This week’s edition looks at PMQs, the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Bill of Rights, by-election results, and the Scottish Independence campaign.
As the Prime Minister was at a Nato summit on Wednesday, Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Angela Rayner filled in for PMQs. Despite Boris Johnson’s absence, it was still a very lively and combative session. Angela Rayner’s questions covered a wide range of topics including the by-election results, tax rises, the cost-of-living crisis, party leadership and defence spending. Meanwhile, Raab said Labour’s “plan is no plan” and that while the Conservatives are “serving the people of this country”, Rayner is “just playing political games”. The Deputy Prime Minister also had a go at Labour for their mixed response to the RMT strikes and accused the party of “champagne socialism”.
Ian Blackford, the leader of the SNP in the House of Commons, used his two questions to focus on the fresh campaign for Scottish Independence, claiming that the Conservatives “do not have a right to block Scottish democracy”. Raab argued that it is “not the right time for another referendum given the challenges we face as one United Kingdom” and that the people of Scotland want the Westminster and Holyrood governments to “work together”. Ian Blackford was able to use the first of these arguments against Raab, saying that the challenges at present in the United Kingdom are evidence that “there is no case for the Union”.
Dominic Raab, who is also Justice Minister alongside being deputy PM, faced a couple questions from members of the Labour party and Plaid Cymru on the Bill of Rights. Rosie Duffield, Labour MP for Canterbury, asked for the “woman’s right to choose” to be put into the Bill. Raab argued that the issue of abortion should be left to the “conscience” of MPs and that enshrining the right in law could leave the UK in a similar position to the US. Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts asked for self-determination to be in the Bill of Rights.
Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
The Northern Ireland Protocol was signed by the EU and the UK as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and it is also responsible for the current deadlock in the Northern Ireland Assembly. If the Bill currently before Parliament becomes an Act, ministers will be given the power to override the Protocol. The government recently won the vote on the second reading of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in the House of Commons by 295 votes to 221. This is despite facing harsh opposition from all sides (bar the DUP) with backbenchers such as former Prime Minister Theresa May calling the plans “illegal”. She also said that the plans are unlikely to achieve their aims and would “diminish the standing of the UK in the eyes of the world”. The Shadow Foreign Secretary, David Lammy, also heavily criticised the legislation, saying it was “damaging and counterproductive” and a “power grab so broad it would make Henry VIII blush”.
Bill of Rights
A few days after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervened in the Rwanda deportation, the Government laid out their plans for replacing the 1998 Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, delivering on their 2019 manifesto pledge to “update” the Act. This aim of the Bill of Rights is to reduce the influence of the ECHR, strengthen rights such as free speech and make it easier to deport foreign criminals. However there are fears that the bill will increase the power of the executive and even diminish human rights. The Director of the pressure group Liberty, Martha Spurrier, criticised the controversial bill saying it is a “power grab by a government that has no respect for our rights”.
Two by-elections took place on the 23rd June: one in Wakefield (triggered by the resignation of Imran Ahmad Khan who was convicted for child sexual assault) and the other in Tiverton and Honiton (triggered by the resignation of Neil Parish who admitted to watching pornography in the House of Commons). Labour won the Wakefield by-election with an 18 point majority while the Liberal Democrats overturned the 24,000 Conservative majority in Tiverton and Honiton with a 38% swing. The Conservatives also lost two by-elections last year in North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham. Oliver Dowden took responsibility for the poor Conservative results and resigned as Chair of the Conservative Party. However, despite increased pressure, Boris Johnson remains reluctant to resign. Indeed, Johnson said he is “thinking actively about the third term”.
The SNP have recently launched a fresh campaign for Scottish Independence. Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to hold a second referendum on 19th October 2023. It is unclear whether it is legally possible for the Scottish Government to hold a referendum without the Westminster Parliament’s consent and Dorathy Bain QC has asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether this is legal. Nicola Sturgeon has also argued that the next UK general election will be a “de facto” referendum.