This week in politics: Fines, wines and signs
The week that was
Chancellor Philip Hammond was forced to U-turn on plans to introduce increases to national insurance contributions for the self-employed announced during last week’s Budget after significant pressure from the media and his own backbenchers. It also was revealed the Conservative Party had been fined £70,000 and its treasurer, Simon Day, referred to the Metropolitan Police following an investigation into election campaign expenses by the Electoral Commission.
Elsewhere, Nicola Sturgeon prompted a media storm in announcing her intention to hold a Scottish independence referendum before the final UK-EU deal is agreed and George Osborne revealed he had been appointed as editor of the Evening Standard, with plans to work for the outlet in the morning and carry out his MP duties in the afternoon. Elsewhere, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill received royal assent.
On the benches
Watch your language
Labour MP Dawn Butler made history this week as the first person to ever use sign language in the House of Commons chamber, asking the Leader of the House if he agreed it was time to grant British Sign Language full legal status. This came after the Welsh Select Committee were allowed to speak Welsh for the first time on Monday. Who ever said Parliament was stuck in its ways?
The Karl before the storm
Never write a letter while you are angry, so goes the Chinese proverb. Such wise words escaped the plans of Lincolnshire MP Karl McCartney, one of those caught up in the battle bus scandal, whose stormy correspondence with CCHQ managed to blow its way into the hands of Sky News this week.
Using a series of choice words to lambast CCHQ for the negative effect the episode had on him, McCartney advised the Party in future to be ‘little bit more supportive and less interested in covering their own backsides’…ouch.
MPs wine on about Grape Britain
Tory MP Nusrat Ghani this week introduced a bill to ensure English vino is served at all UK Diplomatic functions. Ghani expressed concern at what she said was a “lack of consistency” among the UK’s 268 foreign embassies, high commissions and consulates towards showcasing homegrown produce.
As a 10 minute rule bill, we have Merlot expectations that the Bill will pass, especially as it is unclear whether this Bill will receive support from members of the Cabernet – no matter how Rose the future looks for English wine.
Corbyn forgets what PMQs is
The setting for PMQs could not have been better for the Opposition this week, with a u-turn on NICs announced at 11.40, and Sturgeon creating a headache for May over Scotland. However, it was Corbyn in a difficult spot on Wednesday, forgetting to ask the PM a question altogether. In response, May quipped: ‘I’m not sure the gentleman has quite got the hang of this, he’s supposed to ask a question to me when he stands up.’ Following considerable laughter, Speaker Bercow did nothing to dispel the jeering, adding: ‘Let’s hear the answer!’
Good week/bad week
A good week for: George Osborne. In a week that saw unemployment fall to its lowest level since 1975, George Osborne took on another job. In addition to being an MP, advisor at BlackRock and chair of the Northern Powerhouse think-tank, Osborne will also be editing the London Evening Standard. You might say the former Chancellor is a ‘George of all trades’, but whether he will be able to master any of his roles remains to be seen.
A bad week for: Phillip Hammond. A week is a long time in politics, but it is a very short time in which to U-turn. Hammond has often been referred to as a safe pair of hands, but has dropped the ball with his first budget. In normal political circumstances, the Chancellor’s days in Number 11 would be numbered, however the uncertainty of these turbulent times, and the inability of the Opposition to capitalise on the worst budget since the ‘omni-shambles’ of 2012 should allow Hammond to remain in post.
Tweet of the Week
‘All of these things are being done piece by piece. When we have finished making the Lego blocks, we will build the house. And then we will have the forecast you are talking about’ – Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, telling the Exiting the EU Committee the Government has not assessed the economic impact of not agreeing a deal with the EU
‘We will not be intimidated by threats that no Brexit deal is good for UK and bad for the EU. No deal is bad for everyone, above all for UK’ – Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, on Twitter
‘Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act: European Union Notification of Withdrawal Act (20170)’ – Speaker of the House of Commons confirming that the Queen signed the Brexit bill into law
In Focus: Sturgeon’s gamble gives May a new problem
In advance of the referendum on EU membership prominent Leave campaigners dismissed claims that an out vote could provoke a new Scottish independence poll. Yet with Nicola Sturgeon’s statement today that prospect is now real. The SNP’s move for a second referendum adds another layer of complexity to the Brexit debate and a new level of uncertainty to UK politics. Lexington looks at some of the key questions which arise from the First Minister’s intervention.