Almost 70 Conservative MPs have voted in favour of the government going ahead with its plan to remove asylum seekers from the country even if doing so is against the European convention on human rights, or other international law. Some 67 Tory MPs voted for Jonathan Gullis’s motion, with another two acting as tellers. (See 3.26pm.) The government did not back the motion, and it was defeated. But experts like the UN refugee agency (see 10.03am) say the plans announced by Rishi Sunak yesterday would break international law, and Sunak has refused to say what he would do if the legislation he intends to pass next year gets rejected by judges saying that it is incompatible with the ECHR. Gullis and his supporters want the UK to leave the convention. Sunak did not order Tory MPs to vote against the Gullis motion, and the outcome of the division would not have mattered anyway (10-minute rule bills never become law), but it may be a sign of where the debate in the party is heading. In October 2011 81 Tory MPs voted for a referendum on EU membership (defying David Cameron’s orders). Less than five years later, the UK was out of the EU. In a statement on the small boat incident that led to four people dying in the Channel, Suella Braverman implied she would be happy to see the UK leave the ECHR. Braverman, who has called for this in the past, told MPs this afternoon:
One reason that I voted to leave the European Union was to take back control of our borders and our migration policy, to restore sovereignty and supremacy to this parliament on how our migration policy should be run.
It is for this parliament, and directly elected people running this country, to make the decision on how we should run our migration policy, who should come here and how we apply our humanitarian arrangements.
Dominic Raab is facing a further five formal complaints from Ministry of Justice civil servants over allegations of bullying behaviour during his previous stint running the department, No 10 has confirmed.
Nurses going on strike this week in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be seen as “a badge of shame” for the government, Keir Starmer has said, as he accused Rishi Sunak at prime minister’s questions of putting political considerations above patient safety.
The value of goods from Great Britain sold in Northern Ireland shot up 7% to a record £14.4bn in 2021, the first year of operation of Brexit protocol checks, official government data shows.
The data, the first of its kind, was published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and also shows the value of goods and services purchased locally by companies in Northern Ireland rose by 11% to £26.5bn while purchases from Ireland increased to £3.1bn from £2.5bn in 2020.
The figures do not take account of inflation or comment on last year’s post-pandemic bounce in trade.
But they led to criticism of claims by unionists that Brexit had damaged trade between North Ireland and Great Britain because of the EU checks and customs controls on goods the protocol mandates.
“This data should finally put to bed the idea that the protocol is ruining the Northern Ireland economy, or even that it has severely dented trade between GB and NI,” said Matthew O’Toole, SDLP Stormont’s assembly group leader and Brexit spokesperson.
Boris Johnson earned more than £750,000 from three speeches in November, Commons register reveals
Boris Johnson made more than £750,000 from three speaking engagements in November, according to the latest update to the Commons register of members’ interests.
He was paid £277,724 for a speech to Centerview Partners, an investment bank, in New York; £261,652 for a speech to the Hindustan Times in New Delhi; and £215,276 for a speech at the CNN Global Summit in Lisbon.
But, in a measure of how serious the housing crisis is in London, it appears the former PM still cannot afford to pay for his own place to live. As a previous entry in the register reveals, he received accommodation worth £10,000 for himself and his family in November from Lady Carole Bamford. Bamford and her husband, the JCB chairman and Tory donor Lord Anthony Bamford, have been paying for the Johnsons’ housing since the summer.
Law on what protesters can and cannot do 'very, very unclear', Met chief tells MPs
Sir Mark Rowley, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, told MPs this morning that the law is “very, very unclear” on what protesters such as the Just Stop Oil campaigners are allowed to do. He made the comment giving evidence to the Commons home affairs committee this morning. Here are the key points.
Rowley said it was hard for police to know when they should stop protests because the law was very unclear. He explained:
The balance between what is lawful and reasonable and what is not is very, very unclear.
Parliament has left a very grey space about what is lawful and what is unreasonable disruption and are expecting police to work out a line in the middle of it.
Things get blown around politically depending on who’s protesting, and what the issue is depends on who’s saying the police were too soft and who’s saying the police were too hard on the same incident. That’s the difficult context we are working in.
He said that he would like to ignore protesters who chain themselves to motorway gantries, but that the Highways Agency (now called National Highways) wanted them removed. Asked why the police could not just leave protesters where they were, so that traffic could continue, he said:
I am completely up for that. The Highways Agency feel there is a safety risk. They are concerned, I think, probably more about drivers being distracted than they are about the individuals. I would love to ignore all these characters but it is not always possible.
He said 12,000 officer shifts were required to police the Just Stop Oil protests in October and November.
