A week in review (11th June - 14th June)
The parliamentary review of the week
Starting this parliamentary week were oral questions on the topic of defence. Standing out in this session were three questions, the first of which being that put to Gavin Williamson, asking what assessment he and his department have made regarding the prospective naval defence of UK fisheries after leaving the European Union. The response, as is often the case in this chapter of negotiations, was tentative – the Ministry of Defence will expand its remit into this area, but the precise extent to which it will is still being assessed.
Questioned also was the affordability of the Equipment Plan for 2017-2027, a topic prompted by Jim Cunningham. Answering for the MoD was Guto Bebb, the relevant under-secretary, who said that affordability will be eased with financial and technological modernisation, and that a review to this effect will be published this autumn. Lastly, Williamson was asked what was being done in response to the threat posed by Russia – to which he responded that NATO will be the centre of gravity in terms of defence and deterrence, and that – moreover – dialogue between the UK and Russia must continue in order to avoid miscalculations and misunderstandings.
- The G7 summit resulted in further confirmation that America's allies are unhappy with Trump's tariffs
- Government statement reveals that former Grenfell Tower residents are high priority
- SNP walk out of parliament during PMQs session
- Lords' amendments to EU Withdrawal Bill mostly dismissed by the Commons
Later in the afternoon came a prime ministerial statement from Theresa May relating to the G7 summit hosted in Quebec. At this summit, many international goals were clarified, including the need to: strengthen the international response to chemical weapon attacks; improve the world trade system; increase global equality, particularly with regard to women; and tackle terrorism multilaterally. Important to highlight, too, were the disguised remarks about the difficulties posed by the Trump administration and its commitment to “America first” – something Corbyn picked up on. Speaking on behalf of the opposition, he urged the government to deviate from following America’s lead on matters of foreign policy due to the US president’s unwillingness to work in parallel with the international community.
Following this session was another ministerial statement, this time by James Brokenshire (minister for housing) on the emotionally fraught topic of Grenfell. He updated the House on the government’s efforts to help ameliorate those who suffered from the tragedy and measures to prevent any similar occurrence in the future. The essential message is that most of the families formerly housed in Grenfell Tower are now rehomed in either permanent or temporary housing, that mental health assistance will be provided, and that safety measures à la Dame Judith Hackitt’s report will be implemented across the country – with all the necessary funds to deliver these goals.
Since 1990, we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by over 40% while growing the economy by over two thirds—the best performance per capita in the G7". - Claire Perry
Initiating Tuesday was a set of oral questions on business, energy and industry. The first question was that posed by Julian Knight, who asked what the department is doing to ensure economic growth without the corollary cost of increased carbon dioxide emissions. Minister of state, Claire Perry, responded that the current trajectory is on already aligned with this goal, saying: “Since 1990, we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by over 40% while growing the economy by over two thirds—the best performance per capita in the G7”.
Subsequent to this was the question of what the department is doing to help the automotive sector, to which the secretary of state, Greg Clark, answered that production is up as a result of the recent automotive sector deal – something he regards as a “great success”. Following this, he was asked what the government is doing with respect to rising energy prices. He assured the House that the government was responding to this in the form of a price cap and a ‘warm house discount’.
Highlighting the day was the Commons vote on the amendments from the House of Lords made to the EU Withdrawal Bill. This was the first of two sessions on the bill, and – contrary to some hopes – most of the amendments did not pass. The one that did pass allowed the UK to maintain institutional continuity with the EU after the official exit date. This would prevent parliament from having to debate each and every law that will be repatriated from European Union statutory bodies.
Sitting atop the agenda for Wednesday were questions to the prime minister. Though always theatrical, it was more so than usual today. After accusing Westminster of engaging in a “power grab”, Ian Blackford – the leader of the SNP parliamentary group – demanded that emergency legislation be immediately voted on. After being told by the Speaker that this could only occur after PMQs, Blackford protested loudly until he was ejected from the chamber. However, it was not only Blackford who left the chamber; every SNP MP stood up and left with him. Many suggested that this was orchestrated beforehand and unnecessary. To get an overview of the entire session, see our live feed Twitter thread here: https://twitter.com/theparlreview/status/1006855718400675843
Votes on the Lords’ amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill continued today (the outcome of which featuring above in Tuesday’s overview). Less noteworthy, though still important, was the Ten Minute Rule Motion on plastic packaging. As part of a general decades-long effort to decrease the amount of plastic in the environment, this new bill suggests that producers of plastic packaging, with regard to sustainability, should assume responsibility for not just the production stage, but the disposal stage by way of making their products more conducive to existing and prospective infrastructure. The second reading will occur in autumn.
Two highlights of Thursday were, firstly, oral questions to the Department for Exiting the European Union, and, secondly, a ministerial statement regarding the Sewel Convention, the EU Withdrawal Bill and Scotland. Regarding the former session, the three questions that invited most discussion were as follows. Firstly, Liz Twist asked the department what steps they are taking to ensure that rights, standards and protections of European Union provenance are sufficiently maintained after Brexit. Under-secretary, Steven Baker, responded that the UK has a proud tradition in this regard, and that existing EU laws will be maintained in most areas.
The second question was regarding the future customs arrangement. Despite doubts in many corners of the House, Robin Walker (under-secretary) attempted to reassure the house that a deal which (a) ensures frictionless trade, (b) avoids a hard border for Northern Ireland and (c) establishes an independent trade policy is being pursued – all, moreover, in consultation with cabinet ministers.
We reached agreement on more than three quarters of the legal text of the withdrawal agreement, locking down full chapters on citizens’ rights, the implementation period and the financial settlement". - David Davis
Lastly, David Davis (the secretary of state) was asked what progress he and his department have made in terms of withdrawal negotiations. Answering this, he said: “We reached agreement on more than three quarters of the legal text of the withdrawal agreement, locking down full chapters on citizens’ rights, the implementation period and the financial settlement”. He further states that discussions on remaining issues – such as that of the Northern Ireland border – are still ongoing.
David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland, then made a statement on the controversy surrounding the Scottish parliament not providing sufficient consent for Brexit. What was allegedly an act in contempt of the Sewel Convention, the UK government is nonetheless committing to a UK-wide Brexit, prompting much protest from Scotland. Mundell stated that, on the grounds of unusual circumstances (such as Brexit), the Sewel agreement does not apply in this instance.