A week in review (9th July - 12th July)
The parliamentary review of the week
Monday brought with it three main sessions in parliament. Firstly there were defence questions. Chris Stephens asked, for instance, what progress the Ministry of Defence has made on the procurement of fleet support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Guto Bebb, the relevant under-secretary, remarked that as part of an assessment phase, the government is engaging with private enterprise – here and abroad – on this matter, with a view to awarding a contract by 2020. Chris wondered why competition was being extended to beyond our shores, to which Guto Bebb responded that only non-warships will be subject to international competition; the remainder will be manufactured in Britain.
Grahame Morris then asked what is being done to ensure continuity of experience and knowledge within each rank of the British armed forces. The suggestion here is that unduly expedited promotions are taking place to fill in gaps – the ultimate cause of which being a lack of recruitment and retention. Tobias Ellwood responded that more needs to be done to encourage recruitment.
- Government puts forward Brexit White Paper
- Dominic Raab shows support for May and her negotiation stance
- Novichok (deadly Russian nerve agent) once again appears in Salisbury
- David Lidington and Emily Thornberry take the place of May and Corbyn in PMQs
In answering the question of what consequences will follow for the defence industry after leaving the EU, Guto Bebb said that – although forecasts of this kind are being devised – much of our military decision-making occurs on an international non-EU basis anyhow.
I am perfectly happy to respect the referendum that we have had, but it is utterly respectful, and quite common practice in many countries, to have a confirmatory referendum when a government have produced a deal." - Vince Cable
Then came an important ministerial statement from Theresa May regarding Britain’s exit from the European Union. In short, she announced that a reasonable basis on which to determine our future relationship with the EU now existed in the form of a government document. In this document, she added, are the following: a proposal for a “common rulebook”, which would leave the United Kingdom still subject to regulations of goods that pass between the UK and EU – this, however, will be a discretionary involvement with EU regulations (although not abiding would not come without consequence); a proposal for a judicial entity in the form of a joint UK-EU committee (whose decisions would be formed on the basis of precedents set by decades of intra-EU disputes); and an end to freedom of movement. The financial industry, however, would lose its former passporting rights. Taken together, this – Theresa May believes – will meet the two sovereign criteria of a successful Brexit agreement: statutory independence from the EU and a permeable border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Sajid Javid then made a statement on the re-emergence of “Novichok” in Salisbury, this time poisoning Dawn Sturgess, a woman who, by happenstance, encountered the deadly nerve agent. Javid reassured the House that every effort to decontaminate and re-establish safety is being made by his department.
Oral questions on Justice began with numerous members of the House asking David Gauke what was being done to help offenders achieve access to education and employment. David responded that, as part of the government’s strategy, he and his department are offering more discretion to governors to offer bespoke educational opportunities to offenders, as well as extending temporary licenses for work release to those who have earned it. Getting this right, he believes, could appreciably bring down the currently high cost imposed on society by reoffenders (£15 billion per year). Under-secretary, Edward Argar, said that – on the topic of youth offence institutions – the government “are continuing to invest in system-wide reform further to improve safety and outcomes, and are expanding frontline public sector staff capacity at young offender institutions.”
Opposition Day saw discussion of the government’s handling of negotiating our exit from the EU. On this occasion, Vince Cable led the charge, claiming that, on the basis of the government’s failure in this domain, there should be a “final say” – that is, another referendum on the status of our membership with the European Union. In response to the claim that another referendum would be in contempt of democracy, Vince Cable remarked: “I am perfectly happy to respect the referendum that we have had, but it is utterly respectful, and quite common practice in many countries, to have a confirmatory referendum when a government have produced a deal. That is good constitutional practice and good politics, and Liberal Democrat members argue for it strongly.”
Prime minister’s questions took a peculiar form this week, with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn being absent. In their stead were David Lidington and Emily Thornberry. What occurred in this session is best covered on our live Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/theparlreview/status/1017003511459049472
Wednesday had two further Opposition Day debates. The first consisted in an indictment on Esther McVey, the current DWP minister, for not paying sufficient attention to the great deficits in the Universal Credit system, namely that 20 per cent of eligible applicants cannot apply online; that 40 per cent of claimants still suffered under financial hardship; and that outcomes could not be properly measured. Margaret Greenwood, the Labour MP who led this call, also called on the government to reduce McVey’s ministerial salary to zero for a duration of four weeks.
The second Opposition Day topic was shipbuilding, a topic on which Nia Griffith, the shadow minister for defence, pronounced on. She called on the government to award shipbuilding contracts only to UK companies in order that British people benefited from its attendant economic benefits – and, moreover, to take this into account in the government’s defence industry strategy.
The White Paper confirms that the UK will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, forging a new way in the world, outside the single market and outside the customs union." - Dominic Raab
Standing out on Thursday was, firstly, an Urgent Question by David Lammy, asking for details on the cessation of what he termed “the hostile environment”. The minister for immigration, Caroline Nokes, responded: “We have put in place additional safeguards to ensure that legal migrants are not inadvertently caught up by measures designed to tackle illegal migration.” Among these safeguards are preventing over-30s’ data from being shared – a temporary measure which ensures that the Windrush generation are not affected.
Most importantly, the new minister for exiting the European Union, Dominic Raab, made a ministerial statement on the Brexit white paper: “The White Paper confirms that the UK will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, forging a new way in the world, outside the single market and outside the customs union. It safeguards the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK. It reclaims the UK’s sovereignty and it protects our economic interests by minimising the risk of any disruption to trade.” In essence, he recapitulated what Theresa May said earlier in the week, except this time it has the symbolic importance of displaying concordance between him and the prime minister, unlike was the case with his predecessor.