He said the police had become much quicker in removing protesters but their legal advice was that they should not physically tear off protesters who glue their hands to road. In France the police could just tear off protesters, he said. He went on:
Our advice is that we need to use solvent removers for the glue on the basis that reduces the harm done to [protesters]. I’ll always go and reflect on it.
The law is about using minimal force. If there is a way within a few minutes to remove somebody without causing significant harm to their hands then we are expected to do that.
Government to increase value of 'thank you' payments to families hosting Ukrainian refugees
Families who host Ukrainian refugees for more than a year are to receive increased payments in recognition of their ongoing support during the cost-of-living crisis, PA Media reports.
Hosts under the Homes for Ukraine scheme will get £500 a month after their first 12 months of sponsorship, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said.
Councils will also be given money to help prevent homelessness among arrivals and to acquire more homes for people fleeing conflict in places such as Ukraine and Afghanistan.
But the sum local authorities receive for each Ukrainian refugee who arrives into their area under the scheme will be reduced “in light of wider pressures on the public finances”, DLUHC said.
Some 107,100 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, with 144,600 visas issued, latest government figures show.
DLUHC said the monthly ‘thank you payments’ to hosts will be extended from 12 months to two years.
The increase - from £350 a month for the first year to £500 a month thereafter - is less than former refugees minister Lord Harrington had been calling for. Before stepping down in September, he said he had been lobbying for the payment to be doubled to £700 after six months.
In cases where sponsorship arrangements cannot continue, councils across the UK will be given £150m to help Ukrainians move into their own homes and reduce the risk of homelessness.
It can also be used to prevent homelessness among other groups.
A separate £500m local authority housing fund will enable councils in England to acquire housing stock for those fleeing conflicts, such as those in Ukraine and Afghanistan.
This is expected to provide up to 4,000 homes by 2024, DLUHC said, through buying housing stock, building new homes, converting non-residential properties, and refurbishing dilapidated or empty homes.
Amid the funding for housing, councils will receive a lower tariff payment for each Ukrainian refugee who arrives into their local area - £5,900 per person, down from £10,500.
This money can be spent on safeguarding and accommodation checks, support to help refugees rebuild their lives and integrate, and education and skills support, such as English language courses.
Labour MP Clive Lewis criticised by his own party for 'concentration camp' comment about Tory asylum policy
The Labour MP Clive Lewis has been criticised by his own party for saying the government is adopting a “concentration camp” policy towards refugees.
Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Live, Lewis said:
Let’s be really clear here: my understanding is if you put a group of people concentrated into a camp - as you did in South Africa in the Boer War - it’s what you call a concentration camp.
When Damian Green, the Conservative former cabinet minister, told Lewis on the same programme he was being “ridiculous”, Lewis went on:
It’s a concentration of people … Look what they’re talking about - putting people in camps en masse because of their [the government’s] mess. Let’s just be really clear where we are - that is the technical term for it, a concentration of people in a camp.
Later a Labour party spokeperson said that Lewis’s comments were “clearly not appropriate” and that it would be a matter for the whips whether he faced disciplinary action.
Train drivers at Avanti West Coast are to be balloted for industrial action in a row over rosters, PA Media reports. Aslef accused the company of imposing new working patterns without agreement.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, is expected to move post as part of a mini-reshuffle prompted by the arrival of Leo Varadkar as taoiseach on Saturday.
Varadkar gets the top job as part of a unique power-sharing deal his Fine Gael party struck with outgoing taoiseach Micheál Martin’s Fianna Fáil party after the last general election.
Coveney is reportedly expected to take over Varadkar’s current job as minister for enterprise, trade and employment, paving the way for Martin to be foreign affairs minister and tanaiste.
The arrival of Martin is being seen as helpful to the negotiations on Brexit within the unionist community in Northern Ireland.
Although Coveney is one of the highest rated politicians in Ireland and possibly the best known Irish minister in Britain, some believe that Martin will be give unionists more political cover for a compromise as he had not been associated so much with the Northern Ireland protocol.
In a recent interview Coveney said he would like to remain in his current role but added: “I’m also a realist, and sometimes in politics things change.”
How 67 Tories voted for motion saying asylum policy should be allowed to break international law, and 4 Tories voted against
Here is the full list of MPs who supported Jonathan Gullis’s motion. (See 2.42pm.) Some 67 Tory MPs voted for it, as well as the DUP MP Sammy Wilson and Rob Roberts, a former Tory MP who now sits as an independent.
