it the first time a nationalist party has won the election. The Good Friday peace agreement dictates that the main nationalist and unionist parties have to share power and that both sides are required to agree on a speaker. However, the DUP refused to back the election of a new speaker, preventing the executive from forming and the Assembly from operating. The DUP is hoping that this will put pressure on the UK government to unilaterally break its post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU.