A week in review (4th September - 6th September)
The parliamentary review of the week
After a long summer recess, parliament is back in action. To inaugurate this event, a session of oral questions to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office took place. Afzal Khan, the shadow immigration minister, asked what the UK government thought about the security situation in Myanmar. Jeremy Hunt responded that the situation was indeed a concern, and that the recent UN fact-finding mission had confirmed that there were grounds on which to prosecute members of the Burma military for war crimes.
Rosie Duffield then asked what continuity of foreign policy co-operation there would be between the EU and Britain after Brexit. Hunt answered that the FCO has had substantive talks with other member states, all of whom have expressed concerns over the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
After being asked what representations the government have made to Saudi counterparts after a school bus in Yemen was bombed by the Saudi-led coalition, Alistair Burt told the House that discussions to this effect are taking place and that all parties should show their commitment to international humanitarian law.
- First parliamentary week since the summer recess
- Humanitarian concerns raised over both Saudi-led coalition forces and the Burma military
- Reservations by Dominic Raab over EU's stance on Northern Ireland
- Novichok attackers found
Later in the day came a ministerial statement from Dominic Raab on the topics of negotiations and no-deal contingencies. On the former, he stated that good progress on matters of freedoms and rights has been made over the summer, but qualified this statement with reservations over the EU’s stance on Northern Ireland, adding: “We are determined to reach a solution that protects the Belfast agreement and avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland.”
Regarding contingencies, he reminded the House that, although a deal remains the most likely outcome, it’s still necessary to put in place plans for a no-deal Brexit. Rabb said that well-founded policies established by the EU would in any event remain in place. As far as the contingency planning is concerned, tariffs, were they to come about, would eventually and quickly be negotiated down to free trade deals.
We are determined to reach a solution that protects the Belfast agreement and avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland." - Dominic Raab
PMQs can be best followed through our live coverage, which is linked here.
Immediately subsequent to PMQs, Theresa May put forward a statement on the Salisbury attack. The House was informed that, with the help of 250 detectives, 11,000 hours of CCTV footage and 1400 statements, the culprits of the attack have been found: two Russian nationals employed by the Russian intelligence agency, GRU, under the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. She added that, since they are now in Russia, there is no feasible means of having them extradited (due to the Russian constitution). The UK will, however, keep track of their international activity as well as those of other hostile state agents.
Another ministerial statement followed, this time on widowed parents’ allowance, by the parliamentary under-secretary for work and pensions. The take-away from this session was that the current widowed parents’ allowance did not meet European human rights commitments as it precluded any entitlement to widowed parent’s allowance for a surviving unmarried partner. The minister concluded that, “As I have stated, we are carefully considering the court’s judgment and how the Department should proceed in light of it. When we have looked at all the options, I will come before the House to update Parliament further.”
Oral questions on matters of digital, media, culture and sport began the day on Thursday. In this session, three questions won the most attention. Upon being asked about broadband coverage, Jeremy Wright answered to the House that 95 per cent of the country now has access to superfast broadband, and that this effort will continue until the figure reaches 100 per cent. Subsequent to that, he said that the government is working to support Channel 4’s relocation so as to improve its representation across the country.
Chris Stephens then asked what the government is doing, and will do, to regulate the processing of personal data by online technology companies. The relevant minister, Margot James, answered that GDPR is a sufficient guide for such matters, but also that the evidence put forward by the select committee will inform future action in this regard.
Following this session was yet another session of oral questions, this time to the Attorney-General. Two topics stood out here, the first of which relating to knife crime. In response to Sarah Jones’ question about knife crime prosecution rates, Robert Buckland, the Solicitor-General, said that tackling knife crime is a national priority. He added that, as part of an inter-ministerial group, his department is working on a serious violence strategy, which – it is hoped – will increase prosecution rates for knife crime.
The second topic was on economic crime, with Nigel Mills asking what support is being provided to the CPS in order to tackle it. Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney-General, stated that the CPS would play a “vital part” in this effort, and that there will soon exist a National Economic Crime Centre to further combat this problem.
The House was informed that, with the help of 250 detectives, 11,000 hours of CCTV footage and 1400 statements, the culprits [of the Novichok attack] have been found"
Finally, Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, spoke in a ministerial statement of the need to restore an executive devolved government in Northern Ireland. As of now, she said, public services are being ill-funded in this part of the UK and could be better ameliorated through more targeted and devolved decision-making, i.e. an Northern Ireland government. She added, however, that it would not be a good idea for this to take place during the difficult political changes associated with Brexit.