Despite being a co-sponsor of the bill, Boris Johnson did not vote for it this afternoon. But Priti Patel, the former home secretary, did, as well as other former cabinet ministers like Brandon Lewis, the former Northern Ireland secretary; Esther McVey, the former work and pensions secretary; John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary; Amanda Milling, the former Conserative co-chair, and Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary.
Four Tories voted against the motion: Sir Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary; David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, Simon Hoare and David Simmonds.
There were also 124 Labour MPs, 36 SNP MPs, 10 Lib Dem MPs, 7 independent MPs, 3 Plaid Cymru MPs, 1 DUP MP, 1 Alba MP and the only Green MP voting against.
Senior Tory accuses Chinese diplomats who returned home to avoid questioning by police of fleeing UK 'like cowards'
China’s consul general in Manchester and five other diplomats have returned home and will escape questioning by Manchester police for their role in the beating up of a pro-Hong Kong democracy demonstrator outside the consulate in the city on 16 October, my colleague Patrick Wintour reports.
In response, Alicia Kearns, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, accused the diplomats involved of fleeing the UK “like cowards”. She said:
The people of Britain rightly expect those who commit crimes on our shores to face the consequences. That is what it means to live in a country with the rule of law.
China’s diplomats who attacked protesters have fled the UK like cowards, making clear their guilt and denying justice to those protesters grievously assaulted.
The Foreign Office must now declare those who have fled persona non grata, and make clear they are never again welcome in the UK.
James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, said the government had asked the Chinese to waive diplomatic immunity so that the diplomats could be questioned by police, but that instead the Chinese government sent them home.
Here is the video of the attack on the pro-democracy campaigner.
Labour and Lib Dems renew call for Raab to be suspended while bullying allegations investigated
Labour is also renewing calls for Dominic Raab to be suspended in the light of the news that he is now being investigated over eight bullying allegations. Echoing a similar statement from the Lib Dems (see 1.46pm), Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said:
It is yet another sign of how weak Rishi Sunak is as a prime minister that despite being aware of Dominic Raab’s reputation, he appointed him as his deputy.
The prime minister must now say why he has not been suspended until the outcome of the formal investigation, and make clear that any breach of the ministerial code will result in his immediate sacking. The government must also take immediate steps to ensure there is a safe working environment for their staff.
69 MPs vote in favour of UK being able to ignore international law if necessary to remove asylum seekers
Jonathan Gullis has lost. MPs have voted by 188 votes to 69 against giving him leave to bring in his bill.
Normally, under the 10-minute rule procedure, MPs do get leave to bring in the bill without a division happening, but the bill never proceeds any further because time is not set aside for it.
MPs voted today to prevent Gullis being allowed to present his bill. In practical terms, all this means is that he did not get to perform a short piece of parliamentary theatre. This bill was never going to become law whatever happened.
But the result shows that 69 MPs – all or mostly Conservatives – are willing to go on record to say they think the UK should ignore international law if this is the only way it can implement its plan to remove asylum seekers.
This amounts to them saying they think the government should be willing to leave the European convention on human rights, or other treaties, if these international legal obligations get in the way of sending asylum seekers to a country like Rwanda.
MPs vote on 10-minute rule motion that says UK should have right to leave ECHR if necessary to remove asylum seekers
MPs are now voting on Gullis’s 10-minute rule motion. (See 1.57pm.)
The government is not supporting Gullis, but some Tory MPs are. The two tellers for his side are Mark Jenkinson and Craig Mackinlay.
The two tellers for the noes are Marion Fellows and Peter Grant, who are both SNP MPs.
The SNP MPs are present in the chamber in large numbers because their opposition day debate is coming up next. (See 9.53am.)
The SNP is also much more firmly opposed to the government’s policy on asylum seekers. Labour tends to argue that the government’s policy is wrong because it has not been effective at processing claims and removing people whose claims fail, whereas the SNP thinks the UK should be more welcoming to asylum seekers on principle.
Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP for Glasgow Central, is speaking against the bill. She says it was “offensive” of Gullis to bring it forward on a day like today, when people have died.
She says her constituency has the highest immigration caseload in Scotland. And almost 25% of people living there were born abroad. In Gullis’s constituency the figure is just 7%.
She asks whether Gullis has even spoken to people who have come to the UK on small boats. She says she assumes he has not, because otherwise he would not be briging forward a bill that “dehumanises” them.
She says Gullis talked about the Australia model for offshore processing of asylum seekers as one the UK should follow. But that failed, she says.
And she says Gullis’s bill will fail “because the people making these journeys are desperate”.
In the Commons the Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis is now proposing his 10-minute rule bill. He starts by reading the motion describing what his bill would do.
That leave be given to bring in a bill to provide that certain provisions of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 relating to the removal of asylum seekers to safe countries shall have effect notwithstanding inconsistency or incompatibility with international or other domestic law; to require the secretary of state to proceed with such removals regardless of any decision or judgment of any international court or body; and for connected purposes.
Gullis says the people in Stoke-on-Trent (which he represents) find the number of people coming to this country to claim asylum from safe countries like France “totally unacceptable”.
He says he strongly supported the Nationality and Borders Act, which was meant to ensure that asylum seekers could be returned. But he says legal challenges have meant that enforced returns are not going ahead.
The UK should ignore the European court of human rights, as it did when the European court said the government should allow prisoners to vote, he says.
He says his motion today would allow the government to ignore the ECtHR on asylum policy.
Gullis says he thinks the government should seriously consider leaving the court. While we have left the EU, we still have a “quasi-legislative supranational institution” underming parliament’s decisions.
He says the government should be able to carry on with its plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Planned strikes by security guards on Eurostar this week have been called off, PA Media reports. PA says:
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union employed by contractor Mitie were due to walk out on Friday and Sunday in a dispute over pay.
Talks on pay are continuing, and further strikes next week will go ahead if the dispute is not resolved.
Mitie said it has contingency plans if the action proceeds.
An RMT spokesperson said: “The union suspended scheduled strikes this week to allow Mitie security members to take part in a referendum on the latest company offer which will be concluded on 19 December. Strikes for 22 and 23 December next week remain on at the present time.”
The Liberal Democrats says Dominic Raab should stand down while the allegations against him – all eight of them, now – are investigation. Daisy Cooper, the Lib Dem deputy leader, said:
The trickle of allegations about Dominic Raab has turned into a flood and his position is becoming increasingly untenable.
Rishi Sunak must ask Raab to step down as justice secretary while these complaints are investigated, and confirm he won’t be reappointed if they are upheld.
Anything less would make a mockery of Sunak’s claim that he would govern with integrity. It can’t be one rule for Conservative ministers and another for everyone else.
At the post-PMQs lobby briefing, No 10 also confirmed that the government will not be supporting Jonathan Gullis’s 10-minute rule bill. (See 9.30am.)
Here is our video with highlights from PMQs.
Inquiry into bullying claims about Dominic Raab considering five new complaints, on top of original three, says No 10
Dominic Raab is being investigated over five fresh formal complaints about his conduct after Rishi Sunak referred the new allegations to the senior lawyer conducting a bullying inquiry, my colleague Pippa Crerar reports.
The fresh complaints are understood to be from senior civil servants with direct experience of alleged bullying and aggressive behaviour by the justice secretary when he was previously at the department. ‘They feel they need to stand shoulder to shoulder with more junior staff,’ one source said.
PMQs - snap verdict
That was solid win for Keir Starmer, even if it was not a particularly memorable one. It was more shouty and shallow than some of his previous exchanges with Rishi Sunak, and none of it was hugely memorable. But it did illustrate clearly one of the most salient political “facts” of the winter: the Tories are desperately trying to pin the blame for the strikes on Labour, but failing.
It was the second question, and answer, that probably showed this up best. Starmer said:
Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he is playing games with people’s health and there is a human cost.
Alex from Chester has been waiting for a gall bladder operation for nearly six months, he is in so much pain he has been off school since then. His operation has already been cancelled twice. His mum, who I spoke to this morning, is worried sick, when she heard that strikes could be called off she was massively relieved.
She’s desperate for the prime minister to resolve this. All he needs to do is simply meet the nurses. Alex’s mum is listening to this. She doesn’t want to hear him blaming everybody else, she doesn’t want his usual ducking of the question. She is tuned in now because she wants him to explain what is he going to do to resolve the nursing strike.
Jeremy Corbyn specialised in raising individual cases at PMQs, but this was a particularly good example, partly because of the way Starmer stressed “Alex’s mum is listening”. And this is how Sunak replied:
It’s not just Alex, there are millions of others across this country, millions of others who will have their healthcare disrupted because of the strike.
Now the honourable gentleman says to get round the table, but we all know what that means. That is just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.
If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so, if he thinks it’s right that pay demands of 19% are met, then he should say so. What’s weak is he is not strong enough to stand up to the union.
On the plus side, when Sunak said Labour’s call for ministers to “get round the table” was “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue”, he was 90% right. That is what politicians do. Sunak was at it himself just a few minutes later when asked about the ECHR. (See 12.33pm.)
But Starmer has done just enough to neutralise the claim that he is just sitting on the fence. The rows with leftwing Labour MPs about joining picket lines show that he can’t be accused of wholeheartedly backing the strikes. And, as pointed out early, he has said he is against a 19% pay rise for nurses.
These are some reasons why Sunak can’t get blame for the strikes to stick to Labour. There are others. In this answer, Sunak did not sound particularly emphathetic (David Cameron would have delivered a heartfelt message to Alex’s mum as if she were the most important person to him in the UK), and his admission that “millions of others” are in the same position only seemed to make Starmer’s argument stronger, rather than weaker.
Sunak also resurrected some tired attack lines against Starmer. No one believes that we would still be in lockdown if Starmer were PM (even Boris Johnson, when he used to say it). And the claim that Labour is in hock to its union “paymasters” is even more ancient, dating back to the time of Ted Heath. It is also not really true. The two unions leading the strikes causing most disruption, the RMT and the Royal College of Nursing, aren’t affiliated to Labour, or even close to Starmer.
Ultimately, the government of the day normally gets the blame when things go wrong, rightly or wrongly. It would take an act of political genius for a PM to convince the public that it was all Labour’s fault, and Sunak, though talented, is no genius.
For the second week in a row, Starmer ended on a serious note, in a manner that made it impossible for Sunak to wind up with the usual Labour-bashing riff. In stirring language, he said:
As a result of Putin’s barbaric assault on their freedom, millions will spend Christmas in sub-zero temperatures without heating, electricity or hot water. Their suffering is unimaginable, but their bravery is awe-inspiring.
So, will the prime minister join me in saying that whatever other difficulties and disagreements we have across this dispatch box, we are and will remain united in our unwavering support for Ukraine’s freedom, its liberty and its victory.
Sunak agreed. It was the last PMQs of the year, and it was good to see they ended on a note of consensus.
PMQs is over. Suella Braverman, the home secretary, has just started making a statement about the deaths in the Channel after a small boat capsised. She says at least four people have died.
My colleague Geneva Abdul, who is writing the live blog covering this incident, is covering it here.
Andrew Selous (Con) asks what the PM will do to ensure GPs stay in posts.
Sunak says there are record numbers of GPs in training. He looks forward to hearing suggestions on what more can be done.
Sunak sidesteps question about whether he would be willing to withdraw from European convention on human rights
Danny Kruger (Con) asks if the govenment is willing to leave the European convention on human rights to deliver its asylum policy.
Sunak does not answer directly, and just says he will deliver legislation allowing people who arrive in the UK illegally to be removed from the country.
Angela Eagle (Lab) says this year we have had five education secretaries, four chancellors, three PMs, two leadership coups. She goes on:
And the partridge has had to sell the pear tree to pay the gas bill.
After a year of Tory chaos, incompetence and self-indulgence, wouldn’t the best Christmas present for the public be an election?
Sunak says the best thing Labour could do for people would be to tell their union bosses to call off the strikes.
Kerry McCarthy (Lab) asks about a constituent who spent three hours waiting for an ambulance, and then 10 hours waiting in the back of the ambulance to get in. She says the recent King’s Fund report said it was not just Covid that was to blame. Will Sunak apologise for a decade of managed decline?
Sunak says the same report said funding for the NHS has gone up.
Feryal Clark (Lab) says Enfield has the highest rate of no-fault evictions in London. Will the government scrap the law that allows them?
Sunak says the government is committed to doing this, when parliamentary time allows. But it has also scrapped rip off fees for renters, he says.
Kirsty Blackman (SNP) says government policies have failed. And she asks why the government is paying Boris Johnson’s legal costs ahead of the inquiry into whether he lied to parliament about Partygate.
Sunak ignores the Johnson part of the question, and accuses the SNP of stoking divisions.
Jason McCartney (Con) asks if Sunak agrees that police officers, and other emergency workers, who lose their lives in the call of duty should receive the Elizabeth medal.
Sunak says the government is looking at this issue.
Fabian Hamilton (Lab) asks about mental health provision for young people, and eating disorders.
Sunak says treatment provision for people with eating disorders is being expanded.
Mary Robinson (Con) says she was pleased to learn Cheadle will get a banking hub, but is was Cheadle, Staffordshire, not Cheadle in Greater Manchester. Will the government protect access to cashpoints?
Sunak says the government is acting to protect access to cash.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, says he lost both his parents to cancer. Can Sunak say the cancer backlog will not get worse? And when will the government meet its cancer targets?
Sunak says cancer referral rates are very high. But cancer treatment rates are back at pre-pandemic levels, he says.
Stephen Metcalfe (Con) asks Sunak if the government can block the mayor of London’s plan to expand the Ulez zone.
Sunak says the mayor is doing this without public support. He should be on the side of the public, Sunak says.
Stephen Flynn, the SNP leader at Westmister, asks when the UK government will follow the Scottish government’s lead and negotiate a pay deal for NHS staff to avoid a strike.
Sunak says the government is sticking to the independent pay review model.
Flynn says average energy bills in Scotland are expected to be £3,300, not £2,500 as in England. And that is even though Scotland produces enough gas to be self-sufficient, he says.
Sunak sums up the help with energy being offered to all consumers.
Angela Richardson (Con) asks if Sunak agrees the A3 should be tunnelled under Guildford, her constituency.
Sunak says the Department for Transport is looking at a range of options.
Starmer says under Labour nurses had fair pay, and there was no strike. He says it is the last PMQs of the year. He thanks Commons staff. And he turns to Ukraine, saying people there are suffering in the freezing cold.
Their suffering is unimaginable, but their bravery is awe-inspiring.
He says the Commons should remain united in its support for Ukraine.
Sunak agrees with what Starmer said on Ukraine. And he pays tribute to those hosting Ukrainian families.
Starmer says, after 12 years of Tory failure, “winter has arrived for our public services”.
And we have got a prime minister who has curled up and gone into hibernation.
Sunak says ambulance waiting times in 2020 for category one were on time. Covid did have an impact, he says.
He turns to “Labour-run Wales”, which he says has “the worst A&E times in the country”.
Starmer says, as usual, Sunak is trying to blame everyone else. Sunak won’t stand up for nurses because he is “too weak to stand up to tax avoiders”.
Sunak says the government is listening to the independent pay bodies. Labour won’t put a figure on what pay deal it wants. Labour is protecting its paymasters, he says.
Starmer says the government has broken the health service. It should scrap non-dom status to fund more health staff. Why hasn’t Sunak “got the guts” to do it?
Sunak says Starmer refuses to acknowledge the impact of Covid. If we listened to Labour, we would still be in lockdown.
Starmer says nurses' strike 'badge of shame for this government'
Starmer says nurses going on strike “is a badge of shame for this government”. There is a human cost. He asks about a boy, Alex, off school in pain waiting for a gall bladder operation. His mum is desperate for the strike to be called off. She is listening. She wants Sunak to explain what he is going to do.
Sunak says there are millions of others who will have their healthcare disrupted. But he says Labour’s formula, that it will “get round the table”, is just a means of avoiding taking a position. If he thinks the pay demands are wrong, he should say so.
In fact, Starmer did, on Monday.
Keir Starmer says the prayers of MPs will be with those affected by the Channel accident. He says the criminal gangs must be stopped.
Why won’t the government stop the nurses strike?
Sunak says nurses do incredible work. Last year, when everyone else in the public sector got a freeze, nurses got a 3% rise.
John Stevenson (Con) says West Coast rail passengers are having terrible experiences. If Avanti does not get its act together, will the government cancel its franchise?
Sunak says the government supports the restoration of services before taking long-term decisions. It will be closely monitoring Avanti’s performance.
Rishi Sunak starts by saying MPs will share his sorrow at the capsizing of a small boat in the Channel, and the tragic loss of life.
From Labour’s Ben Bradshaw
PMQs is starting shortly.
Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.
There is a remarkable column in the Daily Mail today. It is by Sarah Vine, who used to be married to Michael Gove, who has been a Mail columnist for years and who is not, by any stretch, a leftie. But she says Britain is now “broken”, and in as bad as state as it was in the 1970s, when her parents emigrated for Italy.
She says that she won’t be visiting her parents in Italy over Christmas because of the Border Force strike and that, in a recent call, her father said Britain was the same now as it was when he left. She goes on:
The awful truth is: he’s right. Britain today is not much different from how it was in 1974 — when my parents made the decision to emigrate to Italy.
Crippling strikes, threatened power shortages, economic stagnation, high taxation, inflation. To them, as a young couple with two small children, it all seemed inexorably bleak.
She says her father has been ill, and at one point she thought he should return to the UK. But she has changed her mind, she says.
Quite apart from the fact that the NHS wouldn’t offer him a fraction of the healthcare he gets in Italy, what’s there to return to? A broken economy, a broken political system, a broken country.
All the things that drove him away in the first place.
In her column Vine glosses over who might be to blame for Britain being “broken”. But if other Mail readers think the same, it is hard to believe the party that has been in charge for the past 12 years can escape all the blame.
The NASUWT teachers union has been granted a judicial review of the government’s new regulations allowing the use of agency staff to cover for striking workers.
The NASUWT launched the legal appeal in September, alongside separate actions by Unison and a joint action co-ordinated by the Trades Union Congress, arguing that the government’s agency worker regulations “violate fundamental trade union rights, including the right to strike”. The unions will now have their challenges heard at the high court in March next year.
Both the NASUWT and the National Education Union are currently holding ballots on strike action in England and Wales, which will take place next year if approved by members.
Patrick Roach, NASUWT’s general secretary, said:
The government’s regulations seek to further undermine and weaken the rights of all workers, including teachers, to take legitimate industrial action.
The right to strike is enshrined in international law, yet the government is attempting to prevent teachers and other workers taking collective action to defend their jobs, pay and working conditions.
This legislation is a direct contravention of the government’s international commitments and obligations and it is right that this legislation will now be scrutinised at the high court.
Polls suggest public support for striking rail workers falling
Yesterday Mark Harper, the transport secretary, claimed that public support for the rail strikes was declining. Today Ipsos has published some polling that backs up this claim, although support for the RMT has not collapsed, and public opinion is still divided. It puts support for the strikes at 30%, down from 43% in September. And opposition to the strikes is at 36%, up from 31%.
Yesterday Savanta published polling showing a similar trend. It said that net support for the rail workers on strike was +21 in October (those supporting them, minus those not supporting them), and that now it was down to +13.
At around 12.30pm, after PMQs, Suella Braverman, the home secretary, will make a statement about the small boats incident in the Channel, the Commons authorities have announced.
The Jonathan Gullis 10-minute rule bill (see 9.30am) will come after the Braverman statement is over, at around 1.30pm.
Unions must decide if they want to improve rail services for passengers in north of England, says Mark Harper
The rail unions must decide if they want to improve services for passengers in the north of England, Mark Harper, the transport secretary, has said.
In a written ministerial statement to MPs, following his meeting last month with metro mayors to discuss rail chaos in the north, Harper said a key problem was that rail companies have in the past been reliant on drivers working on rest days, and that in recent months drivers have been increasingly unwilling to do that.
Harper said that he had allowed TransPennine Express and Northern to negotiate a “generous” rest day working agreement with Aslef, the rail drivers’ union. But the TransPennine offer was rejected before it was even put to Aself members, Harper said. He went on:
It is up to the unions to decide if they want to improve services, for the good of passengers and the wider economy in the North.
Today, the RMT are on strike across the country again, disrupting services and driving passengers away from the railway. In my meeting with the mayors, we all agreed on the need for a reliable railway seven days a week. That means not having fragile rest day working agreements and breaking the railway’s dependence on rest day working altogether. No modern and successful business relies on the goodwill of its staff to deliver for its customers in the evening and at the weekend.
London fire brigade places in special measures after damning report exposing misogyny and racism within it
London fire brigade (LFB) has been put into special measures by a watchdog amid concerns over “unacceptable behaviour” including discrimination and bullying, PA Media reports. PA says:
His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services said LFB will now face a so-called “enhanced level of monitoring” by inspectors.
It comes after an independent review published last month found the fire service has “dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women” while colleagues from minority backgrounds are “frequently the target of racist abuse”.
In a comment on the decision, Matt Parr, the fire and rescue services inspector, said:
We should recognise that London fire brigade’s recent cultural review was commissioned by the brigade, whose leadership has accepted its findings without reservation.
However, it is clear that the behavioural problems we highlighted earlier this year are deep seated and have not improved. The Engage process provides additional scrutiny of the brigade’s plans, and support for them from across the fire sector.
We will now examine London fire brigade’s improvement plans more frequently and more intrusively, and work closely with the brigade to monitor its progress.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said he welcomed the fact that London fire brigade was getting enhanced scrutiny, but he said “wide-ranging changes” at the force were already being implemented under Andy Roe, whom Khan said he appointed as a “reforming commissioner’. Khan went on:
Huge changes to policies, procedures and equipment mean that the Brigade are now better prepared, organised and equipped to fight fires and keep all Londoners safe. A new independent service has now been set up to investigate complaints and London Fire Brigade will be the first service in the country to issue body-worn cameras to their crews, both to protect them but also to ensure public safety and reassurance, as part of a landmark pilot.
UK inflation eases to 10.7% as annual rate of price increases slows
UK inflation declined at the sharpest rate in 16 months to 10.7% in November as the momentum behind the rising cost of clothing and petrol began to ease amid growing fears of a long recession, my colleague Phillip Inman reports.
Sunak's asylum policy would be 'violation of international refugee law', says UNHCR
Last night UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, strongly condemned the asylum policy unveiled by Rishi Sunak. In a statement, its assistant high commissioner for protection, Gillian Triggs, said:
The announced proposal to first detain, and then either return asylum seekers to their home countries, or transfer them to a third country would amount to a denial of access to the UK asylum system for those who arrive irregularly.
That approach would close down access to asylum in the UK for all but a few. This would likely result in refugees having no means to establish their status and place them at risk of forced return to unsafe countries, in breach of the refugee convention. It would also undermine the global refugee system at large and would be a violation of international refugee law.
MP Christian Wakeford to apologise for asylum seeker comments
Christian Wakeford MP will apologise today for previously claiming asylum seekers “have a shopping trolley as to what they want as economic migrants” before he defected from the Conservative party to Labour, my colleague Aletha Adu reports.
This afternoon three hours have been set aside in the Commons for a debate on an SNP motion. Normally opposition day motions just condemn the government, or propose a policy, but today the SNP has followed a strategy used by anti-no-deal MPs during Brexit, and also used by Labour in a recent debate on fracking, and tabled a motion that, if passed, would let it take control of the Commons order paper for a day. If passed, Tuesday 10 January would be devoted to debates on all stages of a bill that would allow the Scottish parliament to legislate for an independence referendum.
Speaking before the debate, Stephen Flynn, the new SNP leader at Westminster, said:
We will use our opposition day to put forward the Scotland Act 1998 (amendment) bill and seek to take control of parliament’s order paper to unlock Westminster’s denial of democracy.
The mechanism, which will seek to amend the Scotland Act 1998, will allow the Scottish parliament to legislate for a referendum and reject any attempts by Westminster to impose a roadblock on Scotland’s democratic journey to independence.
The people of Scotland have already voted for a referendum and now is the time for one.
That is a democratic reality that politicians at Westminster must wake up to.
The government and Labour are both opposed to another Scottish independence referendum now, and the SNP motion is certain to be voted down.
People who tried to cross the Channel in freezing conditions overnight are feared to have died, with a major search and rescue operation under way for a small boat off the coast of Kent, my colleague Emily Dugan reports. Geneva Abdul has all the latest updates, including political reaction, on a separate live blog.
Boris Johnson joins Tory calls to leave European convention on human rights if necessary to remove asylum seekers
Good morning. As the old saying goes, “there’s no pleasing some people” – or Tory Brexiters.
Rishi Sunak got a good reception from Conservative MPs, and the Fleet Street wing of the party, for the plans he unveiled yesterday to deal with small boat crossings, including legislation next year that would ban people who arrive illegally in the UK from applying for asylum. But after PMQs the Tory MP Jonathan Gullis will propose his asylum seekers (removal to safe countries) bill under the 10-minute rule procedure, a Commons rule that allows a backbencher to argue for a bill with a 10-minute speech in the middle of proceedings, even though it has almost no chance of becoming law.
The bill would allow the government to remove asylum seekers even if that is against the European convention on human rights, or other international law.
Why does that matter? Because when Sunak proposed his new legislation in the Commons yesterday, he refused to say whether he was willing to withdraw the UK from the European convention on human rights if that turned out to be the only means by which he could actually do what he said he wanted to do.
This is what some Tory Brexiters want (including Suella Braverman, the home secretary, who told the Tory conference that she personally favoured withdrawal from the ECHR). But other Tories regard the prospect with horror (not least because it would blow up the Good Friday agreement, which is based on the UK remaining party to the convention), and in his statement to MPs yesterday Sunak repeatedly dodged questions about whether he was prepared, if necessary, to withdraw from the convention, or other international treaties protecting the rights of refugees.
The Gullis bill will not become law. But MPs do sometimes vote on 10-minute rule motions, and it is thought there will be a vote today. Even if Gullis were to lose (as is likely), a division could enable him to show how many Tory MPs there are who support him – and who, by implication, want to see Sunak toughen his line on asylum still further.
And two of his backers are highly significant. Boris Johnson, the former PM, and Priti Patel, the former home secretary, are co-sponsors of the bill. Gullis told TalkTV last night that Johnson was “very pleased to back a bill that actually enacted what he and Priti had been working on side by side”.
Other co-sponsors of the bill reportedly include Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries and Tim Loughton.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.45am: Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan police commissioner, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee.
12pm: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.
After 12.30pm: The Tory MP Jonathan Gullis presents a 10-minute rule bill that would allow the government to remove asylum seekers even if that is against the European convention on human rights, or other international law.
Afternoon: The king visits parliament.
4.15pm: Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy PM, gives evidence to the joint committee on human rights on the bill of rights.
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